Jodi Rell will not seek re-election

We had seen it coming, but that doesn’t make Jodi Rell’s announcement that she will not seek re-election next year any less surprising.

Despite the ignominious circumstances in which she came to occupy the position in the summer of 2004, Rell’s approval rating quickly attained stratospheric levels and she crushed New Haven Mayor John DeStefano in the 2006 midterms. Heading into 2010, her popularity was on the decline but she was still heavily favored to win her second full term.

Instead, we get confirmation that few executives want to extend their tenure - a striking contrast with congressmen, who tend to never retire. Sure, most states have term-limits but even those governors who are not subjected to them typically call it quits: Of the 4 governors who were entitled to prolong their tenure beyond eight years in 2010, three chose to retire: Rell, Tim Pawlenty and Jim Douglas. Only Rick Perry is seeking re-election. All of that adds up to an astonishing number: There will be 20 open gubernatorial races in 2010!

Rell’s decision hands Democrats a golden opportunity to reclaim a position that has escaped them since 1990: Connecticut is blue-leaning enough that they have to be considered slight favorites in the early going.

Of course, the GOP has had its share of success in the Nutmeg State, as they have throughout New England in non-federal races: Connecticut, Massachussetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island all had a Republican Governor at some point this decade. Add to that the fact that the GOP has a decent bench to choose from, and the contest will be anything but a slam dunk for Democrats.

Republicans already have a candidate: Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele wasted no time before making it clear he would jump in the race, adding that the governor had promised him her support no matter who else runs on the GOP side. As such, Fedele could quickly gain a secure hold on the Republican nomination. A former state representative, he narrowly lost a state Senate race in 2002. He has never won statewide on his own name (he ran on a ticket with Rell in 2006), but his position should help him secure institutional support and a level of credibility Republicans can never be sure of having in a New England race.

Other Republican names are circulating, starting with the Republican leaders of the state legislature’s two chambers - state Rep. Lawrence Cafero and state Senator John McKinney. One intriguing politician who might receive some phone calls: former Rep. Chris Shays. Yet, Shays strongly hinted he was not interested in a political comeback when he ruled out challenging Chris Dodd in 2010.

All of this said, today’s news is undoubtedly a reason for Connecticut Democrats to celebrate: They had not had a shot at an open Governor’s race since the 1994 cycle, when John Rowland narrowly won a 4-way race with just 36% of the vote. Whatever the political environment next year, it will be tough for any Republican to win in a state Obama won with 61% of the vote - especially since the party won’t be able to focus the spotlight on an unpopular Democratic incumbent.

For all the talk of potential red wave next year, there is no denying that Democrats are in a great position to limit their losses thanks to the far larger number of Republican retirements; this holds true at the gubernatorial level (Minnesota, Vermont, Connecticut), at the Senate level (Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio) and at the House level (IL-10, PA-06, DE-AL).

The Democratic field had already attracted high-profile contenders before today’s announcement: Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, Secretary Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, former state Speaker James Amann, state Senator and Gary Lebeau have long already jumped in the race. This week, former Senate candidate Ned Lamont formed an exploratory committee, and the thought of an incumbent-less general election will presumably make him more eager to jump in the race.

The question now is whether Democrats who were not considering challenging Rell will consider running. In particular everyone’s attention turns towards Attorney General Blumenthal, a major political figure in Connecticut who has repeatedly passed on opportunities to run for Governor. Yet, this is the first time he has the opportunity to run in an open race. My sense is that Blumenthal has been eying the Senate and that challenging Joe Lieberman in 2012 should be a far more attractive proposition for him than running for Governor.

Yet another reason for Democrats to celebrate is that Rell’s retirement could help Chris Dodd’s re-election prospects. For one, the GOP’s Senate nominee will not be able to count on Rell’s coattails. Even if the party keeps the Governor’s Mansion, it will surely not be the type of margin Rell was entitled to hope for - and there is the possibility that the Democratic nominee piles up a big lead, driving Dodd along with him.

Second, the senator can now be sure that he won’t be the only Democrat responsible for turning out the party’s base: many Democratic voters might be too dejected to bother going to the polls just to save Dodd, but if they’re going anyway to elect Bysiewicz, Malloy or Lamont to the Governor’s Mansion, they would also pull the lever for the Senator.

