Why 2014 Is a Key Year for Democrats

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Governor Rick Scott speaking at CPAC FL in Orlando, Florida.

2010 wasn't just a bad year for Democrats in Congress—it saw Republican triumphs on the state-level as well. Twenty-three GOP governors were elected that year, and in 11 states—Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—Republicans won governorships away from Democrats.

Overall, Republicans hold governorships in 30 states, including nine out of the country's 12 largest states. Moreover, ten of those states were carried by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and 14 of those states have at least one Democratic senator.

GOP power on the state level has given them an important advantage in national politics (through gerrymandering), as well as space to implement conservative policies, from reproductive rights–state legislatures are pioneers for restrictive abortion bans—to radical tax reform. In Louisiana, for example, Governor Bobby Jindal wants to eliminate corporate and income taxes, and substitute them with a single sales tax, whose burden will fall hardest on low-income residents. And as my colleague Patrick Caldwell details, these GOP governors are working with state-level conservative policy shops to expand the reach of right-wing ideas.

Given the stakes—and the extent to which GOP governors have become standard-bearers for the party writ large—it's clear Democrats need to focus on state races in the next election cycle. And unlike the House of Representations—where substantial Democratic gains are a long-shot—the picture isn't bad in the states, where a number of GOP governors are unpopular. Here's Stu Rothenberg with more:

Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan — along with Virginia this year and Maine in 2014 — constitute Democrats’ top opportunities in the 38 gubernatorial races up between now and next November. Winning a number of the big states would further shake Republican confidence and swing the nation’s political pendulum further toward the Democrats. And that’s reason enough to watch the big four gubernatorial contests.

In Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, the incumbents are vulnerable to strong Democratic challengers. The race in Virginia is an open contest and an even match between Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Democrats have yet to field challengers in either of the other states, but in Florida at least, odds are good that former governor Charlie Crist returns to challenge Scott as a Democrat. And if Crist does make a bid, he'll be well-positioned to win—a recent survey from Public Policy Polling shows Crist leading Scott, 53-39.

Rothenberg is right that winning these races will move the national pendulum further toward the Democrats. But more than that, controlling key governorships will afford liberals the opportunity to implement their policies, and solidify the key advances of the last four years, from Obamacare and beyond.