There are a multitude of factors that dictate how someone votes in an election, and for a large share of individuals, whether they even vote at all. Political Science has a long history of attempting to define which characteristics influence the electorate to vote for a particular party; sometimes for academic purposes, but in the election industry, these defining characteristics are very valuable information.

There are internal factors and external factors that decide an individual’s vote. Internal factors are characteristics inherent to the person that increases their predisposition to vote for a particular political party, e.g. race, sex, or age. External factors are things that occur out in society that influence an individual’s political leanings, e.g. the salience of a social issue at the time of the election, economic growth or shrinkage, or the response of an administration to a national security threat. The effects of these events on the electorate are more difficult to quantify, but that is the aim of this paper, at least for one specific type of external factor: economic growth.

Do voters hold government officials, more specifically executives, accountable to economic performance during their tenure? What about the party of the executive; do voters punish the political party of the executive when economic performance is poor and reward it when it exceeds expectations? At first the answer seems like an obvious one. In fact, if there were any factor that did dictate the electorate’s vote, it would seem that most would say economic performance was it. But, the interesting part of this lies in the specifics, and implications of the question. If it is found that economic performance has little to no bearing on the electorate’s aggregate vote for the political party that is in power at the executive level, then this would indicate that voters do not make their decision in the context of political parties. Perhaps it would mean that they place more emphasis on the personal characteristics of the candidate. Alternatively, it could indicate that the partisan divide is so strong that voters, on the aggregate level, vote on party lines despite how good or bad the perceived economic leadership of the president or governor is during their tenure. And lastly, it could even indicate that campaigns are so effective at pushing a specific narrative that voters forget the reality of economic conditions.

But what results do you get when you examine the relationship between state economic conditions and presidential vote share? Do voters hold the president’s party accountable, and furthermore do they hold the president’s party accountable for state economic conditions that are outside of the national government’s control? In this paper we will discover whether or not a relationship exists, and determine whether or not accountability stays in its appropriate sphere. Building on this as well, we can make some determinations of other factors that affect presidential and gubernatorial success in elections.


            Nearly every publication in political science regarding this subject looks at election results through the lens of two different voting behavior models. The first is the national referendum model, which “suggests that voters in subpresidential elections express their approval or disapproval of the sitting president and his policies with their vote.” The other model is the economic voting hypothesis, which “suggests that voters in these elections express support or dissent for the performance of the incumbent based upon how well the economy is doing,” (Atkeson and Partin, 1995). At its core, this last model indicates that voters who are financially better off than they were before the candidate took office will reward the incumbent, and conversely will punish them if that does not hold true. The economic voting hypothesis is what we are primarily taking a look at here, with a couple of variables that would shed some meaningful light on the applicability of the national referendum model in the gubernatorial analysis.

Institutions, The Economy, and the Dynamics of State Elections takes a deep look into the aforementioned topic at the state legislative and gubernatorial levels (Chubb, 1984). Chubb considers the relative effects of presidential coattails, the common backlash against the party of the president during mid-term elections, and state and national economic conditions. He believes that “. . . when it comes to assigning responsibility for economic performance, state voters have generally and increasingly looked outside of the state to the national economy and the president’s imputed performance in managing it,” thus a poorly performing national economy would influence the outcome of a state election, despite a state’s hypothetical independently strong economic performance. The analysis of this paper has shown Chubb’s claim to be inconsistent with voting behavior in the last two decades, but perhaps there has been a genuine change in behavior between the time period he analyzed and now. Lastly, Chubb says that at the state level, “the factors that account for variations in normal partisan voting across the states include idiosyncrasies of culture and history that subvert general explanations,” which corroborates the findings of the analysis here. Gubernatorial electoral outcomes are the product of far more variables than presidential electoral outcomes.

James King, of the University of Wyoming, in 2001 performed a similar analysis in his publication titled Incumbent Popularity and Vote Choice in Gubernatorial Elections. Studying gubernatorial elections in four states, his results found that “. . . voters use the ballot for governor to express approval or disapproval of current economic conditions and the president’s job performance, or as an easy means of evaluating candidates.” This would square with Chubb’s publication that retrospective economic voting is a reality, and that voters hold the governor accountable to state economic performance.

Atkeson and Partin, in Economic and Referendum Voting: A Comparison of Gubernatorial and Senatorial Elections come to similar conclusions. They find that “. . . governors, as chief executives of their respective states, are held responsible for the health of their state economies and are not generally shown to be liable for fluctuations in presidential approval.” This further affirms the existence of economic retrospective voting at the gubernatorial level. Atkeson and Partin also “. . . find something of an in-party incumbency effect whereby incumbent governors of the president’s party suffer more from a perceived worsening of state economic conditions than incumbents of the out party,” and finally they claim, “. . . governors . . . escape from these national-level evaluations of presidential performance and are instead held liable for state economic conditions.” This would suggest that national economic performance has no bearing on governors, regardless of political affiliation.

