Friday, December 22, 2006

2007 Preview

In just a few days, the calendar will say 2007, and the attention of political junkies across the land will not only be on the Presidential sweepstakes and other elections that will occur in 2008, but on contests for Governor in three Southern states.

Since they are the only expected statewide elections to occur during the year, they will receive an inordinate amount of attention and analysis as both parties will look to make a strong showing.

Here are just some brief, thoughts of what we can expect as we look forward to the new year:

Kentucky Governor-

Democrats are anxious to reclaim the office won by Republican Ernie Fletcher in 2007. While Kentucky has taken some steps towards the GOP in both the state and federal level over the past several years, Fletcher has been a fairly unpopular Governor, burdened by allegations of ethical misconduct. At one point, he had misdemeanor criminal charges brought against him by the state’s Democrat Attorney General, but those charges were later dropped.

Still though, Fletcher, who has said he plans to seek a second term, will face a very difficult challenge to keep his job. Most Republicans have grown disillusioned with the Governor and fear that he may not be able to hold the office. Fletcher currently faces a primary opponent, but not one who is expected to be able to defeat the Governor. There is hope in Republican circles that defeated Congresswoman Ann Northup, (who hails from what is by far the most Democrat part of the commonwealth and has seen great success before) or Lt. Governor Steve Pence, who removed himself from any potential reelection ticket with the Governor, will challenge the incumbent. The conventional wisdom now however is that Northup is somewhat unlikely to run and otherwise the situation is in a bit of a holding pattern as people look to see what either Pence or another potentially strong Republican may do.

While the opportunity for Democrats may seem apparent, there is also some worry in that party about a potentially costly primary and producing a nominee who might have a difficult time beating a generic Republican or even Fletcher himself.

The candidates who were believed to be the strongest for the job, Congressman Ben Chandler, the 2003 nominee, and former Governor Brereton Jones have joined other Democrats in declining to make the race. Currently, the field features three major contenders for the nomination, who under state law must name their running mates upon filing for office. Those Democrats are State Treasurer Jonathan Miller, and two former Lt. Governors, Steve Beshear who served in the ’80s and Steve Henry who served a term that ended in 2003, and has yet to formally file paperwork. Both Beshear and Henry have also lost other attempts for statewide office since being elected Lt. Governor. Fletcher’s nemesis, Attorney General Greg Stumbo may also join the race, but he has some potentially damaging personal and professional ethics concerns as well.

There is a feeling that Beshear and Henry may be more “B team” than anything else and Miller, who has achieved electoral success as Treasurer may be too easily defined as too liberal for the state and have a hard time achieving victory for the top job in a conservative state.

This should be a very competitive race, but Republican hopes may hinge on Fletcher either making a quick comeback in popularity, or the party finding a different nominee. For the Democrats, a large and crowded field may complicate their efforts in a race where they should have an opportunity.

Louisiana Governor-

The opposite of Kentucky in 2007 will be Louisiana, where it is a one term Democrat Governor who is less than popular and considered an underdog. In 2003, Kathleen Blanco was a somewhat surprise winner of a close race over Republican Bobby Jindal, who went on to be elected to Congress the next year. This time, the thirtysomething Indian-American Jindal is four years older, has served in elected office, and back for another attempt that he is able to make without giving up his House seat. While there is likely to be at least one other Republican running for Governor, Jindal should be considered far and away the GOP favorite for the job.

Under Louisiana’s unique election laws, all candidates in all parties will appear on the ballot together on Election Day, and if nobody receives 50 percent, the top two finishers, regardless of party, will advance to a runoff. As long as both major parties feature more than one credible candidate, that is likely to be the outcome, as most Louisiana Gubernatorial elections in recent years have required a runoff.

The major reason for Blanco’s currently bleak political situation is anger over the way she handled Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath as well as the fact that the state may have lost many core Democrat voters after the storm. While some are surprised that Blanco is even attempting to seek a second term, she might look with optimism to the fact that the Mayor of New Orleans (a fellow Democrat who is not at all a fan of the Governor) managed to win reelection against the odds as did the Democrat Congressman of New Orleans, who is likely facing future felony charges on corruption matters.

There are a couple other Democrat running for Governor at this point, but in order for the party to knock Blanco out in the first round and increase their chances of success in a runoff, they made to recruit a bigger name. Many mention Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu, who in 2006 lost that race for Mayor of New Orleans, and even former Senator John Breaux, who has not offered any signs that he would be interested.

The way things stand now, Blanco is likely to be the most prominent Democrat on the ballot and would probably wind up once again facing Jindal in a December runoff. Such a race may be extremely difficult for her to win under the circumstances, especially if Ray Nagin, the Democrat Mayor of New Orleans, once again supports Jindal. The feud between Nagin and Blanco is much more pronounced than it was before Katrina and the Governor will need to achieve astronomical numbers among the state’s African-American population if she is to win another term. Simply put, this is a very strong possibility for a GOP pickup.

Mississippi Governor-

Things in this state are likely to be far less hectic and exciting as what we can look forward to in Kentucky and Louisiana. Unlike Blanco, Mississippi’s Republican Governor Haley Barbour received plaudits for his leadership role in dealing with Hurricane Katrina in his state, and has maintained high approval ratings and is a solid favorite to win a second term in this conservative state. Many Republicans probably wish that Barbour would consider making a White House bid, but that is virtually impossible to do at the same time that somebody is actively seeking reelection the year after a national midterm.

Democrats are hoping that former Governor Ray Mabus may get into this race and give Barbour a strong opponent, but he has not signaled a plan to enter the fray at this point. Otherwise, the name mentioned is that of Secretary of State Eric Clark.

Barbour will be favored over any Democrat at this point, but if one of those two are not the nominee of their party, Barbour may not really need to break a sweat.

In the days ahead, I will take a look even further out, and offer some thoughts on every Gubernatorial and U.S. Senate election that will be on the ballot in 2008.