Republicans Replay 2010 Strategy at State Level

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from The New York Times,

Republican candidates for governor around the country have built an unexpectedly strong position for election this fall, helped by an improving economy, disaffection with President Obama and a national fund-raising machine that is leagues ahead of the opposition.

Four years after an economic crisis and opposition to Mr. Obama’s health care law propelled Republicans to capture a lopsided majority of statehouses across the country, they are faced with a staggering political task: defending 22 of the 36 executive mansions that will be up for grabs in November, led by a governor who is trying to rebound from a scandal.

While the sheer scale of Republican gains four years ago offers Democrats a wealth of opportunities to win, the political environment appears to be tilting again in the Republicans’ direction.

The recession that doomed Democrats in 2010 has shifted into a recovery, driving down jobless rates and bolstering Republican incumbents. At the same time, President Obama’s approval ratings have fallen even in states that he won in 2012.

And campaign money is gushing into national Republican groups that focus on state capitals, including the Republican Governors Association, whose chairman, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, has set fund-raising records for the group even under the glare of multiple state and federal investigations. The association raised $100 million during the 18 months ending in June, dwarfing the amount it amassed for 2010, and had $70 million in cash at the beginning of July. The chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont, said his group would be outraised by about two to one.

“In governors’ races they ask one simple question: Has the governor delivered on job growth, economic vitality and making investments in infrastructure, education and our kids’ future?” Mr. Shumlin said.

The stakes in the country’s statehouses are arguably higher than those in the battle for control of the United States Senate, which has consumed most of the media coverage and money from both parties this year. Washington is likely to remain gridlocked regardless of which party wins control of the Senate in November, but the success of Republican governors this fall, along with retention of Republican majorities in dozens of state legislatures, would cement the sweeping changes on economic and social issues that have been implemented in state capitals across the country. In 17 states with Republican governors up for re-election, the party also controls the legislature.

The landscape for governors is in some ways the opposite of the Senate map this year. While Democrats are forced to protect Senate seats in conservative-leaning states such as Arkansas and Louisiana, Republicans are doing much of the same with their governors in states that have favored Democrats in recent elections.

No Republican incumbent is as vulnerable as Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, who was elected with Tea Party support but has seen his standing fall after making deep cuts to education.

Yet the hardest-fought races are likely to take place in the Midwest, where the governors associations, business and labor are already spending millions.

Democrats are determined to defeat Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and snuff out his White House aspirations. Like Mr. Walker, Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan has taken on unions, and made himself a prime target for Democrats.

Democratic governors are plainly irritated that some of the country’s biggest liberal contributors are more focused on Washington elections when state races have become so pivotal in shaping policy.

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