Vice President Mike Pence told a gathering of Republican governors Wednesday “we’ve got real momentum,” despite stinging electoral defeats last week in Virginia and New Jersey, a GOP-led Congress that has failed to pass any major legislation this year and President Donald Trump’s plummeting popularity.
Pence’s party controls a record-tying 34 US governorships and part of a two-day annual Republican Governors Association meeting in the capital of Texas, the country’s largest red state, was to discussing how to continue that dominance. But recent events have encouraged a few in the GOP to move away from their party’s leadership, just as some Democratic governors facing tight midterm elections once shied away from then-President Barack Obama,
A former governor of Indiana, Pence offered a pep talk, ignoring potential negatives while bragging that the economy is growing, the stock market booming and “we’re just getting started.”
“In a word, we’ve got real momentum,” Pence said, vowing that Congress will pass “historic” tax cuts before the end of the year.
“We’re pretty fond of governors,” Pence said, latter adding, “Our administration and President Trump know that governors understand their states’ unique needs better than anyone ever could in Washington.” The feeling may not be entirely mutual.
Democrats had previously lost special congressional elections in Kansas, Montana, Georgia and South Carolina, but last week won two governorships while erasing a previously dominant Republican majority in the Virginia House and gaining control of Washington state’s Senate.
Republicans will still hold a 33-16 advantage in governorships nationwide after January. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is an independent now up for re-election.
Matt Mackowiak, a Republican political strategist based in Texas, said the Trump administration and GOP-controlled Congress still can deliver wins on policies such as tax cuts. But if that doesn’t happen, “There are going to be questions about not getting the benefits of Washington being fully run by Republicans.”
The Democratic successes revealed some potentially troublesome trends for Republicans. In Virginia, suburban women failed to turn out strongly for GOP candidates. In 2016, that demographic helped put Trump in the White House. By comparison, minority turnout for Democrats was strong.
Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the governors association’s chairman and one of those seeking re-election, said examining the factors driving turnout will be important for next year. “Every state is different,” Walker told reporters.
Republicans in Congress have so far failed to make good on their promise to “repeal and replace” Obama’s health care law and are still trying to craft a tax cut plan that would have sufficient support to pass _ despite Pence’s rosy predictions. Trump’s approval ratings are sagging and the investigation into Russia’s meddling in last year’s election has accelerated.
Walker shrugged off concerns that Trump’s popularity could hurt Republican in 2018 gubernatorial races, urging his colleagues: “Run your own race. Be your own person. Talk to the voters about the issues that matter to them in the states.”
But Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is term-limited and can’t run again for his current post in 2018, added: “I do think it’s going to be important whether Congress and the president do what they said they were going to do.”
Republican Governors Association spokesman Jon Thompson said, Republican governors in some blue states, “have their own brand separate from Washington,” pointing to Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Maryland’s Larry Hogan. Baker isn’t attending this week’s meetings, though.
Having a sizeable advantage in governors’ offices means the GOP will have to play more defense in 2018. Thirty-six states are electing governors _ Republicans will try to hold 26 compared to the Democrats’ nine. That includes 12 open governorships currently held by Republicans, and four open seats now held by Democrats.
The gubernatorial races are important for a reason other than political bragging rights: In many states, governors will play a key role in the next round of redistricting after the 2020 Census.
Republicans control 31 state legislatures, which typically draw congressional and legislative maps. A Democratic governor in a state with a Republican-run legislature can sometimes limit the type of extreme gerrymandering that would entrench the GOP in political power.
Democratic Governors Association spokesman Jared Leopold said that, if his party can win a lot of next year’s governor’s races, Democrats can at least wield veto power over districts drawn to favor the GOP. “The governors’ races in 2018 will shape congressional maps for a decade to come,” Leopold said.