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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems in Position to take TX, FL and GA Governorships

The ‘skip-the-south’ school of Democratic strategy may have some splainin’ to do on the day after the midterms, specifically how Democrats took the governorships of the three largest southern states. Granted, this is an optimistic scenario, though not such an unrealistic one, given recent opinion polls. Here’s Republican activist and political commentator Hastings Wyman’s take, in excerpts from his post at the Southern Political Report:

…Although the GOP is poised to take over the governors’ mansions in Oklahoma and Tennessee, Democrats are in a strong position to take the governorships away from GOPers in three larger Southern states – Florida, Georgia and Texas. The Democrats’ prospects are strongest in Florida, where the state’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) is leading in the governor’s race, followed by Georgia, where the revelation of Republican Nathan Deal’s undisclosed debts has suddenly made the Peach State race a tossup. Finally, although Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) continues to lead in voter surveys, he hovers under or around 50% and could face an upset on November 2. Democratic victories in one, two or three of these key states would be a major help to the party next year when all states must draw new lines for congressional and state legislative districts.
…At this point, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) has the edge – though not a wide one – over multi-millionaire businessman (health care) Rick Scott (R) who still hasn’t gotten the backing of his primary foe, GOP establishment favorite Bill McCollum. Sink has had “really, really effective ads so far. They are funny and light,” says University of South Florida Professor Susan MacManus, a political scientist. Moreover, Scott is under fire because his former company, Columbia/HCA, was fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud. The fine was levied three years after Scott left the company, but some of the misdeeds occurred while he was still there. Scott notes that he was never charged with a crime, but this is a significant negative in this senior citizen-heavy state. Scott is attacking Sink for connections to the Obama Administration, citing union-sponsored ads attacking Scott for opposing the President’s stimulus package and the GOP is likely to benefit from a much higher turnout, as was evidenced in the primaries. The “Obama for America” group is working on Democratic turnout, but it isn’t finding the kind of enthusiasm that was there in 2008, among volunteers or voters…A CNN-Time survey announced September 8 gave Sink 49%, McCollum 42%. The Real Clear average of polls taken between August 11 and September 7 showed Sink with 43%, Scott 39%. Leans Sink.
With term-limited Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) leaving office, there were contested primaries to succeed him in both parties. The Democrats nominated former Gov. Roy Barnes. For the GOP, ex-Congressman Nathan Deal (R) came from behind to win a hard-fought runoff with 50.2% of the votes…The GOP was looking strong here, but recent revelations that Deal failed to disclose, as required by law, $2.3 million in loans due in February 2011, have quickly turned the race into a battle. There has even been talk of Deal’s withdrawal; however, Georgia law prevents substitution of a party nominee within 60 days of a General Election, so it’s Deal or nothing for the GOP. An InsiderAdvantage survey, announced September 16, showed Deal with 42%, Barnes 42% and Monds 5%. This contrasts with the same firm’s August 18 poll which gave Deal 45%, Barnes 41% and Monds 5%. A Mason-Dixon poll, however, announced September 19, showed Deal leading 45% to 41% for Barnes. Moreover, 700,000 Georgians voted in the Republican Primary, 400,000 in the Democratic Primary, the lowest turnout in the party’s gubernatorial primary since World War II. Toss up.
…After serving 13 years in office and having been reelected by a plurality of 39% in a four-way race four years ago, Gov. Rick Perry (R) faces an electorate that is a bit tired of him. Rice University political scientist Earl Black says, “Perry has alienated enough people over the years that what should be an easy win will be at best a modest win – if he wins.”
He also is being hurt by a divisive primary in which he rallied the state’s Christian conservatives to defeat more moderate US Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), whose supporters (30% in the primary) may not all line up behind him, but may end up in the column of Houston’s respected former mayor, Bill White, the Democratic nominee, or one of the minor party candidates. White’s biggest problem is Obama’s unpopularity, and that outside of Houston, where the former mayor is well-known, the race may turn on Republican-vs.-Democrat, rather than on the identity of the candidates. Polls have shown a consistent lead for Perry, but he has rarely exceeded 50%, a weak sign for a well-known incumbent. White also places the blame for the state deficit on Perry, who counters that the national recession caused it. A poll of registered voters, taken by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune on September 3-8 gave Perry 39%, White 33%, Glass 5% and Shafto 1%. A Zogby poll released September 8 gave Perry 44%, White 41%. And a PPP (D) survey released September 8 gave Perry 48%, White 42%. Real Clear’s average of polls taken between August 22 and September 6 showed Perry with 47%, White 40%. Leans Republican.

An interesting perspective from a Republican who knows the southern political landscape. In this year especially, you might think Democrats would be wise to invest their resources outside of the south. But it appears that the “time for a change” meme that hurts Democratic congressional candidates just may help our southern candidates for governor in the three largest southern states.

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