MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Will Cronyism Doom Scott Walker's Re-election? Here's What to Watch in Next Week's Gubernatorial Races.

Two other Republican incumbents in the Midwest could also be in trouble. And Stacey Abrams could become America's first black female governor.

Brian Snyder/REUTERS/NewscomBrian Snyder/REUTERS/NewscomTwo years ago, it was Donald Trump's victory in Wisconsin—an unexpected result that he seemingly never tires of recapping—that effectively clinched his win over Hillary Clinton.

Next week, another close race in Wisconsin will go a long way towards determining whether Election 2018 is a blue wave or a tsunami.

The Badger State is one of three places—along with neighboring Iowa and Illinois—where incumbent Republican governors appear to be in danger of losing to Democratic challengers. In a year where there are few high-profile gubernatorial bouts, the Midwest offers Democrats the best opportunity to make gains at the state level. It will also provide the first test of whether Trump's Rust Belt success in 2016 was an outlier result or a sign of things to come for both major parties.

For Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, it's another campaign with national implications. He's running for a third term in office, but has already won three statewide elections—in 2012, he became the first governor in American history to survive a recall election, spurred by organized labor groups angry about Walker's public sector union reforms. After an early exit from the 2016 GOP primary, Walker has seen his status as a rising Republican star fade a bit.

Tony Evers, the state superintendent of public education, has promised to spend more money on education and is backed by the same political coalition that has lost to Walker three times before. But this year is different. The most recent Marquette University poll, released on October 31, found the race deadlocked at 47 percent for both candidates—while Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Phil Anderson got 5 percent.

The race is close, in part, because the state's Democratic base is eager to deliver a blow to Trump, who has a negative approval rating in Wisconsin. But Walker has hurt his own case for reelection with a high-profile giveaway of taxpayer dollars to Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn, which says it will bring 13,000 jobs to a new plant in the Milwaukee suburbs after Walker promised $4.5 billion in state and local tax incentives. The deal also includes the use of eminent domain to remove residents of Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin, from where the new facility is to be built.

The deal, in short, is exactly the kind of thing that should turn off principled conservatives—and pretty much all taxpayers. A September poll by Marquette University found that only 39 percent of Wisconsinites believed the Foxconn deal was worth it. In a close race, Walker may rue the marginal political costs of the giveaway.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is facing a stiff challenge from businessesman Fred Hubbell, a Democrat and political neophyte seeking elected office for the first time. Even moreso than in Wisconsin, this race is being driven by national issues. Trump's tariffs have angered farmers and helped boost Democrats' chances—and the backlash against Rep. Steve King's (R–Iowa) support for European white nationalists could be a factor, too.

The Republican incumbent who most certainly appears doomed is Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who trails Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker by double-digits in most polls. It's tempting to look at this as the pendulum swinging back. After all, Illinois is a solidly blue state. But GOP governors who scored equally surprising victories in Maryland and Massachusetts in 2014 are both cruising towards re-election. Illinois is a mess, and even though that's not Rauner's fault, voters appear ready to punish him for a protracted budget stalemate in 2014 that didn't materially improve the state's fiscal condition.

Rauner had some good ideas (though struggled to communicate them effectively) that could have helped Illinois' sad state of affairs, but his impending defeat is a reminder of how difficult it can be to steer a state back from the edge—and, relatedly, how important it is for policymakers to avoid following Illinois' path in the first place. Pritzker wants to hike Illinois' income tax rates, which is unlikely to solve the state's spending problems (and likely to drive more people out of the state).

Outside the Midwest, the most watched race is likely to take place in Georgia, where Stacey Abrams could become the first black woman elected governor of any state. Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey have campaigned for Abrams, who finds herself in a virtual dead heat with Republican Brian Kemp, the current secretary of state. Kemp's office is responsible for overseeing elections in the state, and his refusal to recuse himself in the event of a recount is a bad look. Libertarian Ted Metz is polling in the low single-digits, but could play a role if the race is particularly tight; under Georgia election rules, a runoff election is required if no candidate gets an outright majority of the vote.

Other close races are expected in typical swing states like Ohio and Florida; traditionally red Kansas; and deep blue Connecticut.

