Pennsylvania Democrats Hope to Reverse History in 2014 Gubernatorial Race

Pennsylvanians have elected a governor of the party of the sitting president in only 1 of the last 19 contests dating back to 1938; Democrats are 1-16 since 1860 with a Democrat in the White House

tomcorbett10.jpgThis is the second in a series of reports on the 2014 gubernatorial elections in purple states and how the presence of Barack Obama in the White House may loom over these top of the ticket statewide races. (The first report featured Scott Walker’s reelection bid in Wisconsin).

With approval ratings well under water, Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Corbett has not only been a top target for Democrats in the 2014 cycle, but has also been feeling the pressure from some in his own party to bow out of the race.

Smelling blood, Democrats are flocking to join the field, led by U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz and a bevy of current and former legislators and executive officials.

But while the numbers may look grim for Corbett and the GOP, it seems the political environment in D.C. may yet give them hope for 2014.

A Smart Politics review of Pennsylvania election data finds that the state has voted against the party of the sitting president in 18 of the last 19 gubernatorial contests dating back to 1938.

Keystone State gubernatorial voters have not elected a candidate from the party of the sitting president since Dick Thornburgh eked out a 2.7-point reelection victory over Allen Ertel in 1982.

Since then Pennsylvanians have chosen nominees of the opposing party of the White House in seven consecutive cycles with Democrat Bob Casey (Reagan, G.H.W. Bush), Republican Tom Ridge (Clinton twice), Democrat Ed Rendell (G.W. Bush twice), and Corbett (Obama).

Prior to Thornburgh’s win in 1982, Pennsylvania rattled off a 44-year, 11-cycle streak of electing governors who did not share the partisan affiliation of the president going back to the Election of 1938.

Delving further into history, Pennsylvania Democrats have been particularly ineffective in translating presidential political currency into gubernatorial victories.

Since 1860, with the Keystone State’s own James Buchanan in office, Democrats have lost 16 of 17 Pennsylvania gubernatorial races with a sitting Democratic President in the White House.

The only Democrat to prevail under such circumstances was George Earle in 1934.

Earle, former U.S. Minister to Austria, was elected by 2.3 points over Republican William Schnader in the middle of Franklin Roosevelt’s first term.

Democrats failed to win gubernatorial elections in Pennsylvania during the administrations of Democratic presidents in 1860, 1866, 1886, 1894, 1914, 1918, 1938, 1942, 1946, 1950, 1962, 1966, 1978, 1994, 1998, and 2010.

Put another way, Republicans are 16-1 since 1860 in sending a victorious nominee to Harrisburg when a Democrat serves in the White House.

(The GOP is 11-11 in gubernatorial races with a Republican in the White House during these 150 years and just 1-8 since 1932).

This presidential curse over the last 75 years is a bit curious considering Pennsylvanians have served up a bounty of competitive gubernatorial and presidential races that could have gone either way: 13 of 19 gubernatorial contests have been decided by single digits during this span along with 15 of the last 19 presidential races.

And so, while Corbett may have dug himself quite a hole with 2014 around the corner, if he (or whomever wins the GOP nomination) makes the race close, it appears, at the margins Pennsylvania voters tend not to reward the president when voting for governor – even a president for whom they voted.

Pennsylvania Vote for Governor vis-à-vis Party Control of the White House, 1934-2010

Year
Sitting President
Party
Elected Governor
Party
2010
Obama
Democrat
Tom Corbett
Republican
2006
G.W. Bush
Republican
Ed Rendell
Democrat
2002
G.W. Bush
Republican
Ed Rendell
Democrat
1998
Clinton
Democrat
Tom Ridge
Republican
1994
Clinton
Democrat
Tom Ridge
Republican
1990
G.H.W. Bush
Republican
Bob Casey
Democrat
1986
Reagan
Republican
Bob Casey
Democrat
1982
Reagan
Republican
Dick Thornburgh
Republican
1978
Carter
Democrat
Dick Thornburgh
Republican
1974
Ford
Republican
Milton Schapp
Democrat
1970
Nixon
Republican
Milton Schapp
Democrat
1966
Johnson
Democrat
Raymond Schafer
Republican
1962
Kennedy
Democrat
William Scranton
Republican
1958
Eisenhower
Republican
David Lawrence
Democrat
1954
Eisenhower
Republican
George Leader
Democrat
1950
Truman
Democrat
John Fine
Republican
1946
Truman
Democrat
Jim Duff
Republican
1942
Roosevelt
Democrat
Edward Martin
Republican
1938
Roosevelt
Democrat
Arthur James
Republican
1934
Roosevelt
Democrat
George Earle
Democrat

Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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3 Comments on "Pennsylvania Democrats Hope to Reverse History in 2014 Gubernatorial Race"

  1. “…Democratic presidents…1866…” If the preceding reference is regarded as ‘fact’ or ‘general consensus’ even, then the Rs had held the executive branch for only 16 straight years (1869 – 1885); Shall just have to unlearn that portion of US history.

    • Eric Ostermeier | June 30, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Reply

      While elected on Lincoln’s Republican ticket, Andrew Johnson’s pre- and post-administration affiliation with the Democratic Party seemed sufficient to designate the 1866 cycle one in which a Democratic president had come to power.

  2. So, the Rs did not control the presidency for 24 consecutive years (do at least some recently written history textbooks still state that they had?). Kudos for clarification.

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