In an article for Governing, Louis Jacobson analyzed every election cycle from 1998 through 2010 in search of governors who were elected to office but failed to secure a second term. He found 17 incumbent governors who lost over the 12-year period — a group almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. These governors’ losses were widely spread out, occurring in nine different years, including off-year elections in states such as Kentucky, Mississippi and New Jersey.
Jacobson drew up a list of factors he thought might have played a role in one or more of the races. He then ran these by political experts in the states that ousted their governors, hoping to glean which of the factors played major roles, minor roles or no role in the incumbent’s loss.
Below are the factors, in declining order of impact, along with an analysis of whether these rules apply to Florida Governor Rick Scott:
Troubles for the state combined with ineffectual leadership – Jacobson finds this was a major factor in six losses and a minor factor in two losses. Certainly this is the factor which will impact Scott the most in 2014. On a scale of one to ten, one being Florida moving in the wrong direction, ten being Florida moving in the right direction, I reckon most Floridians would put their state at about a four or five. I genuinely believe that same sentiment will be at a six, maybe a seven, by the time Scott runs for re-election. So I actually don’t think the environment will be toxic for Scott in 2014. However, the matter of ‘ineffectual leadership’ could be an albatross around Scott’s neck. Just look at the decision this week by Scott to scrap the went-nowhere idea of a two-year state budget. This is but the latest example of the increasing irrelevance of a governor with a 26% approval rating. So long as his poll numbers are in the tank – and even more so if the numbers are hardening – Scott’s influence will be limited.
Long-term partisan trends in the state shifting away from the governor’s party – Jacobson finds this was a major factor in five gubernatorial races, but it’s doubtful this will be a major factor in Florida in 2014, although the law of averages suggests it’s likely the long-term partisan trend will be moving away from the GOP only because the party has been so dominant in state politics for the last two decades.
Poor campaign skills – Jacobson and his sources found this to be a major factor in two races, but it’s difficult to assess how this applies to Rick Scott. In his defense, Scott actually has a solid campaign operation behind him. He has a top-notch pollster, Tony Fabrizio, on retainer. He has the Republican Party of Florida machine at his disposal. And Scott does the one thing every consultant loves to see out of their client: He stays on message. Of course, the million dollar question is how many millions is Rick Scott willing to spend on his re-election.
Personal scandal – Scandals torpedoing a reelection bid is not a common occurence, Jacobson finds and I don’t think it will be a factor for Rick Scott. Since he was elected despite whatever scandal existed because of his role at Columbia, Scott is pretty much in the clear now.
A bad national electoral environment for the governor’s party in that election cycle – Surprisingly, this is not as much of a factor as you’d think and it’s doubtful it will be an issue for Rick Scott. In fact, Scott will be likely be on the ballot in the midterm of Barack Obama’s last term, so the national mood may actually be on Scott’s side.
The bottom line for both Jacobson and Rick Scott is that the most common problem leading to an incumbent governor’s loss is a practical one — economic trouble in their state, combined with the governor’s inability to get in front of the problem. This essentially boils down to voters exercising their prerogative to throw the bum out.