But the results in Georgia and Wisconsin are likely to drive the narrative on Wednesday morning.

In Abrams, Democrats have a potentially history-making candidate in a state that's crucial to the party's hopes of cracking the Republican stronghold in the Deep South.

A defeat for Walker, meanwhile, might signal to Republicans that there are consequences for espousing one thing and doing another. The man who is in many ways the face of the GOP's Tea Party era abandoned those small government principles by embracing massive corporate subsidies and kicking people out of their homes. The actions that have Wisconsin voters so angry right now are a microcosm of the GOP's corporatist behavior in the age of Trump.

Photo Credit: Brian Snyder/REUTERS/Newscom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Two years ago, it was Donald Trump's victory in Wisconsin—an unexpected result that he seemingly never tires of recapping—that effectively clinched his win over Hillary Clinton.

    For most of those states that Drumpf won narrowly and unexpectedly, it was clearly Russian hacking that put him over the top. It's not Clinton's fault she didn't carry Wisconsin.

    #TrumpRussia
    #StillWithHer

  • HeteroPatriarch||

    Really? Even Hillary's not pushing this BS anymore.

  • DiegoF||

    Hillary is not a parody account, although she certainly seems like one.

  • SIV||

    Stacey Abrams could become America's first black female governor.

    Keep dreamin'

  • Inigo Montoya||

    It's always about the surface, isn't it? First black, first woman, first gay, etc. Why should anybody care?

    I wish we'd get headlines more like, "first to repeal many existing laws," or "first to slash spending by double-digits." I'm not black or gay or female, but I would gladly vote for a black gay female libertarian over some douchebag or giant turd who just happens to look like he could be my long-lost brother. Just because someone resembles me doesn't me we agree on much of anything.

  • Entropy Drehmaschine Void||

    "Just because someone resembles me doesn't me we agree on much of anything."

    Sadly, for Proggies, that is anathema.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Progressives are at war with the rest of us to dominate humanity. The sooner everyone gets that and acts accordingly, the sooner we can be rid of them.

  • Ewood||

    Amen!

  • DiegoF||

    Perhaps not, and all the polls are wrong once again. Are they wrong by 20 points? Because the Democrats just essentially ran the Wellesley College Chair of Intersectional and Environmental Justice Studies for governor of motherfucking Georgia. That means they're already at a stage in its purpling when they can have it whenever they want it if they want to run candidates slightly more moderate, and probably will have it even with another Black Lives Matter socialist the next time they try. Likewise Florida with corrupt far-left Jew hater Gillum, Texas with infantile punk rock overgrown teen radical Beto, and so forth.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Georgia is not purple.

    All the Lefties that move to Georgia live in certain congressional districts.

  • Thomas O.||

    I think it's cute that you still think "punk rock" is derogatory.

    Gen-Xers (those who grew up with punks from the Clash to Green Day) are in their 40s and 50s now.

  • Dillinger||

    >>>A defeat for Walker, meanwhile, might signal to Republicans that there are consequences for espousing one thing and doing another.

    you kidding? (R) been fucking over its disciples for decades, keeps winning. (D) does same.

  • Bronze Khopesh||

    Scott Walker, the Jeb! of the upper mid-west.

  • DiegoF||

    Looks like Republicans are about to get shellacked this year at the governor's mansions! How will they do in the state legislatures? People don't often talk about those, even thought they are even more important, because there is almost never any polling data whatsoever. In New York the Democrats (an enormous supermajority in the Assembly for as long as almost anyone has been alive, even back when NY was voting Republican for every president) will complete their overdue trifecta by winning the Senate. And every one of their centrists were defeated in the primary by socialists.

    Republicans in the state of their party's birth can rest assured that even after they lose the governor's mansion, this is only--as in the rest of the Midwest outside Illinois--a temporary blip on their road to permanent domination! Likewise Democrats elsewhere can rest assured that even if by some miracle of God the Republicans win the Florida and Georgia governor's races, the fact that they did not get blown out of the water by running eminently hateable candidates that did everything but melt down guns into statues of Lenin on a bed of Declaration of Independence replicas demonstrates that Republicans are toast there--as they are in Arizona, Texas, and all sorts of other big states...

