“It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, in one of the more famous exhortations of federalism.
It’s an idea that Republicans have seized on. While Democrats were coalescing their efforts around control of the White House, Republicans were investing in a bottom-up strategy that focused on building success at the state and local level. By any account it was a smashing success. Following the 2016 elections, Republicans had majorities in an all-tim high 69 of 99 state legislative chambers and 33 governorships. All told, Republicans saw a net gain of 1,042 state and federal posts, including congressional and state legislative seats, governorships and the presidency.
Success trickled up. Strong management at the State level proved the success of conservative policies and also created a fantastic base of recruits for federal-level posts.
A new poll from Morning Consult shows that the model continues to work. The poll found that the 10 most popular governors in the country are Republicans. Moreover, the two most popular governors, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland, are both Republicans in deep-blue states. Gov. Phil Scott, who was the nation’s fourth most popular governor, hails from Vermont, home of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders.
There are lessons to be learned from each of these three.
“It may seem odd that Republican Gov. Charlie Baker is so popular in Massachusetts, one of the country’s bluest states,” Boston College Law Professor Richard Albert told the Morning Consult via email. “But there is no secret to his success: He has run the commonwealth successfully as a nonpartisan manager.”
Similarly, Gov. Scott succeeded by focusing on pocketbook issues that spoke to the concerns of everyone, regardless of party. And he also learned a thing or two as a stock car racer, a skill set he says enabled him to effectively serve as a leader in a liberal state where both chambers of the legislature are dominated by Democrats.
“Some people are pretty aggressive in politics, and I’ve always maintained that if you treat others with respect, you make mistakes at times, when you get into somebody, you get into their back bumper at times, you spin them out. You own up to it,” Scott said. “You go find them and you talk to them about it, you work it out.”
And finally, Gov. Hogan’s unlikely success in Maryland—a state where only one other Republican had served as governor in more than 40 years—shows the power of simple, pro-economy messaging.
David Mark writes for the Morning Consult:
“After eight years of Gov. O’Malley, voters were simply exhausted,” Kurtz said. “Under O’Malley, there were searing debates over emotional issues like same-sex marriage, immigrants’ rights, gun control, the death penalty, casino gambling, and renewable energy. O’Malley and the Democratic legislature raised taxes to pay for education, transportation and other initiatives.”
By the 2014 campaign, Kurtz added, “Voters were ready to hit the pause button — and with his simple, digestible agenda of lower taxes, fewer regulations and smaller government, that’s essentially what they’ve gotten. Even Democrats in a lot of areas have responded.”
Although each state is different, what drives voters is often the same, and it’s evidenced by these three conservatives who have found success in liberal states: Be personable, deal pragmatically, stay positive, and forget politicking. If there is a unifying theme behind these stories it’s that Republicans succeed, even in areas where they historically haven’t, when they let their ideas do the talking.
Republicans are focused on expanding opportunity for everyone, driving job creation and wage growth, reining in government to allow private businesses room to grow, and right-sizing taxes to keep more money in the hands of taxpayers. America’s laboratory of ideas are churning out great policies to further those goals and Republican governors are serving as their chief scientists.
The upcoming 2018 gubernatorial election cycle, in which 38 governorships are up for grabs, will be a difficult one. But the Morning Consult poll is just the latest piece of evidence showing that Republican governors are building a broad and stable base of support built on the strength of their ideas.