Sure it is, at least according City Journal‘s Steve Malanga. The Democrats have won convincingly in five of the last six presidential elections. But Malanga argues that those outcomes conceal the growing strength of the GOP in the states:
Since Obama first took office in 2008, Republicans have picked up a net nine governorships, bringing their total to 30 states, which hold nearly 184 million Americans. In 24 of those states, containing 157 million Americans, Republicans also control the legislatures. Democrats boast similar power in just 12 states, with a population of 100 million. Even Republicans’ unimpressive national showing last November didn’t reverse their state-level momentum.
The impressive number of Republicans in American statehouses is a matter of simple fact. Yet it’s curious that Malanga virtually ignores other simple facts: many of those governors won office in the Tea Party election of 2010, and are extremely unpopular today. The stars of Malanga’s long account of the “rise of Republican governors” include Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Florida’s Rick Scott, Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Maine’s Paul LePage, who won blue states on conservative platforms in 2010. Although they’ve have had some legislative successes, however, all of these governors face long odds of retaining their seats.
There are exceptions to this bleak prospect, most notably New Jersey’s Chris Christie. As Malanga acknowledges, however, Christie’s popularity is partly attributable to his partnership with Obama and criticism of the national GOP in response to Hurricane Sandy. And Republican governors are struggling even in solidly red states. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, for example, has an approval rating in the high 30s that reflects widespread opposition to his signature plan replace the state income tax with a sales tax.
Considered in broader context, there’s little evidence that the GOP has a growing base of support in the states that could eventually be transformed into a national majority. So what accounts for the high number of Republican governors? A big part of the explanation, as Jamelle Bouie observed in connection with GOP’s likely win in Virginia this year, is that the electorate in gubernatorial elections tends to be smaller, older, and whiter than the electorate in presidential years. In short, Republicans win elections in which Republican constituencies are more likely to vote. This was particularly true in 2010, when Republicans mistook a demographic aberration for a national wave.
Republican success in the states, then, is perfectly consistent with continuing Democratic control of the presidency. One party is rooted in a dwindling but highly motivated base. The other dominates the broader electorate that turns out in big years. This dynamic means that Republicans will remain local players no matter what happens in Washington. The demographic source of their state-level strength, however, also threatens to lock the party out of the White House.