Republican Governors Top the Democrats’ Hit List in 2014

The Democratic Governors Association is running a first-strike operation against several of the GOP’s leading presidential contenders.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker testifies during a meeting of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, which he chairs, on Thursday, April 14, 2011.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
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Alex Roarty
March 2, 2014, 9:07 a.m.

A Demo­crat­ic Party stuck to play­ing de­fense in House and Sen­ate races is fo­cus­ing anew on a hand­ful of key gubernat­ori­al battles as its best chance to make its mark in this year’s midterm elec­tion. The party’s biggest po­ten­tial prize: Knock­ing off highly touted Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernors be­fore they be­come a threat in the next pres­id­en­tial cam­paign.

Of­fi­cials at the Demo­crat­ic Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation are run­ning a first-strike op­er­a­tion against a col­lec­tion of GOP White House hope­fuls like Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walk­er and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, two pos­sible pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates-in-wait­ing who face a reelec­tion cam­paign at home first. Oth­er likely pres­id­en­tial con­tenders, like Louisi­ana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal and New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie, aren’t run­ning for re­lec­tion this year, but non­ethe­less fall in­to the DGA’s sights.

“If Demo­crats really care about the things we said we cared about, we need to take these guys out,” said Lis Smith, a DGA con­sult­ant. “These will be same is­sues that will come up in 2016.”

DGA strategists stress they’re not think­ing about 2016 and care only about win­ning races this year, es­pe­cially in im­port­ant battle­ground like Pennsylvania and Flor­ida, where vul­ner­able Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernors don’t have na­tion­al am­bi­tions. But they are also keenly aware that their ef­forts could non­ethe­less have a big im­pact on the next pres­id­en­tial elec­tion — a real­ity not lost on them when they try to re­cruit at­ten­tion and money to fight this year’s races.

The goal for Demo­crats is to de­feat a can­did­ate like Walk­er or Kasich, an out­come that would po­ten­tially knock them out of the 2016 pres­id­en­tial race be­fore it even be­gins. Their work in 2014 could amount to an early play­book for the 2016 Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee.

Walk­er has been in the group’s fo­cus, with pub­lic polls show­ing he faces a com­pet­it­ive reelec­tion test against wealthy busi­ness­wo­man Mary Burke. The DGA has played a pivotal role fuel­ing the con­tro­versy in­volving Walk­er’s staff work­ing with him on his first gubernat­ori­al elec­tion — against state law.

When the scan­dal ree­m­erged last month, the DGA passed along a com­bat­ive in­ter­view from Walk­er to Fox News’ Chris Wal­lace. Earli­er this year, be­fore his State of the State ad­dress, the DGA cri­ti­cized the gov­ernor for fail­ing to pro­duce as many jobs for Wis­con­sin as he ori­gin­ally prom­ised. And when the gov­ernor took the MS­N­BC’s The Daily Run­down to op­pose an in­crease in the fed­er­al min­im­um wage, the group again cri­ti­cized him with a flurry of press re­leases.

The DGA has tra­di­tion­ally been over­shad­owed by the bet­ter-fun­ded Re­pub­lic­an Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation — last year, the RGA raised $50 mil­lion to the DGA’s $28 mil­lion. Still, last year’s haul was a re­cord one in an off year — one of­fi­cials say was at­trib­ut­able in part to the group’s strategy of na­tion­al­iz­ing the state-cent­ric races to draw Demo­crats’ in­terest.

“Our job isn’t to bloody up the pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates,” said Danny Kan­ner, a DGA spokes­man. “But that said, it is im­port­ant for Demo­crats to un­der­stand that we can de­feat some of these guys now.”

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