Tuesday, November 4, 2014

2014 Race Ratings: Command of Comptroller

At Baseballot, we answer the hard political questions. One of those questions is, "What is the difference between a controller and a comptroller?" Actually, nothing—not even how they're pronounced. Yet, for some reason, four states insist on spelling it one way (controller) and nine insist on the other (comptroller). (Twenty-four states spell it A-U-D-I-T-O-R; the duties of an auditor and a comptroller, to ensure transparency and responsibility in state finances, are essentially identical.)

Of the 13 state controller/comptroller positions in the United States, nine are elected, and wouldn't you know it, all nine are up in midterm years like 2014. Party control sits on a knife's edge, with five Democrats and four Republicans. It looks like each party has four of the seats in hand, but one race is entirely unpredictable—and thus one lucky state will determine if Democrats keep their majority.

Regrettably, this will be the last in my series rating downballot races (Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here)—sorry, secretaries of state, treasurers, and labor commissioners! In 2016, I'll attempt to be more comprehensive—and it should be a less ambitious project, with only a handful of states electing constitutional officers that cycle. That means that my final 2014 downballot race ratings are as they currently appear on my 2014 Ratings page. They'll remain up through the election and then archived forever in a post-mortem article evaluating how the ratings fared.

For now, of course, here are my race ratings for the 2014 controller and comptroller races; more in-depth explainers can be found after the jump. For a rundown of my methodology, see my September 26 post.

California: Likely Democratic
Republicans almost wrapped up the controller's office on primary night, when a fractured Democratic primary field came close to being shut out of November thanks to California's top-two system. However, Democrat Betty Yee snuck onto the ballot as the runner-up and became the race's instant favorite. However, Republican Ashley Swearengin is the party's strongest candidate in the Golden State this year. The successful mayor of Fresno, Swearengin has refused to endorse the Republican candidate for governor, come out in favor of gay marriage, and endorsed the progressive fantasy that is the California bullet train. A lack of cash, though, has turned Swearengin's promising start into an eight-point polling deficit. She hasn't aired a single TV ad, while unions have spent six figures helping Yee.

Connecticut: Solid Democratic
Incumbent Comptroller Kevin Lembo (D) was the first openly gay official ever elected statewide in Connecticut. In 2014, he'll become the first openly gay official ever re-elected statewide in Connecticut, as he faces Republican sacrificial lamb Sharon McLaughlin. The most interesting part of the race might be Green Party candidate Rolf Maurer, who wants to "transition to a hemp-based economic infrastructure" and actually pulled 12% of the vote in one poll.

Idaho: Solid Republican
This year saw a close race for Idaho controller—in the Republican primary, when incumbent Brandon Woolf pulled out a narrow win over Todd Hatfield. In the general, though, Woolf is unopposed, so he's guaranteed to win his first-ever election (he was appointed to the job in 2012 after the previous controller was so badly injured in a car accident she had to step down).

Illinois: Solid Republican
You'd think the lieutenant governor of Illinois would be overqualified for comptroller, but the voters of Illinois don't see it that way. Incumbent LG Sheila Simon opted off the ticket with Pat Quinn to run waaaay down the ballot in this race, but, perhaps because of her association with an unpopular administration, her campaign has fallen flat. Republican incumbent Judy Baar Topinka has mastered the art of winning Illinois as a Republican; she is popular in Chicago and has courted the support of the state's powerful unions, getting endorsements from the Illinois Education Association and AFL-CIO. With Topinka up 49% to 31% in the latest poll, this should-be clash of the titans is barely even a contest.

Maryland: Solid Democratic
Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot is seeking a third term, and there's no reason to think he won't get it. He is facing the same Republican, William H. Campbell, whom he beat 61% to 39% in 2010, except Campbell now has the "birther" label hung around his neck after a Facebook post questioning President Obama's citizenship and comparing the president to Trayvon Martin. That's a good way to only raise $1,655 in two months. (Another is running for office in Maryland as a Republican, but that's beside the point... Wait, no, actually, it is the point.)

Nevada: Tossup
This is a tough one—simply because we don't have very much data. As pollsters have queried Nevadans on races like lieutenant governor and attorney general, they haven't asked about the controller's race all cycle. Democrat Andrew Martin has spent over twice as much as Republican Ron Knecht for the open seat, but it's been a very under-the-radar campaign, suggesting this race will ride the coattails of whichever party does best with the gubernatorial and overall electorate. In Nevada right now, that looks like Republicans, but there's just too much uncertainty. This is one of those tossups that Democrats could win by 5 or Republicans could win by 15.

New York: Solid Democratic
Although I'm tempted to pick the Rent is 2 Damn High candidate for this race, incumbent New York Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) has this locked up. Even Republican Bob Antonacci knows it, as they spent their only debate swapping compliments and calling each other "gentlemen." Perhaps a moral victory for Antonacci, though: he is the first major-party candidate for statewide office from central New York in 60 years.

South Carolina: Likely Republican
This is Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom's (R) fourth election for the office, although he hasn't exactly coasted in any of them (winning between 53.3% and 56.5% of the vote). Clearly Eckstrom's outlandish personal life—including romantic drama, an out-of-control family, inappropriate personal use of campaign funds, and casually racist comments—has held Eckstrom back, but he's still become a mainstay in South Carolina politics (maybe because, with nine constitutional offices, he'll never run out of jobs to run for). Especially since the two are roughly on par in fundraising, Democrat Kyle Herbert has a chance to be competitive, but the smart bet is on another mildly close Eckstrom win.

Texas: Solid Republican
Only in Texas can the guy who's the former CFO of an oil company be the Democrat, but that's Mike Collier. If the last poll is right, he'll lose by 15 points to State Senator Glenn Hegar (R) for the open seat. Texas's as-yet impermeable red and Hegar's $2.1 million in the bank for an office no one has ever heard of (comptroller of public accounts, as it's officially known) is an unbeatable combination.

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