In a very interesting article written by Robert M. Stein in 1990, the argument is made that economic conditions affect presidential vote share, but not gubernatorial, saying “. . . state and local incumbents are less likely to be affected by voters’ retrospective economic evaluations than their national counterparts.” Stein’s usage of the word “incumbents” would indicate that voters do not punish or reward the incumbent party when an incumbent is term limited and the election is open-seat. Stein’s findings do confirm his aforementioned hypothesis, and he goes on to state that “Voters hold their governor neither responsible nor accountable for the state’s economic conditions and their voting behavior reflects this perception . . . This evidence of economic voting for governor, however, varies with the partisan affiliation of the incumbent candidate,” thus when economic effects do matter in an election, voters will punish or reward each party by different amounts for the same economic performance. Stein’s research shows that voters differentiate between the impact state and federal policies can have on their personal finances, wrapping up his article by saying that “voters recognize that their personal financial condition is more closely tied to federal policies and actions than to the state’s,” (Stein, 1990).

A different approach to testing the executive economic accountability theory is taken by David Samuels and Timothy Hellwig. They cited the controversy of trying to define the dependent variable in the accountability model; whether to measure accountability as number of seats in a legislature swings in vote share of an incumbent, or in its most stringent sense, partisan control of the office in question. They found that accountability can be observed when measuring it as seats in a legislature or vote share of an incumbent, saying “When we conceive accountability in terms of sensitivity of swings in incumbent vote shares . . . and when we use seats as the dependent variable, we find that incumbent performance is sensitive to economic performance.” However, when measuring accountability as partisan control of the office, the results were inconclusive, saying “. . . when we conceive of accountability as partisan control over government . . . our findings temper Cheibub and Przeworski’s (1999) pessimism.” The authors ultimate conclude that “citizen control of politicians is . . . imperfect because particular political contexts limit voters’ ability to hold incumbents to account by obscuring responsibility for economic performance,” (Samuels & Timothy, 2010).

Johnson and Ryu look to other countries to test these models, but with the inclusion of broken campaign promises in the analysis. They sought to determine if economic performance, broken promises, or some combination of the two were what voters cared most about in executive elections. Their findings indicated that neither of the two factors had any substantive effect alone, but an interaction between both variables resulted in statistically significant results, going on to say that “the relationship between broken campaign promises and incumbent vote change is affected by economic conditions.” This means that regardless of economic performance, as long as no campaign promise was broken, the executive was not rewarded nor were they punished for it; and alternatively, when a campaign promise was broken, voters held the executive accountable for economic performance, likely due to increased scrutiny (Johnson & Ryu, 2007).


Data was gathered from official and private sources (deferring to official whenever possible), from the years 1987 to 2013.

The hypothesis for the state level is as follows:

 State Level H1: People vote to retain the governor, or party of the governor when he/she is term limited, when the state in question experiences strong economic growth.

State Level H2: On average, a governor will be positively affected when the governor is the same political party as the sitting president and their elections coincide.

The overall theorized model of the analysis is specified by the following regression equation:

 %VoteShareGovParty = β0 + β1 % StateGrowth + β2 % NationalGrowthSamePres – β3 %NationalGrowthOppPres + β4 PartisanControl + β5 GovIsIncumbent + β6 GovSamePartyElectionasPres + ε

The following are variable definitions:

%VoteShareGovParty: The percentage of vote share received by the party of the incumbent governor, whether the governor was running for reelection or not.

%StateGrowth: Measured as the percentage change in Per Capita Real Gross State Product over the tenure of the governor.

%NationalGrowthSamePres: An interaction between a dummy variable that turns on when a governor is the same party as the president, and the percentage change in Real Gross Domestic Product

%NationalGrowthOppPres: An interaction between a dummy variable that turns on when a governor is the opposite party as the president, and the percentage change in Real Gross Domestic Product

PartisanControl: Serves as a baseline for the predicted vote share of a governor. This is measured by taking the average of the vote share of the Democrat Party for every gubernatorial election between 1987 and 2013, and providing that number if the incumbent party is Democrat, or 100 minus that number if the Incumbent party is Republican. The coefficient of this variable will be difficult to interpret, and is not meaningful for our sake.

GovIsIncumbent: This is a dummy variable that turns on if the governor is an incumbent.

GovSamePartyElectionasPres: This is a dummy variable that turns on if the governor is the same party as the president, and their elections fall on the same year.