  • DiegoF||

    ...And with them, the White House. I hope everyone enjoys letting the Federal government know when they're giving their kid whatever gun is still legal for his birthday, because that "loophole" will not last long. Of course I meant adult kid, since children (by which I mean anyone under 25, which is the age when their brain truly matures for all decisions except who to vote for, which they will have been doing for the ten years prior in all blue states) are not permitted to use guns anyway, since they might hurt themselves and raise everyone's KamalaCare premiums at the Federal Health Service.

    Deny all you want if it makes you feel better.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Its gonna be a Democrat bloodbath.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Figuratively anyway. I dearly want themto lose big enough so they completely lose it. Then they will become violent enough that we can say we were.......provoked.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yea, elections.

    The Lefties will be so mad next week.

    Trump has played the Lefties like fiddles. He makes elections about issues that affect most Americans and its a winning strategy. Economy, Immigration, and lower trade restrictions for the USA consumers and sellers.

  • Just Say'n||

    Yeah, I tend to agree. The Midwest is generally trending more Republican which would explain why the Republican Party is quickly morphing into a nationalist and trade protectionist party.

  • Just Say'n||

    I don't think that Democrats will gain dominance in the South, though. I think the map is expanding for Republicans and is shrinking for Democrats, this election not withstanding.

  • Calidissident||

    Maybe they'll bounce back in 2020, but they're not looking very good in the Midwest this year.

    I am also skeptical of the notion that the Dems are on the verge of a mass breakthrough in the South.

  • DiegoF||

    Maybe not the still-Old South, the parts that will not much grow in population or economically. Those places have more in common with the Midwest. But blacks, northerners, and immigrants are pouring into Georgia, Texas, and Florida (and North and probably eventually South Carolina) and natives are turning generic college-educated bougie at high rates. Soon they will be like everywhere else in blue America. People think Virginiazation is just some quirky local phenomenon peculiar to Virginia. Ha! How so? And again, unless the polls are off this year on a scale that makes their 2016 performance look like divine prophecy by comparison, the election results will make that clear as day.

  • Calidissident||

    I think Virginia is an exceptional case because it's right next to the federal capital. Dems are improving in some parts of the South, true, but they've got a long way to go to make most of these places true battlegrounds (other than Florida, where that's been true for decades).

    For me, I have to see how things play out over multiple cycles to really evaluate it. Weird election results happen. Obama won Indiana and North Carolina in 2008 and nearly won Missouri. The GOP has won all three states in the two presidential elections since then, and only in NC has it been remotely close. Mark Kirk won a Senate seat in Illinois in 2010. Hell, this year Charlie Baker, Larry Hogan, and Phil Scott are going to cruise to reelection in three of the most blue states in the country.

    It's a midterm year under a Republican president with poor approval ratings who is absolutely hated by the Democratic base. It's not that surprising to me that they'd perform unusually well compared to the norm and win a few races they might not ordinarily win.

  • dangfitz||

    5 of the 6 wealthiest counties in the US are within commuting distance of Washington, DC. They make nothing there, provide no services or products for which the rest of the country willingly sends them money, which by definition means that they create no value. Of COURSE the Democrat party is dominant there. Taking money from the people who create value and giving it to the people who can give you political power is the main industry there.

  • Calidissident||

    Another thing is that I think in your analysis of the GA, FL, and TX races, you're ignoring the effect of terrible Republican candidates. Abrams, Gillum, and Beto aren't running against Murderer's Row here. Abbott is up 20 points in the governor race and Cruz is struggling to hold on in the Senate. DeSantis and Kemp aren't exactly the most appealing candidates in the world, especially in a midterm year with an enthused Dem base. Rick Scott is doing better in the Senate race against an incumbent generic Democrat like Bill Nelson than DeSantis is doing against Gillum. That doesn't reflect well on DeSantis.

    I'm going to need to see how things play out not just in a Dem-friendly midterm year before making any serious evaluation of Dem prospects in these states. Florida will continue to be Florida; perpetually up for grabs. Texas and Georgia might become attainable for Dems in really strong years for the Dems, but I think they've got a long way to go before they're seriously competing in a normal election.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Kemp is a good candidate. He has a proven track record as dependable secretary of state for georgia.

