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Republicans see silver linings in deep-blue states

The Hill logo The Hill 10/12/2018 Reid Wilson
a close up of a logo: Republicans see silver linings in deep-blue states © The Hill Republicans see silver linings in deep-blue states At a moment when Republicans are bracing for the growing possibility that they lose control of the House of Representatives, party strategists are holding out hope that their side can make gains down the ballot - even in some of the bluest states in the country.

The silver linings Republicans see around a dark blue cloud come in states where Democrats have held control for years.

They include Oregon, a state where the last Republican governor won an election more than 30 years ago; Minnesota, where Democrats have held the attorney general's office since the early 1970s; and Connecticut, where Democrats have controlled the legislature for 40 years.

In those states, the long tail of Democratic control has become the GOP's main talking point.

In Connecticut, businessman Bob Stefanowski (R) is running as much against the Democratic legislature and the deeply unpopular outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) as he is against the Democratic nominee, Ned Lamont.

"I just think this governor, with high taxing and high spending, has driven this state off a cliff," Stefanowski said in an interview.

"We've had a Democratically-controlled legislature here for 40 years. People are tired here, whether they're Democrats, Republicans, unaffiliated, they're tired of this economy."

Republicans need to win over just one Democratic-held seat to capture the Connecticut state Senate, and only five seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives to win control.

That may be a tall order in a Democratic wave year, but it is not impossible.

In Oregon, state Rep. Knute Buehler (R) has cast himself as a break from years of Democratic control and Gov. Kate Brown (D) as more of the same. Oregonians have not elected a Republican governor since Victor Atiyeh won reelection in 1982.

Minnesota Republicans see an opportunity to win the state Attorney's General office, an office no Republican has won since the late 1960s.

The Democratic candidate, Rep. Keith Ellison, faces allegations that he assaulted his former girlfriend -- allegations he denies, but that his Republican opponent is using in television advertising.

"Absent these allegations, this wouldn't even be a race," said Ken Martin, the chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

Polls show a tight race, but Democrats have worked to paint the Republican nominee, state Rep. Doug Wardlow, as an extremist who backs President Trump.

Republican strategists privately admit they picked the wrong nominee for a race that might have been winnable.

Most of the Republican chances in blue states this year are long shots, at best.

Lamont leads Stefanowski by eight points in a Quinnipiac University poll released this week. Brown has led Buehler in three public polls taken since Labor Day; a survey this week from The Oregonian pegged her lead at four points.

In Rhode Island, where Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) faced a challenge in the Democratic primary, a once-promising race has seemingly trended away from Cranston Mayor Allan Fung (R), after the Democratic Governors Association paid for an advertisement showing Fung wearing a Trump hat.

"You are seeing in a lot of these states that Democrats are coming home in the close, and you're seeing Democrats opening up bigger leads," said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association.

"If you're in a blue state and you've got a strong candidate on the ballot, you're going to be voting for somebody who's a check on Donald Trump."

Republicans face harrowing poll numbers in key battleground states like Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio, but the Republican Governors Association looks all but certain to add a new member from Alaska to their roster next year.

Former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R) now holds a big lead over Gov. Bill Walker, the only independent governor in the country, and former Sen. Mark Begich, the Democratic nominee.

A survey released last week from respected Alaska pollster Ivan Moore found Dunleavy leading with 47 percent, trailed by Walker at 27 percent and Begich at 23 percent.

Only a handful of governors lead states won by the other party's presidential nominee in 2016. Republicans hold governorships in Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico and Nevada, all states that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Democrats run Louisiana, Montana and North Carolina, three states President Trump won - none of which will elect new governors this year.

But some of those crossover states look likely to realign. Democrats are all but certain to win New Mexico's top job; Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) trails his Democratic rival; and the races in Maine and Nevada are neck-and-neck.

Still, Republicans hold out hope that voters still think differently about their governors than they do about candidates for federal office.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) are both cruising to reelection even as Democratic senators in their states brush aside unknown Republican challengers.

In Connecticut, Stefanowski pointed to his neighbor to the north as his inspiration.

"Having a business perspective in government helps. You look at what Charlie Baker has been able to do in Massachusetts, focus on budgeting, negotiating, holding people accountable," he said. "In a lot of cases, Connecticut is going to be less partisan than Washington."

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