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 1:21 PM
Updated: Nov 16, 2018 1:21 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.

Charlie Baker

Continents and regions

Donald Trump

Elections and campaigns

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Governors

Heads of government

Larry Hogan

Massachusetts

North America

Northeastern United States

Political candidates

Political Figures - US

Political organizations

Politics

The Americas

United States

US Democratic Party

US political parties

US Republican Party

Voters and voting

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.

Terre Haute
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 45°
Robinson
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 44°
Indianapolis
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 42°
Rockville
Overcast
43° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 37°
Casey
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 41°
Brazil
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 45°
Marshall
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 45°
Mostly cloudy, a bit warmer.
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 350744

Reported Deaths: 9496
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1651985364
DuPage20947598
Lake19546503
Will16898419
Kane15422341
Winnebago9114165
St. Clair7559213
Madison6795152
Champaign568028
McHenry5642120
Peoria424362
McLean386730
Rock Island367088
Unassigned3627260
Sangamon347554
Kankakee316878
Macon256848
Kendall247027
Tazewell240547
LaSalle218460
DeKalb209542
Coles178838
Williamson170958
Boone165524
Adams163315
Clinton158724
Vermilion15417
Jackson143325
Whiteside115222
Randolph114514
Knox10969
Effingham10903
Ogle10527
Grundy8777
Jefferson85844
Monroe84928
Bureau84717
Marion84512
Franklin8406
Stephenson8147
Morgan79624
Henry7945
Christian77125
Macoupin7319
Union73025
McDonough66515
Fayette63019
Crawford6246
Lee6121
Shelby5868
Livingston54910
Montgomery54815
Douglas5458
Logan5434
Woodford54311
Saline5037
Bond4669
Jersey45621
Iroquois45119
Warren4517
Cass44911
Wayne43410
Jo Daviess4275
Perry40616
Fulton4030
Moultrie3755
Carroll3658
Richland31714
Johnson3130
Lawrence3068
Hancock2843
Clay28111
Washington2781
Greene26915
Clark2666
Pike2604
Cumberland2536
Jasper24710
Mason2351
White2351
De Witt2273
Pulaski2261
Mercer2196
Piatt2070
Wabash2055
Ford1799
Menard1591
Massac1412
Edgar1398
Marshall1373
Hamilton1132
Henderson1110
Alexander1081
Gallatin1052
Edwards980
Brown960
Scott930
Putnam850
Schuyler801
Stark792
Calhoun690
Hardin490
Pope361
Out of IL20

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 149166

Reported Deaths: 3960
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion24564781
Lake13079350
St. Joseph8788157
Elkhart8371132
Allen7815221
Hamilton5923113
Vanderburgh553050
Tippecanoe350914
Monroe319438
Hendricks3140130
Johnson2972127
Porter293248
Clark282157
Delaware279674
Vigo248837
Madison226991
Cass221020
LaPorte213057
Warrick186563
Kosciusko173121
Floyd172766
Howard157466
Bartholomew138657
Dubois133724
Marshall130626
Henry121828
Boone118648
Grant118039
Wayne117123
Hancock114144
Noble111333
Jackson107412
Morgan91540
Dearborn90328
Daviess83732
Gibson82611
Clinton81316
Shelby78329
Lawrence77832
LaGrange76615
Harrison73324
Knox69610
Putnam69515
DeKalb68611
Posey6745
Steuben5888
Miami5765
Fayette57515
Montgomery56422
White56215
Jasper5464
Greene51237
Scott50613
Decatur49439
Adams4645
Whitley4316
Clay4276
Sullivan42412
Ripley4178
Wells4125
Orange38624
Wabash3859
Starke3847
Huntington3695
Spencer3686
Franklin36325
Jennings35913
Washington3512
Randolph3378
Fulton3292
Jefferson3285
Pike31612
Carroll30813
Perry28914
Jay2816
Fountain2743
Tipton26623
Parke2182
Newton21111
Vermillion2111
Rush2034
Owen1991
Martin1950
Blackford1903
Crawford1481
Pulaski1431
Brown1283
Ohio1187
Benton1070
Union1020
Switzerland840
Warren731
Unassigned0233