Smart Politics

History Favors Walker’s Reelection

Two-thirds of 20th century U.S. candidates attempting a fourth consecutive gubernatorial win succeeded.

By , Smart Politics - Jun 15th, 2018 10:47 am
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Gov. Scott Walker at Shopko in Sussex to highlight the launch of the $100-Per-Child Tax Rebate application. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker at Shopko in Sussex to highlight the launch of the $100-Per-Child Tax Rebate application. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may not have been the first Republican to sound the bell warning of a potential Democratic wave in 2018, but he rang it loudly after his endorsed state supreme court justice candidate was defeated in last April’s election.

Even without high profile pick-ups by Democrats in Alabama’s special U.S. Senate election and Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District (and a few dozen lesser-known state legislative seats across the country), the purple state GOP governor who won each of his three gubernatorial elections by less than seven points (including 2012’s recall) was aware he would not likely coast to a 2018 midterm victory – particularly with Donald Trump’s approval rating hovering around 40 percent in the Badger State.

But while it remains to be seen whether or not Wisconsin Democrats pick the most palatable nominee in their mid-August primary, a slight edge must still be given to the incumbent governor.

Smart Politics previously documented how each of the last nine governors to attempt a run for a third consecutive term were successful as well as 20 of 24 since 1970.

So how successful have governors been in seeking a fourth consecutive victory over the decades?

Smart Politics examined the nearly 1,900 gubernatorial elections conducted since the turn of the 20th Century and found that incumbents who have sought a fourth consecutive victory at the ballot box were victorious two-thirds of the time – 20 wins against 10 defeats – including three-fourths of the time during the last half century (12 of 16).

Since 1968, just four incumbents seeking a fourth straight victory fell short of that mark:

  • 1968: Rhode Island Republican John Chafee lost to state Superior Court Judge Frank Licht by 2.0 points
  • 1978: New Hampshire Republican Mel Thomson was defeated by former state legislator Hugh Gallen by 4.0 points
  • 1990: Rhode Island Republican Edward DiPrete suffered a 48.3-point blow-out loss to attorney and Providence School Board member Bruce Sundlin in the third straight match-up between these two nominees
  • 1994: New York Democrat Mario Cuomo lost to State Senator George Pataki by 3.3 points

The last governor to win four elections in a row was New Hampshire Democrat John Lynch in 2010.

After cruising to 40+-point wins during the 2006 and 2008 Democratic waves, Lynch fended off former state HHS Commissioner John Stephen by 7.6 points during the 2010 GOP tsunami.

Over the last half-century, voters also backed 11 other governors in their bid for a fourth straight win at the ballot box:

  • 1968: North Dakota Democrat William Guy
  • 1970: New York Republican Nelson Rockefeller
  • 1972: Kansas Democrat Robert Docking
  • 1978: Iowa Republican Robert Ray
  • 1982: Rhode Island Democrat Joe Garrahy
  • 1982: Vermont Republican Richard Snelling
  • 1986: Illinois Republican Jim Thompson
  • 1994: Iowa Republican Terry Branstad
  • 1998: Vermont Democrat Howard Dean
  • 1998: Wisconsin Republican Tommy Thompson
  • 2008: Vermont Republican Jim Douglas

Each of these 11 aforementioned governors won their fourth term by double-digits – averaging 20.1-point victory margins.

Looking through a wider historical lens, governors seeking a fourth consecutive victory since the turn of the 20th Century have been successful in 20 of 30 attempts (66.7 percent).

A few even came up short in their party’s primary – a fate that will certainly not befall Governor Walker this August:

  • 1926: Michigan Republican Alex Groesbeck lost to former Ionia Mayor Fred Green
  • 1962: Texas Democrat M. Price Daniel placed third in a primary won by Naval Secretary John Connally
  • 1966: Idaho Republican Robert Smylie lost his party’s nomination to State Senator Don Samuelson

Going back to the late 18th Century, governors have tallied a 52-15 record in their quest for a fourth straight electoral win (77.6 percent).