Gubernatorial election results and information on gubernatorial incumbency were aggregated from Wikipedia, which has curated lists that source the data from each state’s secretary of state or equivalent. I am aware that Wikipedia is frowned on to use as a source in an academic context, but there was simply no other source that had the data in a remotely useful format. National RDGP growth, as well as state per capita RGDP growth figures were obtained from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The rest of the variables were computed through Excel functions to prepare the dataset. Observations were discarded if the incumbent party was not Democrat or Republican, and after the completion of the dataset, there were 327 total observations being analyzed. For the regression analysis, Stata 14 was used.

The national level model is much the same, with two hypotheses as well:

National H3: People vote to retain the president, or party of the president when he is term limited, when the country as a whole experiences strong economic growth.

National H4: People vote to retain the president, or party of the president when he is term limited, when their state experiences strong economic growth.

The overall theorized model of the analysis is specified by the following regression equation:

%VoteSharePresParty = β0 + β1 % StateGrowth + β2 % NationalGrowth + β3 PartisanControl + β4 PresIsIncumbent + ε

The following are variable definitions:

%VoteSharePresParty: The percentage of vote share received by the party of the incumbent president, whether the president was running for reelection or not.

%StateGrowth: Measured as the percentage change in Per Capita Real Gross State Product over the previous presidential term.

%NationalGrowth: Measured as the percentage change in Real Gross Domestic Product

PartisanControl: Serves as a baseline for the predicted vote share of a president. This is measured by taking the average of the vote share of the Democrat Party for every presidential election between 1987 and 2013 and for every state, and providing that number if the incumbent party is Democrat, or 100 minus that number if the Incumbent party is Republican. Like the gubernatorial model, the coefficient of this variable will be difficult to interpret, and is not meaningful for our sake.

PresIsIncumbent: This is a dummy variable that turns on if the president is an incumbent.

Presidential election results and incumbency information were aggregated from The American Presidency Project. National RDGP growth, as well as state per capita RGDP growth figures were obtained from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The partisan control variable was computed through excel functions. Observations were adjusted if there was a third party candidate to exclude that impact on the results.


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After running the regression analysis on the data and ensuring that there were no omitted variables, we are presented with some very interesting results. Three different models were created for the gubernatorial level, with each subsequent model adding controls in an attempt to isolate the real effects that state GDP growth and national GDP growth have on the vote share for the political party that is in power at the executive level in state government. Though no heteroscedastic problems were foreseen, every model was controlled for heteroscedasticity by using the robust command in Stata. Refer to Table 1 for the results of all three models.

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After producing a correlation matrix, we find no possible issues with multicollinearity in the model. Notice the low correlation between the PartisanControl variable and %VoteShareGovParty. The PartisanControl variable takes historical voting averages for the Democrat Party in each state and uses that number as a baseline to predict vote share in the year in question. However, because aggregate state partisanship is much more volatile than the country as whole, and is susceptible to much quicker political ideology shift, historical voting averages are not nearly as good of a baseline at the state level as they are for the national level. In an ideal world, this correlation number would be equal to 1.000, which would allow us to perfectly predict the outcome of each election with only one piece of data, but unfortunately this is not the case. As you will soon see, the presidential model correlation between these two variables was much higher, leading to a much more accurate model.

Neither state nor national economic performance has any effect on gubernatorial vote, and we cannot accept H1. The closest either variable gets to any significance is with a p-value of 0.102, but even this is in Model 1 when the other controls are not active. This is a surprising result, and though the p-values for the state, same-party-national and different-party-national variables are 0.335, 0.995 and 0.736 respectively in the complete model, the R2 is 0.429. This means that there are other variables out there that will account for the other 57.1% of the variance in vote share for the political party in power. If those were controlled for, there is a chance that state and national economic performance could come back down into significance. However, the challenge with this is that there is no shortage of unobservable variables that have some bearing on the outcomes of elections.

To those familiar with the field of Political Science, it should come as no surprise that incumbents enjoy a tremendous advantage over their opponents. In this analysis, it was found that, when controlling for the other previously mentioned variables, simply being an incumbent gives a gubernatorial candidate a 10.646% (though we must consider the constant forces us to start below zero, at -3.343, so it’s not exactly 10.646 but rather a touch below) vote share boost; with a p-value of 0.000. This is also an underestimate, due to some states only requiring a plurality of the vote to win the governorship; e.g. some gubernatorial results in this data show a governor winning with as little as approximately 40% of the vote. These observations could have been removed, but they comprised a significant portion of the data, and incumbency advantage was not the aim of this research.

Presidential coattails were also confirmed by this analysis, for better or for worse. When a governor shared the same political party as the incumbent president and their elections coincided, the governor enjoyed a modest vote share boost; with a p-value of 0.003, allowing us to accept our H2. This could be attributed to the president running a hard fought campaign during his election year, in an attempt to increase his approval rating before Election Day; and when the incumbent president could not run for reelection, perhaps those conditions did not necessarily hurt a same-party governor either. Presidential campaign efforts, on average, apparently have a positive effect on not only his party members at the federal level but governors as well. This may no longer be the case today, but on average from 1987 to 2013, it was.

