Sunday, November 6, 2016

Insurance Runs: 2016 Commissioner of Insurance Race Ratings

No issue has been a bigger political football over the past eight years than health insurance. Yet for all the sweeping reforms done at the national level, and the implementation executed (or not) on the state level, the nitty-gritty of insurance policy lies in regulation. The commissioner of insurance is the one who regulates—not just health insurers, but car insurers, property insurers, life insurers, and more. These little-known state officers' actions have the power to increase or decrease your premiums—and even to go after insurance companies that are scamming you.

Eleven states elect insurance commissioners, and it's the constitutional office where Democrats are closest to a majority: they hold six of the posts to Republicans' five. In 2016, five states will elect insurance commissioners, and Democrats will play defense in four of those races. The one Republican-held seat, North Dakota, is unlikely to go blue, so you can set aside those long-held dreams of a Democratic majority of insurance bureaucrats.

Below are my race ratings for commissioner of insurance; 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.

  • Delaware: Solid Democratic. We missed all the action in this race. It came in September, when New Castle County Sheriff Trinidad Navarro upset incumbent Karen Weldin Stewart in the Democratic primary. Weldin Stewart had never been particularly popular with the state Democratic Party, and Navarro hammered her for not being aggressive enough with Delaware insurance companies and for spending exorbitant sums on travel. By contrast, Navarro need only apply the lightest touch to defeat Republican Jeff Cragg, who has less than $1,700 on hand, in this blue state.
  • Montana: Tossup. The Montana state auditor is actually not an auditor at all—it's an insurance commissioner, as the job's full title ("Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, State Auditor") implies. Democratic Auditor Monica Lindeen sought a promotion to secretary of state this year, leaving her chief counsel, Jesse Laslovich, to defend the seat for the Democrats. A mid-October poll gave Republican State Senator Matthew Rosendale a 43%-to-33% lead, but Laslovich dismissed it as coming before the bulk of his campaigning, unironically saying, "The only poll that matters is November 8." He kinda has a point, though; Laslovich has very aggressively spent over $200,000 on television ads, which began the same day the poll went into the field. Rosendale has only dabbled in TV advertising and indeed has struggled to fundraise, so maybe the campaign isn't over after all.
  • North Carolina: Likely Democratic. In 2012, Mike Causey came within 3.7 percentage points of being the first Republican insurance commissioner in North Carolina history. He's back for a rematch in 2016 against two-term Democrat Wayne Goodwin, who has stayed above water in the state as a vocal critic of Obamacare. He's also a fundraising fiend, racking up $1.1 million (including, Causey points out, from insurance companies) to Causey's $61,011. However, a similar (albeit smaller) money gap existed in 2012, so I'm not ready to say Goodwin is out of the woods yet.
  • North Dakota: Solid Republican. Republican Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm is retiring, providing perhaps a glimmer of hope to Democrat Ruth Buffalo; the first time Hamm ran for the post, in 2008, it was a 1,833-vote race. However, it's far more likely that 33-year-old Republican Jon Godfread will walk away with the election. Godfread has been able to spin his career as a lobbyist for the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce as an asset, and it certainly has been financially: he's raised almost twice as much as Buffalo. And it's unlikely he's going to lose many votes to potential spoiler Nick Bata, the Libertarian candidate, who set off a firestorm when he wrote on Facebook a few weeks ago, "Make America Rape Again." Yes, that really happened.
  • Washington: Solid Democratic. Democrat Mike Kreidler is gunning for a fifth term as insurance commissioner, and there's no reason to think he won't get it. He received 58% of the vote in the top-two primary despite a three-way race, and he took a 16-point lead in an October poll over Republican Richard Schrock.


  1. In your analysis of the Goodwin-vs-Causey re-match, you didn't mention that Causey is a perennial candidate. This is his 5th time running. He's 0-4 for state Insurance Commissioner and 0-7 overall during his campaigns of the last 24 years. People just don't like the fact Causey is a former insurance company exec and lobbyist. Meantime, Goodwin has been endorsed by Republican and Democratic state insurance commissioners from across the country, and he's been endorsed by firefighters, police, state employees, business groups, and every major newspaper in the State. In 2008 and 2012, NC was a battleground state in the presidential race; in 2016 it is a super-battleground state. I believe Goodwin will not only have a good win tomorrow, but will have a better win than before.

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