Democrats vs Republicans: Who is Winning the 17 Most Important States (Part III)


This is the third installment on a series on the election 2012 battleground states. Previous entries in this series can be found here and here.

Continuing my last two articles, what impact does the image and organizational power of the local party have on mobilizing voters and attracting them to vote Democrat or Republican? Will President Obama and Mitt Romney overshoot or under perform their poll numbers come November? Using Google search and poring over local political blogs, I will try to classify the type of state parties, as devised by Politico’s Charles Mahtesian, into four categories. Then we will get an idea of how local politics will change come November and how the electoral college may add up for the presidential race. Without further ado, here are five more states:

New Mexico: GOP Basket Case, without Cash or Candidates

Republicans scored big in 2010 by electing Governor Susana Martinez as well as earlier this year by a redistricting plan that improved their odds in future elections. Besides that, everything’s gone downhill. The Democrats still dominate the legislature and have opened up a nearly 200,000 voter edge in the registration rolls. The party is losing independents and Hispanics thanks to its immigration stance and Democrat Rep. Martin Heinrich is likely to take the state’s open Senate seat. While Gov. Martinez is still riding high in the polls, the state continues to lose jobs, may see its credit rating downgraded, and its largest city, Albuquerque, has been likened to a ghost town. She is also being afflicted by a growing scandal some are calling Email-gate, which revealed that her office used government resources for political purposes, and has engaged in corrupt contracts and cronyism. While this has yet to seep into the general media, this scandal combined with her lackluster legislative session this year and support for some controversial measures are going to create a serious image problem eventually. Although Democrats have their own issues, President Obama leads in the polls by double digits and Mitt Romney faces several hurdles that will likely prevent him from devoting resources there. While Gov. Martinez is actively trying to shape the local political scene, the GOP can hardly succeed if she is only one fighting the tide.

Ohio: GOP Functional, but with Ineffective Leadership

This year’s campaigns are taking place in the middle of a divisive intra-party battle within the Ohio GOP. After winning office, Governor John Kasich engaged in an effort to solidify his control over the state party, spending a bitter year trying to eject Chairman Kevin DeWine. 

DeWine led the party’s successful 2010 efforts, but eventually resorted to dubious methods to maintain his place, before Kasich finally managed to install former Chairman Bob Bennet. This has driven several top members out of the party. They have been replaced by operatives with a history of political corruption and are under investigation by the FBI, but more trouble is likely to ensue as Kasich’s control hasn’t solidified yet. Making matters worse, the establishment was trying its best to keep Tea Party and Ron Paul activists out of the leadership. While this was going down, an establishment that Mitt Romney happened to be allied with was thrown out, so the local party is hardly unified. Topping this off, the party’s candidate for the Senate, Josh Mandel, is plagued with ethical lapses and media blunders, only being kept alive by enormous amounts of outside money. Compared to this, the Democrats have effectively recovered from 2010 and defeated the governor’s anti-union measure. It is energized by the culture conflict over women’s rights and has prevented internal schisms. The way trouble keeps leaking out, Romney is unlikely to carry Ohio.

Pennsylvania: GOP Functional, with Ineffective Leadership

The GOP won big in Pennsylvania in 2010, sweeping all of the local and federal elections. They have used this power to keep taxes down and pass a redistricting plan that favored their party, but things have been going wrong otherwise. Only halfway through his term, GOP Governor Tom Corbett is already highly unpopular as nearly half of the public disapproves of his performance. He recently lost a battle over gas drilling permits with the state’s Commonwealth Court, bungled a deal with Shell, saw the state’s bond rating downgraded. Worst of all, he’s been tied to the fallout surrounding the Penn State child abuse scandal, and is accused of delaying the prosecution of Jerry Sandusky for three years in order to preserve his political prospects. If that wasn’t enough, Senate President Joe Scarnati and House Majority Floor Leader Mike Turzai hate each other and the party’s initiatives have slowed to a crawl despite dominating all branches of government. This made the activist base very unhappy, creating a very contentious primary season where a large number of incumbents were challenged, even those in leadership positions.

The GOP will also likely be on the hook shortly for $20 million after an investigation revealed that the House of Representatives caucus misused public resources for political campaigns from 2000 to 2007. Conversely, although the Democrats are split on gas drilling, they have an edge of a million registered voters on the rolls and are polling ahead in all of the statewide races, if not the federal ones. Given how inelastic Pennsylvanian voters are, President Obama’s lead and Mitt Romney’s troubles are already causing both campaigns to decrease spending in-state, even if the state’s Voter-ID laws prove to be a double-edged sword that keeps both sides on their toes.

Virginia: GOP, Democrats Functional, with Ineffective Leadership

The GOP controls the governor’s seat, the House of Delegates, and splits the State Senate with the Democrats, giving the Democrats veto power unless the GOP is completely united on an issue. GOP Governor Bob McDonnell remains popular in the state, having overseen budget surpluses, falling unemployment, and a housing recovery, but other elements of the party are causing trouble. The current GOP attorney general has politicized the role to an unprecedented extent, and the legislature’s focus on abortion prohibition – including the infamous invasive vaginal ultrasound – gun rights, and unwillingness to invest in infrastructure in Northern Virginia may cost it support from independent voters. On top of that, the Tea Party is weakening. It has enough power to change the local GOP platform in conjunction with Ron Paul activists, but is divided and alienated enough that the Senate primary had an abysmal 5% turnout after it became obvious that the establishment candidate George Allen would win. Republicans are now struggling to whip up support for Republicans of any stripe, though not everybody. 

Conversely, current Democratic Party Chairman (and former gubernatorial candidate) Brian Moran has had a difficult tenure thus far, often misreading delicate political situations, and angering the grassroots base with his links to the for-profit college industry and ALEC. Senate Democrats garnered a lot of criticism for stalling the state budget unnecessarily and eventually caved anyways. The bench of qualified state-wide candidates is looking thin and voter registration has slowed. Senate candidate Tim Kaine is performing well, but is under a lot of attack for his record as governor. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney are heavily invested in the state, though with Democratic voters more mobilized the Obama campaign is focusing on GOTV. Despite speculation, it isn’t likely that a third party candidate will steal votes in Virginia, though perceptions of who is responsible for upcoming defense cuts (in a state with defense contractors) is complicating things. At this point everything is up in the air.

Wisconsin: Democrats Functional, with Ineffective Leadership

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve probably heard that Wisconsin’s political scene has been contentious since 2010. Despite their best efforts, Democrats were unable to beat Republican Governor Scott Walker, who managed to survive a recall election that cost twice what his first did, but also won 50,000 more votes than before. While they managed to take back the Senate with a bare majority, and have decent leadership too, it is unlikely that they’ll be able to hold onto it given the redistricting maps the GOP passed earlier. While recruiting activists and candidates for lower level positions is going well, the number of people capable of competing statewide is low. The party itself suffers from an inability to compete in rural areas, weak messaging, and an overreliance on organized labor for muscle and money. It doesn’t help that the party cut funding for lower-level party organizations. While Gov. Walker is facing long-term problems with faltering job growth, a campaign finance scandal, as well as private contracting issues, the Democrats have a lot of work to do in changing perceptions and altering the political environment. They will benefit from the president’s popularity in the state and the fact that the GOP primary for the retiring Sen. Herb Kohl’s seat is in a three-way tie and turning ugly, but the down ballot elections are not likely to go very well.