These results call into question the rationality of the votes cast in gubernatorial elections, and force us to ask ourselves, if these results are an accurate representation of reality, why voters do not hold governors and their political party accountable to state economic performance? Perhaps this is a result of state economic conditions being to some extent a product of the national economy, and also a result of state economic conditions being vaguely defined in the context of the bigger national picture. Rarely are voters exposed to economic performance data, and when they are it is highly unusual to be state data. However, even this does not square with voters not being mindful of national economic performance either. There is a chance that voters view the governor as isolated from any decisions that would affect the state economy and insulated from decisions that affect the national economy, and because of this, state and national economic conditions do not hold any bearing on their vote in gubernatorial elections.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 8.27.40 PM

The presidential model produces far more predictable results. Three different models were created for the presidential level as well, with each subsequent model adding controls in an attempt to isolate the real effects that state GDP growth and national GDP growth have on the vote share for the political party that is in power at the executive level in the federal government. State economic growth is not significant in the complete model, however, and has a p-value of 0.918; preventing us from accepting H4 that hypothesizes that state growth has a positive impact on presidential vote share. Unlike the gubernatorial results that showed that state economic performance had no effect on general election outcomes, the president’s party is indeed accountable to national economic performance, with a p-value of 0.000; allowing us to accept our H3. Like the gubernatorial model, incumbency matters. Simply being an incumbent resulted in a significant vote share boost for the incumbent president.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 8.27.32 PM

After producing a correlation matrix, we find no possible issues with multicollinearity in the model. The PartisanControl variable correlates highly with %VoteSharePresParty, 0.8909, but this is to be expected. In these models we are using voting averages for the Democrat Party in years past to estimate current Democrat vote share. What this means is that we seek a high correlation with the PartisanControl variable, and if it were not correlated highly this would mean that partisan trends and a state’s propensity to vote more for a specific political party were non-existent. We know this is false.

Perhaps most interesting is the performance of the included quadratic national GDP growth variable. The inclusion of this variable is only due to the very high level of significance it attained, and it admittedly makes little theoretical sense within the context of the model. Because OLS has estimated a negative coefficient, this indicates that GDP growth has a diminishing effect with respect to vote share of the incumbent party of the president, to the extent that at a certain point, higher growth actually reduces it. Theoretically, voters are eager to kick out the party in leadership when there is very low GDP growth. Voters are eager to retain the party in leadership when there is a satisfactory amount of growth. And lastly, perhaps voters are enjoying an economic prosperity so much with very high GDP growth that they don’t care to turnout for an election and keep their favored party in power.

The performance of the presidential model squares with the economic voting hypothesis. Voters notice economic growth (or the lack thereof) and attribute this to the performance of the president. Though the president has no constitutional basis to manage the national economy, voters have given this responsibility to him.

The gubernatorial model does not square with the economic voting hypothesis. Governors are not beholden to any economic performance. However, the model does square with the national referendum hypothesis, as evident in the statistical significance of the “Governor Same Party as President” variable. Voters express their discontent or satisfaction with the sitting president by voting against or for same-party governors.


Though these results indicate that economic performance holds little significance in the context of elections in modern times, this may not have always been the case. There is a stark juxtaposition between the strong anti-federalist sentiment of the 19th century, and today’s interconnected and unified country. Voters 150 years ago placed much more emphasis on state-level government and politics, and this is just simply not the case anymore. There is a (nearly) century long trend of giving more and more state power to the national government, and I believe that in this, the significance of state level economic performance has been largely lost. However, this is not to say that this trend will continue, or that the results of this analysis will even hold true in the future. Perhaps we are yet to witness the imminent state politics renaissance, but for now, economic performance doesn’t matter for governors.

Hope you all enjoyed,



Atkeson, L. R., & Partin, R. W. (1995). Economic and Referendum Voting: A Comparison of Gubernatorial and Senatorial Elections . American Political Science Review , 89 (1), 99-107.

Chubb, J. E. (1988). Institutions, the Economy, and the Dynamics of State Elections. American Political Science Review , 82 (1), 133-154.

Johnson, G. B., & Ryu, S.-R. (2007). Campaign Promises, Economic Performance, and Electoral Accountability in Latin America . Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, (pp. 1-23). Chicago.

King, J. D. (2001). Incumbent Popularity and Vote Choice in Gubernatorial Elections. The Journal of Politics , 63 (2), 585-597.

Samuels, D., & Timothy, H. (2010). Elections and Accountability for the Economy: A Conceptual and Empirical Reassessment. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties , 20 (4), 393-419.

Stein, R. M. (1990). Economic Voting for Governor. Journal of Politics , 52 (1), 30-53.