    Most georgians see right thru the Lefty propaganda trying to get stacy abrams elected.

    Georgia did not go for obama in 2008 nor 2012, so it wont be blondly going for abrams. Democrats know this too which is why they are trying so hard. They tried this hard during 2017 special election. It failed.

  • Thomas O.||

    Even if Kemp is a good, reputable candidate, it's still very bad optics to stay active in an office which duties include being the potential arbiter of your own election.

  • 68W58||

    What happened in Virginia largely has to do with the Federal workforce fleeing the higher cost of living in the District and Maryland. Maybe something similar could happen in metro areas of Georgia and Florida, but those voters will not have the same incentives as those who work for FEDGOV.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Fulton and Gwinnett counties in Georgia are blue-ish.

    Its not enough to carry Georgia.

  • dangfitz||

    Don't forget the schools! It's borderline child abuse to put your kids in a DC public school. Even Democrats in that city support vouchers. Name a politician who has put their kids in a DC public school. Gore, Clinton, Bush, Obama... all sent their kids to a high-end private school, Sidwell Friends. Heritage used to do a survey of the members of the House & Senate Education Committees, and found that more than half of the ones with kids in schools sent them to private schools (vs. less than 10% of us plebes). The optics got so bad that they stopped answering the surveys.

  • MotörSteve||

    Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Jake Porter is pollin' pretty strong here in Iowa, for what it's worth. Dude has my vote. He's a strong criminal justice reform guy.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Hey, do you guys think you could add some kind of symbol to the headlines to let us know that you're just shitting out Democrat talking points like the rest of the MSM when you post articles like these?

    Maybe something like a blue asterisk?

  • DiegoF||

    Seems more like libertarian talking points to me, maybe a bit cosmoish. They're trying to say Walker is losing because he's not libertarian enough. Americans, from the Rust belt factory worker to the masked Nazi-punching trustafarian, are all desperately yearning for a country run by libertarian policies whether they know it or not! They may just need a few fresh young faces armed with political quizzes to fully realize it, but in the meantime they will brutally punish heretics like Scott Walker over Foxconn and the Bucks stadium and so forth.

  • Nardz||

    So, cronyism will doom Walker... but not Gillum?
    All Gillum did is straight up steal millions from Florida taxpayers to give to his college buddy. And get caught taking bribes.
    Boehm finds this perfectly acceptable.
    Fuck you, Boehm.

  • Nardz||

    Oh, and not a word about Facebook and Google censoring R, but not D, campaign material.
    Fuck you, Reason

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Quit whining.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Stacy abrams is not winning the governor position in Georgia.

  • Trollificus||

    The polls are farther off than they were in 2016.

    The identitarian craziness on campuses? It's gotten worse. People of all races and genders hate that shit.

    Immigration? Massive civilian armies of invasion are more unpopular with more Americans than REASON writers can POSSIBLY imagine. Do they think latinos in the US are thinking eagerly of how much voting power the Dems will get from massive immigration? Mexican laborer I talked to today (not sure if he was documented or not) said of the 'caravans' "FUCK those guys, mang. I need MY job.".

    The polls aren't polling it because they don't want to hear it and people don't want them to hear it. Hide and watch.

  • Dadlobby||

    Nice liberal democRAT and a little we are not biased Rino-publican piece. The party with the Presidency almost always loses ground in mid terms (not big news). BTW, you MISSED Larry Sharpe for NY Governor, http://nymensactionnetwork.org.....governor/.

    But why would we expect a Libertarian site to actually discuss Libertarian candidates? The TDS is amazing.

  • Carlos Inconvenience||

    Reason seems more interested in Abrams' race and gender than her statist policies.

  • Fooseven||

    "angry voters in Wisconsin" Cmon, they were literally occupying the capital building for weeks to protest walker reforming teacher's union health care, and then forced a recall vote...but now they're "angry" because of tax breaks for a new corporate headquarters?

  • Fooseven||

    If they beat him, it will be because of turnout...it's not possible for lefties to get any angrier than they were forcing that recall.

  • John C||

    You lost me at thievery...er...eminent domain...Scott. Or at least you would have if I lived there.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online