How two GOP governors surfed the blue wave

On election day, as the blue wave washed into governor's mansions across the country, the governorships of t...

Posted: Nov 16, 2018 12:21 PM
Updated: Nov 16, 2018 12:21 PM

On election day, as the blue wave washed into governor's mansions across the country, the governorships of two of the bluest states remained high, dry and red.

Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland both won their re-election bids, buoyed by high favorable ratings and overwhelming fundraising. Their decisive victories stand in contrast to a midterm election cycle in which Democrats flipped seven governorships, seven state legislative chambers, and more than 300 state legislative seats.

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So, how did they do it?

Large majorities of voters in both states like their governors personally, and approve of their job performance, according to state polls as well as national polls comparing them to other governors. Large Democratic majorities in their respective legislatures make bipartisanship a necessary part of the job, and they both have taken advantage of opportunities to adopt policy from across the aisle.

Sparkling poll numbers boosted fundraising and galvanized support. Baker and Hogan built massive campaign coffers and were heavily supported by the Republican Governors Association.

Apart from their first few months in office, when many voters were still unable to rate them, neither have registered job approval ratings below the 60s in Morning Consult state-by-state polling.

These enviable ratings are due in part to support from groups typically elusive to Republicans. Democrats, women, people of color, and college educated voters have all given them consistently good marks, according to polls our organizations have each conducted in our respective states. Put simply, they built and maintained the support of voters beyond Republicans.

And they needed to. Self-identified Republicans comprised only 30% of midterm voters in both states, according to VoteCast data, an exit poll replacement from the AP, NORC and Fox News. When the dust settled, support for Baker and Hogan among Republican voters was as close to unanimous as you can get in electoral politics. Speculation Republicans would stay home rather than vote for a "RINO" (Republican in name only) turned out to be just that.

But where both men won was with their second base: Moderate Democrats and independents. According to VoteCast, Hogan won nearly a third and Baker won 47% of all Democratic voters in their respective states. Both won handily among independent voters. They also outperformed their challengers among key demographics: women and college-educated voters.

Baker ran nearly even with his Democratic rival in urban areas and among people of color in Massachusetts, a remarkable achievement in this racially charged and geographically polarized political moment. Maryland has considerably more African-American voters than Massachusetts, and Hogan earned support from just under 30% of them, all while running against an African-American opponent.

President Trump played a role, too. VoteCast data showed him to be deeply unpopular with voters in both states, and that was a significant factor in determining their vote. Baker and Hogan's Democratic opponents tried in vain to link them to Trump by any possible association, no matter how tenuous. It didn't work.

Their mix of strategic avoidance -- breaking with the President early and often while keeping open the possibility of working with the administration on certain issues -- effectively neutralized his very real threat to their re-election bids. Hogan and Baker won the majority of voters who said Trump was the reason for their midterm vote -- and those who indicated he wasn't, according to VoteCast data.

Trump may have even helped Baker and Hogan by making them look more moderate by comparison. The relentless Trump-driven Washington news cycle sucked much of the oxygen out of the room, and pre-election polling showed both challengers struggling to get even their names out to voters. The focus on Trump likely didn't help them with fundraising, either, as national donors were more focused on retaking the House or the handful of high-profile Senate and gubernatorial races, rather than long-shot challengers.

Despite their impressive wins at the top of the ballot, neither Baker nor Hogan had any discernible coattails. Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ben Cardin cruised to re-election.

In Maryland, Democrats maintained their veto-proof majority in the General Assembly, picked up seats on county councils and won key races for county executive and all other statewide offices.

In Massachusetts, all other statewide Republicans and congressional candidates lost, and Democrats added to their supermajorities in both legislative chambers. It seems that the un-Trump brand Baker and Hogan worked hard to cultivate is independently earned, but not transferable.

The big lesson of the victories of Baker and Hogan may be the same one that Democrats used to win the House: Candidate quality matters. Both men are affable and personally likable politicians authentically comfortable bucking their party and working across the aisle. They represented both a check on power and the ability to get things done.

Ironically, those qualities are the same that may make both men pariahs in the national GOP, where moderation can hinder political ambitions. But if Republicans -- particularly Republicans frustrated by the direction of politics today -- are getting nervous about another blue wave building in 2020 and want to change course, the approach of these two governors could be a welcomed path to higher ground.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 92432

Reported Deaths: 2792
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6931154
DeSoto535455
Harrison370771
Jackson335867
Madison319086
Rankin316174
Lee256166
Jones237678
Forrest231769
Washington216371
Lafayette205039
Lauderdale1990124
Bolivar177565
Oktibbeha174149
Lamar157733
Neshoba1529103
Panola142426
Sunflower139643
Lowndes138957
Warren137250
Leflore135380
Pontotoc121216
Pike120448
Monroe118265
Scott115925
Copiah115733
Coahoma111227
Holmes108558
Marshall107115
Grenada105035
Lincoln104953
Yazoo103529
Simpson100742
Union97724
Tate95037
Leake93735
Adams90936
Wayne87121
Pearl River85150
Marion83633
Prentiss80317
Covington79622
Alcorn76311
Newton75022
Itawamba74621
Tallahatchie74518
George74013
Winston72019
Tishomingo65336
Chickasaw64124
Attala64025
Tippah63716
Walthall59025
Clay56516
Hancock55720
Noxubee54015
Jasper53815
Clarke53138
Smith51814
Calhoun50612
Tunica47613
Montgomery45320
Claiborne45116
Lawrence42312
Yalobusha41514
Perry39417
Humphreys37215
Quitman3725
Stone34811
Greene33817
Webster32813
Jefferson Davis32311
Amite31110
Carroll31012
Wilkinson30117
Kemper28615
Sharkey26212
Jefferson2379
Benton2181
Franklin1873
Choctaw1775
Issaquena1033
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 128818

Reported Deaths: 2284
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson18772333
Mobile12975289
Montgomery8598173
Madison742275
Tuscaloosa7081114
Lee560359
Shelby557250
Baldwin503348
Marshall378442
Etowah330645
Calhoun324939
Morgan314226
Houston264422
Elmore249747
DeKalb232619
St. Clair219835
Walker219180
Talladega203426
Limestone194219
Cullman180817
Franklin173428
Dallas173226
Russell16922
Autauga166424
Lauderdale161633
Colbert158126
Escambia155424
Blount152714
Jackson148511
Chilton146327
Covington130327
Dale130043
Coffee12488
Pike11359
Tallapoosa112983
Chambers111742
Clarke104617
Marion92128
Butler90638
Barbour8247
Marengo69619
Winston68712
Lowndes64527
Pickens62814
Bibb61910
Hale61028
Randolph59112
Bullock58514
Lawrence57820
Monroe5738
Geneva5564
Cherokee54816
Washington54513
Perry5366
Clay5317
Wilcox53011
Crenshaw51931
Conecuh51711
Macon46720
Henry4594
Sumter41719
Fayette4159
Choctaw34412
Lamar3372
Cleburne3166
Greene30015
Coosa1603
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