It should be noted that the pool of states which allow individuals to serve more than two consecutive terms is now just 14: Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Governors who had the opportunity but opted not to attempt a run at a fourth consecutive victory since the turn of the 21st Century include Michigan Republican John Engler (2002), New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen (2002), New York Republican George Pataki (2006), Texas Republican Rick Perry (2014), Vermont Democrat Peter Shumlin (2016), and Idaho Republican Butch Otter (2018).

Smart Politics is the non-partisan political news site founded and authored by Dr. Eric Ostermeier at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

10 thoughts on “Smart Politics: History Favors Walker’s Reelection”

  1. Caligula says:

    Vote Walker!
    GOVERNOR FOR LIFE!!

  2. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    How many of them had “unfavorable” ratings near or above 50%, and never won with more than 53% of the vote? And how many of them presided over subpar job growth for their entire tenure, “divide and conquer” policies, and the biggest job losses in the country 5 months before the election.

    Related note. How did the better-liked Russ Feingold do in his attempt for a 4th term in the face if an opposite-party wave in 2010? I’ll wait.

    There’s a reason Walker is desperately tweeting and doing numerous taxpayer-funded photo ops at campaign contributor businesses. BECAUSE HE IS LOSING and is frightened by having to get his first real job.

  3. Colin says:

    Wow Caligula… You’d love North Korea! YAY LET’S HAVE A DICTATOR! what voting and choice?
    What a joke. Vote him and all the other GOP clowns out.

  4. tom says:

    Walker is a divisive political animal who thinks only about his own political future. Vote the corrupt pay-for-play Walker out to get our state back on track. We will be paying for Walker’s political handouts to corporate cronies for decades.

  5. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Scott has great record, Under the Dems we would be Illinois. Wis has outpaced everyone in Midwest and the great Foxconn dealwill keep us prosperous for decades.

  6. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Tom, not too smart. The only money that Foxconn will get, comes directly from them, will be money we never would ahve gotten if they had not come here.
    We will get property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, from their businesses and the people that work there.

  7. MKE Kid says:

    WCD conveniently ignores our more prosperous and progressive neighbor to the west.
    IL, i.e., Chicago, has always had filthy politics since the Mob. The Mob became all powerful because of Prohibition against alcohol. They’ve been a ugly part of US politics to deal with since then.
    MN will continue to grow and attract younger people while WI continues to be a backwater morass for backwards oldsters like WCD.
    Thank Walker for poisoned air and water, not to mention ongoing issues with meth, opioids, and alcohol.

  8. Rita says:

    FoxConn – the epitome of unintelligent and misplaced corporate welfare, bad roads, my tax money going to private school vouchers instead of my public school, low wages and degradation of worker benefits and rights, backwards policies on poverty and healthcare and opportunity for all, his pay to play corruption, degradation of common waters & lands & common sense protections (ex. high capacity well proliferation) record levels of elite money in his campaigns, the Kochtopus/far right/trump/adelson etal tactics and policy alliance, reliance on slick PR and upside down language (aka lies). Oh, yes, and add the use and financial support of false academia like the rest of the corrupt puppets in office who threw away ethics and truth for their personal ambition and greed.

  9. Dave Reid says:

    Just a point of clarification. There is a $764 million TIF (this is on top of the $3+ Billion state subsidy) for the Foxconn facility. So no for that site we will essentially not be getting property taxes from Foxconn for at least 25 years.

  10. Caligula says:

    Scott Walker is brilliant! Foxconn is the best deal ever made! Butt hurt libtards hate jobs and freedom! The Scottholes everywhere and huge DOT debt are all Doyle’s fault! Everything else is Obama’s fault!

    Trump!
    President for LIFE!
    Walker!
    Governor for LIFE!
    USA #1!

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