5 Responses to “Jodi Rell will not seek re-election”

  1. 1 Jaxx Raxor

    Taniel don’t you mean that there are four governorships that don’t have term limits? Or maybe there is more that you haven’t mentioned? I know that South Dakota doesn’t have term limits but that electon takes place during the Presidential years.

    I agree that that Democrats aren’t going to have as bad of year as was once thought of because of all of the GOP retirments (some term limit based) in states that are overwise heavly Democratic. The Republicans are much stronger in terms of taking open seats in red seats than the oppossite: Kanasa, Oklahoma, Tennesse, and Wyoming if Freudenthal doesn’t challange term limit law are very likely to go Republican, while only Hawaii and California look to be in the bag for Democrats. Republicans aren’t going to win in RI but it will be a two way race between indepdent Chafee and a Democrat. Vermont and now Conneicut benefit from having the Lt. govenors of the popular Democrats running and are toss-ups at best for Democrats at the moment.

    I will also agree that this could potentially help Dodd, perhaps significanly, by stimulating base turnout among Democrats going for the gubernentorial race.

  2. 2 Maurice

    Do you get the sense that Lamont helped her reach her decision, or did he hear about it early enough to jump in before she jumped out?

  3. 3 Taniel

    Jaxx, I believe South Dakota does have term limits (Rounds cannot run for re-election). And I meant there are 4 governorships with two term incumbents and no term-limits among the states that are hosting races next year.

    Maurice, my sense is that Rell’s decision came as a surprise to most everybody in the state (including the Lieut Gov and the press corps), so I don’t see how Lamont would have heard about it. As for whether Lamont might have influenced her, I don’t see that at all: Lamont isn’t a bigger threat than someone like Bysiewicz.

  4. 4 Maurice

    I agree that Lamont isn’t a greater threat, but he has a lot wider name recognition nationwide. Even though he isn’t very liberal, he’d have attracted more money nationwide, I believe, as wood have Napolitano against McCain rather than Goddard.

    And Jaxx, by “toss-ups at best for Democrats”, do you mean good or bad for them? As far as I know, Dubie’s had an icy relationship with Douglas, and Rell’s numbers aren’t good enough to cause Democrats much fear. The rating, being rather lenient on the R side, would be lean D for both.

  5. 5 Jaxx Raxor

    Taniel I meant to say North Dakota, that governorship doesn’t have term limits and Gov. Hoeven is in his third term (and is so popular he could say as Governor for decades if he wanted too) but that governor’s race takes place during Presidential years so its not really pertinent. I was just wondering how many governorships do not have term limits. I believe New Hampshire doesn’t either but of course the governor’s term is only 2 years like in Vermont.

    Maurice, I probably got my words a little twisted, I should have said that as of right now the northeastern states with departing GOP governors are toss-ups as of right now. In the sense that Democrats do not start out overwhelmingly favored just becasue these states voted for Obama in 08 and vote for Democrats in other federal elections.
    For the specfic states u mentioned
    In Vermont Democrats have to be conserned on over how they deal with the Vermont Progressive party so the left vote isn’t split. Douglas won his first term because Democrats and the Progressives split the left vote: I think that Douglas got about 49% or so, so the Democrat could have narrowly won if not for the split. The Progressive party has for a few times overperformed the Dem nominee so its important for Democrats and Progressives to somehow make an arraigment so only one leftwing candidate is running. I’m pretty sure that the progressive party has made demands that the Democrats have to support certain left wing policies in order for them to not field a candidate of their own, so we need to see how that plays out. Dubie’s chances would significantly improve if the left vote is split.

    In CT, Rell’s popularity defines not just because of the politics of her state but of the economic conditions. My homestate governor O’Malley as only tepid approval and he is a Democrat in heavily Democratic Maryland. On the other hand, Rell’s 58% approval is considered a low, which is the high end for other governor’s these days. She could definitly try to transfer popularity to the Lt. Governor if she indeed endorses him over other candidates. Also I don’t think the Democrats have had the governorship since the 1980s, so they have that against them.

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