U.S. Department of Commerce. (2015, April). Regional Data. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from Bureau of Economic Analysis:

Wikipedia. (2014, December 2). United States gubernatorial elections, 1990. Retrieved

April 15, 2015, from Wikipedia:,_1990

Woolley, J. T., & Peters, G. (2015). Presidential Elections Data. Retrieved April 1, 2015, from The American Presidency Project:


To the average Kentuckian, the governor’s race has barely even started; but to those familiar with Kentucky politics, the race began long ago. During his time as Kentucky’s Attorney General, some may argue that Jack Conway has been strategically picking his battles in order to position himself politically for the battle for governor in 2015. On the other side of the aisle, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has been an unstoppable political force ever since he cleaned house in the Department of Agriculture after former secretary Richie Farmer’s chaos. Meanwhile, businessman Hal Heiner has been flooding the media markets with cash long before any other candidate stepped into the arena. Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin is enjoying the name recognition he established in his Senate campaign last year. Several candidates are poised to win this November, and Kentuckians will have the opportunity to watch vicious campaigning from both sides, as this is a remarkably evenly matched field of candidates. Several of these candidates have a great deal of political momentum by any measure, and have spent years meticulously preparing for this campaign; but, unfortunately for them, only one can win. The losers are sure to suffer a blow to their political career, negatively affecting any future prospects of political office. But who will come out on top?


Although James Comer is the front-runner on the Republican side, the field is still littered with opposition that he will have to campaign strongly against before he gets a chance to face Conway. The first of these candidates is Matt Bevin, a self-made businessman and expert in finance from Louisville. Matt Bevin suffered a defeat in the 2014 mid-term elections against Mitch McConnell in the Republican Primary. Despite Bevin’s lack of any political position prior to his run for Senate, he was still able to raise an impressive $4,496,251 in contributions, although $1,250,000 was money that came straight from himself (Federal Election Commission). Many people believe it was a mistake to have ever challenged McConnell to begin with, as his donor list is very long and he hadn’t made any particularly negative political blunders in recent times that were ripe to be taken advantage of in 2014. As of now, Bevin could still be using funds from his Senate campaign to finance his run for governor, we can’t know because KREF doesn’t have a finance report on file at this time (Kentucky Registry of Election Finance).


Matt Bevin’s strong suit for campaigning is his familiarity with technology. His campaign website could easily be on a Top 10 list for greatest campaign websites of all time. It is clean, modern, and very easy to navigate; making it clear where a visitor can go to contribute. It is expected that he will place a great deal of emphasis on the usage of technology in his primary campaign to reach the voters that he needs to reach, using public records coupled with data processing software to develop short lists of the voters he needs to visit in person and those that he should feel good about soliciting for donations.

Bevin is also a financial expert. He has founded and managed several investment firms that are responsible for millions of dollars worth of Americans’ retirement accounts and pension funds. If the Kentucky pension crisis is an issue that dictates who receives the Republican nomination, Bevin stands a chance. Otherwise, Bevin will be afflicted by his “outsider” status that will encourage voters to steer towards Comer that has already had experience in government. Bevin also doesn’t feel as relatable as other candidates. Voters could potentially see him as a businessman first and leader second, counteracting any relatability he has accrued through his persistent broadcasting of his time in the military and time on the farm. His demeanor at the Lincoln Day Dinner on March 7th corroborated this as well. Much of his speech was talk of his involvement in finance and his various businesses that range from the production of medical devices to doorbells. Matt Bevin faces a very tough campaign to secure the Republican nomination. His success is within the realm of possibility if James Comer were to slip-up, but it is unlikely at this time.

Another “contender” for the Republican nomination is Will Scott, Pike County native and Vietnam War veteran. He completed his JD in 1974 and practiced law privately in Florida and Kentucky for a majority of his professional life, until he was elected to the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2004; which he served on until 2010 (Kentucky Court of Justice). His decision to enter this race is particularly interesting, as Scott has little to no name recognition outside of Pike County, and he will be competing against some very strong opponents.

Scott’s platform is also unique. Perhaps his biggest issue that he is pushing is dissolving the state healthcare exchange that was established under the Affordable Care Act last year, saying, “The only thing we get out of surrendering on ObamaCare is Barack Obama’s appreciation. . . My primary opponents already gave up that fight last summer telling the Chamber of Commerce what they wanted to hear. I got in this race to provide leadership, not to go with the flow. The only thing we are getting out of a state-run ObamaCare exchange is the privilege of paying for it,” ( Scott also supports expanded gambling as a last ditch effort to help the ever increasing unfunded pension liabilities of the state, while in nearly the same breath supports reducing the corporate tax income rate; citing an assumed economic expansion as the reason why no one should worry about the tax cuts. Unique for a conservative platform, however, is his strong emphasis on state provided drug addiction rehabilitation programs, and a focus on increasing the efficiency of the state judicial system (Brammer). Perhaps his time behind the bench has lent its hand in promoting an empathy with downtrodden citizens that have drug problems.

