Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cash, Money, Polls: 2016 Treasurer Race Ratings

There seems to be some disagreement over the importance of a state treasurer. For instance, during 2015–2016's nine-month budget stalemate in Pennsylvania, the treasurer was the referee—the only one making real-world decisions about how to spend taxpayer dollars as the state's Democratic governor and Republican legislature played politics. But then there is North Dakota—where two of the three candidates running for the office want to eliminate it for redundancy.

Regardless of how important you may think they are, state treasurers serve as the chief financial officers of the massive financial enterprise that is your home state. They influence budgets, turn on and off the spigots of state spending, and manage billions of dollars of investments—often your investments, as a taxpayer and/or pension beneficiary. Sounds like a job for a true professional, right? Well, that or, in 36 states, a common politician.

As they do most constitutional offices, Republican dominate state treasurer offices where they are elected, 22 states to 14. That's largely due to the fact that most treasurers are chosen in midterm elections, which have recently been great years for the GOP. By contrast, the nine treasurers elected at the same time as the president include just two Republicans and seven Democrats. That overexposure puts the Democratic Party at serious risk of losing even more treasurerships in 2016; in fact, as you'll see below, they already have lost one. Whereas both Republican incumbents are running for reelection and are expected to win easily, five of the seven Democrats leave behind open seats.

Below are my race ratings for treasurer; more in-depth explainers can be found after the jump. To check out all the downballot race ratings I've released so far, click on the 2016 Ratings tab.

  • Missouri: Likely Republican. This seat fits into a clear Missouri trend: open Democratic state offices that are probably going to fall into Republican hands. Like in the elections for Missouri attorney general and secretary of state, the GOP's treasurer candidate (State Senator Eric Schmitt) holds both a financial ($2.5 million to $350,315) and polling (49% to 40%) lead over the Democrat (ex-State Representative Judy Baker). Schmitt has run a heavy TV ad campaign that has helped him remain competitive in the normally Democratic St. Louis media market.
  • North Carolina: Tossup. Democrat Janet Cowell has faced criticism for serving on corporate boards while state treasurer; even though she's retiring this year, Republican Dale Folwell has tried to make it the main issue of the race. Democrat Dan Blue would rather talk about the anti-transgender HB 2, but no one has really tuned into the race yet, with plenty of undecideds in an otherwise tied PPP poll. With North Carolina closely contested at the top of the ticket, chances are that this race will fall like a domino to the party of whichever presidential candidate turns its people out.
  • North Dakota: Solid Republican. Elections in North Dakota don't typically carry much suspense, but at least this one has a twist: both of the challengers to curent Republican Treasurer Kelly Schmidt are running for the office for the sole purpose of abolishing it. Democrat Tim Mathern and Libertarian Eric Olson both say the office represents unnecessary government spending, which would actually be a pretty effective message in North Dakota if anyone were actually paying attention to the race. Instead, Mathern will be giving up his 30-year (!) State Senate career for nothing. Schmidt, who was reelected by 30 points in 2012, is untouchable.
  • Oregon: Solid Democratic. An open seat ever since Democratic incumbent Ted Wheeler was elected mayor of Portland, the next Oregon treasurer may have quite a bit of power if Measure 97 passes. Although there's been no reliable polling, a Republican hasn't won statewide in Oregon in 14 years and this office specifically in 28. Democrat Tobias Read also boasts a nine-to-one fundraising advantage over Republican Jeff Gudman, and he's had the TV airwaves all to himself so far.
  • Pennsylvania: Leans Democratic. Kathleen Kane wasn't the only Democratic constitutional officer in Pennsylvania to resign in disgrace since 2014. Ex-Treasurer Rob McCord resigned and pleaded guilty to charges of extortion for threatening potential donors with the powers of his office if they didn't donate to his failed gubernatorial campaign. After Governor Tom Wolf appointed a caretaker, Democrat Joseph Torsella and Republican Otto Voit are now vying for the open seat. Even though it's a potentially competitive race, it hasn't gotten the same attention as Kane's attorney-general seat for a few reasons: the McCord scandal, almost two years old, has faded from voters' minds more than Kane has, and there's more of a financial disparity between the treasurer candidates than those for AG. Torsella has raised almost $1 million and is the only one airing commercials on TV.
  • Utah: Solid Republican. Republican State Treasurer David Damschen will face his first actual election after being appointed in 2015 to serve out the term of 2012 victor Richard Ellis, who resigned to take a job with a nonprofit college-savings program. However, Damschen knows how things work around the office, as he was Ellis's top deputy. With Democrat Neil Hansen at an operating deficit of $2,498, the race might as well be uncontested.
  • Vermont: Solid Democratic. Democrat Beth Pearce has served as Vermont treasurer since 2011, easily winning reelection in both 2012 and 2014. This year, only a handful of minor-party candidates stand in the way of an uncontested third full term. Be sure to stop by and say hi to Treasurer Pearce on your February 2017 ski trip to Montpelier.
  • Washington: Solid Republican. This is a huge sore spot for Democrats. After incumbent Jim McIntire declined to run for reelection, three Democrats and two Republicans sought the office in the top-two primary. You can guess what happened next: the Democrats split the vote, and Republicans Duane Davidson and Michael Waite advanced to the general election. Starting in 2017, this 56% Obama state will have its first Republican state treasurer since 1957. Democracy! The general could still be fun, though: the Australian-born Waite (he even still has the accent!) is a former professional tennis player, and he's since made a fortune in investment banking. He believes in the treasurer taking an outspoken role and hasn't been afraid to sling mud at Davidson, a soft-spoken county treasurer from east of the Cascades. While Waite has been able to use his connections to raise over $100,000 more than Davidson, Davidson has won the support of labor unions, so he may be the beneficiary of the state's up-for-grabs Democratic vote. The race is probably a tossup, just because we have no idea how voters will react to an all-GOP race in a blue state.
  • West Virginia: Likely Democratic. John Perdue has been West Virginia state treasurer since 1997, and in this intensely loyal state, that's got to count for something. But he's also a Democrat in a rapidly reddening state in the year of Donald Trump, and in 2014 West Virginians signaled they were done giving "West Virginia Democrats" the benefit of the doubt over true conservatives in the GOP. That thinking talked me into declaring Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in serious danger, but Perdue is taking his campaign more seriously. Unlike Tennant, he's both outraised and outspent his Republican opponent, banker Ann Urling, and is the only candidate up on broadcast TV.

1 comment: