Democratic governors and candidates competing in battleground states are planning to make a minimum-wage increase a centerpiece of this year’s campaigns, taking the baton from President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, according to a memo shared with National Journal.
Raising the wage was a core part of Obama’s larger theme of boosting “opportunity” for all, and it’s a policy that Democrats running for statehouses think will help them politically, according to the memo from the Democratic Governors Association.
“No issue better crystalizes the broader debate between 2014 Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates than that of a minimum wage hike,” DGA Communications Director Danny Kanner says in the memo.
This is a big year for the Democratic Governors Association, given the number of Republican governors swept in during the 2010 wave who are now up for reelection.
Republican governors from Florida to Wisconsin have consistently opposed efforts to raise the minimum wage, and Dems think that choice will come back to bite the GOP. The DGA points to a recent Wall Street Journal poll showing 63 percent of Americans support raising the wage and a separate Quinnipiac poll showing a plurality of Republican voters agree.
While it’s not surprising that Democrats would echo the president on a central policy goal, raising the minimum wage has until recently been seen as the domain of the party’s progressive wing and an issue that candidates in battleground states might shy away from.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to a handful of gubernatorial races, at least. In Maine, while Republican Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed legislation to raise the minimum wage, Rep. Michael Michaud, the presumed Democratic nominee, cosponsored a bill in the House to raise the wage nationwide.
Democrat Mark Schauer, who is hoping to oust Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, has proposed boosting the wage to $9.25 an hour and indexing it to inflation, and said he would make hiking it a top priority if elected.
In Iowa, Jack Hatch wants to go even further and raise the wage to $10.10, which would give the important political state the highest minimum wage in the country. Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat former governor, who is running to reclaim his old seat in Florida’s statehouse, also supports setting the wage at $10.10.
Meanwhile in Illinois, where Democrats are hoping to defend Gov. Pat Quinn as he heads into a tough reelection battle, all four Republican challengers oppose Quinn’s proposal to boost the wage.
And Democrats think the message will resonate as well in redder states like Kansas, where they’re hoping to push aside Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
Kanner says Democrats will use the minimum wage to present a larger economic message.
“These are two starkly different economic philosophies, and the minimum wage debate makes that clear. In this case, Democrats are standing with the American people while Republicans, once again, thumb their nose at them,” he said.