Will Scott is not widely viewed as a serious contender in this year’s race. In what little polling has been done at this time, he has polled dead last for likely Republican voter’s choice in the primary, and far behind the others at that (Harper Polling). Additionally, Will Scott has yet to either raise any money, or file his finance report, as KREF shows his current funding at $0 for the 2015 primary (Kentucky Registry of Election Finance).

Louisville businessman Hal Heiner has already proved that he will be a serious challenger in this year’s gubernatorial race. Heiner is a lifelong Kentucky resident, and was educated at the University of Louisville where he earned a Masters degree in engineering. He has had a limited political career thus far, serving on the Louisville city council for eight years and chairing various boards like the Kentucky Charter Schools Association and other religious organizations (Hal Heiner for Governor). This is a bold step outside of the conventional progression from state legislator to governor, and this may work to Heiner’s disadvantage.


Heiner’s platform focuses almost explicitly on fiscal issues: “Accountability Budgeting, Jobs & Economy, and Fighting Washington Bureaucratic Regulation,” (Hal Heiner for Governor). Heiner’s platform may be the most resonant among Kentucky voters that are looking for a candidate that will correct the fiscal mess past administrations have gotten the state into. The people of Kentucky are becoming more aware of the debt problem as the General Assembly continues to kick the can down the road, refusing to make the necessary cuts or raise the necessary revenue to fund the pension system. This is an issue that Heiner is sure to spend an enormous amount of time on, and an issue that will be a wise time investment for his campaign, as it will produce positive results for Hal in the polls and ultimately, the primary.

Despite Heiner’s almost pinpoint accuracy in identifying the issues that will incentivize voters to rally behind him, he has repeatedly shown a great deal of hostility towards the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid expansion. Heiner seems to ignore that, at the end of 2014, over 520,000 Kentuckians have signed up under the new healthcare law (Modern Healthcare). To constantly assert that he will fight Obamacare will be to alienate a half million Kentuckians that have benefitted from the law, potentially losing thousands of votes. If there is one position that he should re-evaluate, this is it.

A campaign message that Hal has, and will continue to milk for all its worth, is that he is an accomplished businessman that has created over 4,000 Kentucky jobs (Hal Heiner for Governor). He cannot be blamed for repeating this either, as it’s a claim very few politicians, even on the national level, can make. His emphasis on job creation and economic problems is something that create positive results for Hal’s campaign; it’s a message that Kentuckians still want to hear and a message that Hal’s track record indicates is a problem he is proficient at addressing.

Heiner is by far the most well funded candidate in the race, and has already launched an intense media campaign, flooding most local channels with campaign ads to the tune of $1.1 million in campaign disbursements as of the end of 2014. According to the most recent campaign finance report, he has raised over $4.6 million, eclipsing the combined total of every other candidate in the race that we currently have data for. However, Hal Heiner is a very wealthy individual, and it is important to note that about $3.9 million came from him personally. Despite this, he has raised $700,000 from others, which is an impressive feat nonetheless (Kentucky Registry of Election Finance). This Republican primary will be a good experiment to determine if a lesser-known candidate is able to buy their way to Frankfort. If Heiner wins the primary, it will be for this reason.

Lastly, we have Department of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. Comer is a native of Tompkinsville, Kentucky, and began his political career in 2000 when he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives, which he served in until 2012 when he announced that he would run for Agriculture Commissioner. Comers early publicity and popularity stem from his audit of the Department, which lead to the ultimate downfall of his predecessor Richie Farmer who was sentenced to serve twenty-seven months in prison on corruption charges (WKYT). This was a massive win for the Comer camp, and was arguably the political seed that Comer was able to plant in Kentuckians’ minds: he is the one watching out for you in Frankfort, he will prevent wasteful spending, he will protect Kentucky from corrupt officials.


Comer also has “good-ole-boy” appeal. He was raised in a farming household and came from humble roots. He is a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where he earned his Bachelors in Agriculture, and has been a lifelong farmer of a multi-thousand acre grain farm (Kentucky Department of Agriculture). More importantly for political purposes however, Comer has always pushed a relatively moderate message; never too extreme to foreclose support from the other side of the aisle. This has been one of his greatest strengths: the ability to appeal to voters from both parties, leading to overwhelming victories in the elections in which he has been on the ballot. However, as the primary draws closer, we do see him radicalizing his platform, e.g. promising to outright ignore the EPA’s new regulations on carbon emissions if he is elected (Comer for Governor). This is what he must do, however, to win the Republican nomination. He will surely push a message more in line with what he has historically pushed after/if he wins the primary.

Commissioner Comer’s platform is fairly stereotypical for a conservative candidate. There is a large emphasis on jobs, although this has lost much of its appeal since the economy has since experienced explosive growth over the past two years and pre-recession levels of employment. Interestingly, Comer also focuses on a couple of social issues, maintaining the status-quo with regard to second-amendment rights and also making abortion illegal (Comer for Governor). Second Amendment rights are something nearly every American will support, but his stance on abortion may drive away some of the support he currently gets from liberals. He could arguably do better without making this an issue, but there is the chance that he personally feels that it is worth fighting for.

Comer’s platform is centered on his hostility towards wasteful government spending, and reckless decisions made in the past by the General Assembly that have left Kentuckians in a terrible fiscal state. He wants to audit the entire pension system, following his own lead from 2013 in the Department of Agriculture, and expose mismanagement and waste. He also seeks to privatize the management of the fund, which he believes will save money and also produce better results. Comer has also struck a perfect balance on the issue of the Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act. He concedes that he has always opposed the program, but it is too entrenched at this time to remove. Thus, he seeks to discourage enrollment, encourage people to visit a primary care physician instead of the emergency room, and also require re-enrollment in Medicaid every two years. These policy decisions will have a positive impact on the fiscal problems of the state, and they still send a strong message to his supporters that he opposes any socialized form of healthcare (Comer for Governor).

In recent polling, Comer has shown promise. In two of the three polls that have been conducted, Comer was in the lead over Heiner, Bevin, and Scott with a comfortable margin; though as time has progressed it seems as though Heiner’s early money has moved the needle his direction. We can expect Comer to regain some lost ground as his media campaign is launched in mid-March. In one of the three hypothetical polls pitting him against Attorney General Conway, he held a 4 point lead. This was the biggest lead any Republican candidate held over Conway in any of the hypotheticals, but his loss in two of the other polls should be cause for worry (Ballotpedia). Comer still has a great deal of campaigning to do if he hopes to defeat Conway in the general election.

As for funding, Comer has been undeniably successful in his fundraising thus far, and as of December 31st, 2014, he has raised about $1.1 million for the primary (Kentucky Registry of Election Finance). What makes Comer’s strategy unique, is that he held out spending this money for as long as possible, citing that he wanted to wait until he had enough funding that he could launch a media campaign and never stop until the day of the primary (CN2). Comer presumably has some very talented campaign consultants on his side that have helped him win many races in the past, and we can expect precision campaign finance strategy coming from his corner in the months to come.

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Recent polling suggests Heiner is pulling ahead, but Comer’s media campaign should bring him back closer to the front of the pack (Ballotpedia).


From the Democratic Party, there are two candidates that have declared their candidacy. First is retired engineer Geoff Young of Lexington that suffered defeat in 2014 during the primary for the sixth congressional district seat. Although he is very well educated, a B.S. in economics from M.I.T., a Masters in mechanical engineering, and a Masters in agricultural economics, he has consistently shown that he performs very poorly in elections (Ballotpedia). His campaigns are characterized by a much too progressive platform, and ineffective campaign strategy. Unfortunately for Geoff, thus far he has only been able to raise $3,500 in his pursuit of the Democrat nomination (Kentucky Registry of Election Finance). Young is not going to be a serious contender in the race, as supported in both the Harper and Bluegrass polls conducted over the last few months than have shown Attorney General Conway with a 50 point lead (Ballotpedia).

Finally, our last candidate for governor on the Democrat ticket is current Attorney General Jack Conway. Conway has had an overall successful political career this far, with his only recent setback occurring in 2010 when he narrowly lost his run for Senate against Rand Paul. He has thus far spent the majority of his professional life in government, with a brief stint in private practice from 2001-2007, after which he ran his first campaign for Attorney General (VoteSmart).


Conway’s strength is his undeniable successes as Attorney General, where he has put countless criminals behind bars, and recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for the state (Conway Overly). He has an arguably spotless record, with no obvious political blunders that could come back to haunt him in this race. His competition may be retaining an ace-in-the-hole for use later on in the campaign, however, just as Conway attempted to do with Rand Paul in 2010. Also working in Conway’s favor is his likability and generally humble attitude. Despite his time working as a lawyer, which has a tendency of removing an individual’s “small-town feel”, Jack has somehow managed to maintain this throughout his career. He still seems easy to talk to, and he still seems easy to relate to, albeit not nearly as much as James Comer. Still, he will have no difficulty making a personal connection to voters.

Conway has proven his worth this election, so far having raised $1.3 million in pursuit of the office. Because he has no serious competition in the primary, this will be incredibly advantageous to Conway in that he will be able to save his primary funds for the general election; all the while his Republican opponents will be forced to use their primary funds to compete with each other. In support of this point is this fact that Conway has only currently disbursed $373,000 of his $1,300,000 in funding, likely just outlays to set up his initial organization and pay retainers to consultants (Kentucky Registry of Election Finance). Conway will be able to get by with spending less, and also spending less time fundraising, which means more time with voters.

In the current race, Conway’s platform focuses on three main issues: education, attracting businesses, and infrastructure investment. For education, he really doesn’t provide specifics; citing a need for “early childhood education,” and the need to “reduce higher education costs” without ever providing an answer as to how the state could afford more investment in schools. His emphasis on attracting business is also very vague. He does mention “redesigning incentive packages” as a means to lure business, but it’s hard to imagine that meaning anything other than lowering the corporate tax rate, which his base would not be particularly fond of. His inclusion of a focus on business as one of his three primary campaign issues also feels like it’s only there to possibly steal voters from the right, who are more likely to focus on fiscal rather than social issues. Lastly, Conway emphasizes the need for infrastructure improvement. He claims we will build “new roads and bridges,” but in this claim is a serious problem (Conway Overly). Conway seems to overlook the fact that Kentucky has a massive pension and debt crisis, with $17.6B in unfunded pension liabilities (The Courier-Journal). Kentucky’s debt continues to grow at an alarming rate, and Kentuckians are waking up to our severe problem. This may cause voters to think twice before blindly jumping behind Conway’s potentially empty promises. These claims will have to be backed up with new sources of revenue, or a mass overhaul of the current funding system to sell this platform to fiscally conscious voters.

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Polling shows a clear victory for Conway in the primary (Ballotpedia).



One major consideration to the 2015 governor’s race is how popular the independent candidate eventually becomes. At the time of writing, Drew Curtis of Versailles is the only independent candidate to have declared his candidacy. Abrasive in nature, Curtis is a feisty candidate; confrontational and not scared of a fight with the establishment from either side. Speaking in an interview in mid-January, he says one of the major reasons he is running for governor is “this sinking feeling that nobody is doing their damn jobs at the political level,” (Nichols). Curtis’s entrepreneurial success is traceable back to his creation of, a news aggregation website that was one of the most popular places to visit on the Internet in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. He still maintains total ownership, although Fark’s popularity has lost most of its market-share to other online news sources. As for his campaign funding, there is a good indication that Curtis is independently wealthy, but as of now he has not filed his finance report with KREF (Kentucky Registry of Election Finance).

Foundational to Curtis’s platform is his hostility towards politicians and political parties in general. From his campaign website, “This is our chance. But it takes everyone’s help to make it happen. We are standing up against career politicians, political parties, special interests, and every group that thinks they deserve more influence than you,” (Drew Curtis for Governor). His campaign seeks to capture votes stemming from anger at the status quo, and dissatisfaction with the political gridlock that has plagued the country over the last four years. Curtis also makes mention of the net-neutrality issue, one that is important to many Democrats, pulling more of them in his direction.

Drew Curtis will have an impact on the gubernatorial race, as independents almost always do. Independent candidates serve as a catchall for anyone who does not prefer either of the candidates from the Republican or Democratic parties, and though independents rarely win, this effect has the potential of changing the outcome of the election. This is very relevant in the case of Drew Curtis, as his platform seems to aim more towards the liberal left than the conservative right.

If Curtis doesn’t campaign on more conservative issues in the upcoming months, there is a strong possibility that he will split the Democratic vote much more so than the Republican. Given that the margin we see in current polls is otherwise slim between Conway and the eventual Republican candidate, Curtis’s presence alone could change the outcome and give the Republicans Kentucky.


            Those familiar with Kentucky politics know that there is a tendency for Kentuckians to elect a Democrat governor, despite the partisan composition of any other branch of Kentucky government and Kentucky’s federal delegation; Kentucky has had only two Republican governors in the last sixty-eight years (National Governors Association). However, there is the theory that this general partisan shift towards the GOP will reach a critical mass again, leading Kentuckians to elect another Republican governor. Ernie Fletcher could be viewed as the early signs of this, and for all we know the conservative movement could have taken hold with Fletcher if he hadn’t been so embroiled in scandal for the latter half of his term.

What hypothetical polling we do have at this time for the general election shows Conway, on average, winning against every Republican candidate (Ballotpedia). There is still the better part of a year before voters will make that decision, which will also work in favor of Conway’s organization because he does not have to spend any money on the primary. Another very important consideration is that a massive piece of the electorate is still undecided. Anything could happen between now and then, and it is important that Conway doesn’t get complacent in his lead. Although all the signs are pointing at a Democrat victory, his competition is incredibly tough and in at least one case much more funded than he is. Let’s continue to keep our eyes on this governor’s race, as it is sure to be exciting in the months to come.



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