Plight of the Governors: America's Most Endangered Species

Think Congress is unpopular? More governors than senators could go down in defeat this November.

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For all the talk of Congress's historic unpopularity, voters are just as disenchanted with their home state leaders and could throw several of them out of office in November after just a single term.

A new poll out Thursday found Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett getting pummeled by 25 points in his bid for re-election, and he wouldn't even be the first incumbent to lose in a landslide this year. That ugly trophy belongs to Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie, who won't even be on the ballot in November after he was crushed by 35 points in the Democratic primary earlier this month.

Polls show at least two other sitting governors losing to their challengers, Dannel Malloy (D-Conn.) and Pat Quinn (D-Ill.), with another seven in dogfights for re-election. And we're not even talking about the ones under indictment.

Governors are facing the same voter frustration with the establishment as lawmakers in Washington, political analysts say, but unlike members of Congress, they have no one to shield them from having to make the tough – and often unpopular – calls.

"We're in an unusual period where we have enormous distrust of politicians and government by the American people," said G. Terry Madonna, who runs the Franklin and Marshall Poll in Pennsylvania.

Here's a look at the nation's most endangered governors this fall:

Tom Corbett (R-Pa.)

Barring a miracle, Corbett is already cooked. The most noteworthy aspect out of the highly-reputable Franklin and Marshall poll released Thursday was not that it showed Corbett losing to Democrat Tom Wolf, 49 percent to 24 percent. It was how similar the findings were to the pollsters' survey in June, which had Wolf up by 22 points. That comes despite a $5 million negative ad campaign over the summer by Corbett, who has struggled to win over Pennsylvania voters since his election as part of the national Republican wave in 2010. "He's never polled well with women," said Tim Malloy, assistant polling director at Quinnipiac University. "He's been on a downward trend for a couple years now."

Pat Quinn (D-Ill.)

Quinn inherited a mess of a state in 2009 when he took over for the soon-to-be-imprisoned Rod Blagojevich (D). Corruption was rampant, and the state coffers were deeply in debt. Despite a narrow election win in 2010, it has been a struggle for Quinn, who trailed Republican businessman Bruce Rauner by 13 points in a recent poll. But hey, at least Quinn is in better shape than his predecessor.

Dannel Malloy (D-Conn.)

Connecticut is a quirky state when it comes to governors. Despite its reliably Democratic history in modern presidential elections, Malloy became the first Democrat elected to run the statehouse in 20 years when he took over for Jody Rell in 2011. Yet he struggled politically from the get-go, when in the midst of the economic downturn he signed the largest tax increase in the state's history. The Nutmeg State's economic turnaround has lagged the country, and while there have been few reliable polls in the state, the RealClearPolitics average has Malloy losing to Tom Foley, the Republican former ambassador to Ireland, in a rematch of the 2010 election.

Sam Brownback (R-Kan.)

The ex-senator and failed 2008 presidential contender is the surprise of the bunch. The socially conservative Brownback seemed like a natural fit for deep-red Kansas when he was elected in 2010. But to the delight of Democrats, he is confronting a backlash for lurching the state so far to the right. A state was hit with a downgrade on its debt, a little-known and under-funded challenger won 37 percent of the vote in the GOP primary, and more than 100 current and former Republican state officials humiliated Brownback by endorsing his Democratic opponent, state Rep. Paul Davis, last month. Three separate polls in August have given Davis the lead.

Scott Walker (R-Wis.)

The perpetually polarizing Walker is facing his third gubernatorial election even though he's only bidding for a second term. Democrats tried unsuccessfully to recall him in 2012 after he took aggressive action against labor unions during his first year in office. Now he's in an even tighter race for re-election, with polls finding him and Democrat Mary Burke in a statistical tie. The problems back home have put a hold on his presidential ambitions for 2016, and a loss in November could doom them altogether.

Rick Scott (R-Fla.)

Gov. Rick Scott/AP

Like Corbett and Walker, Scott was a staunch conservative elected in a state where voters lean much closer to the center. But unlike his Republican buddies, Scott is facing an opponent who is equally well-known and equally divisive, Charlie Crist. The chameleon Crist was a Republican when he served as governor, then became an independent when Marco Rubio routed him in a Senate primary, and finally switched to the Democrats just in time for President Obama's re-election in 2012. While Scott has never been particularly popular as governor, the race is a toss-up, and recent polls have given him a slim lead.

Paul LePage (R-Me.)

A Tea Party star in the northeast, LePage was always a bit of a fish-out-of-water in moderate Maine. Known for his outlandish statements and aversion to anything resembling political correctness, LePage was labeled America's "craziest governor" by Politico Magazine. He's still standing in large part because he's had more success than some of the others on this list in restoring his state's flagging economy. There were doubts about whether he'd run for re-election at all, but LePage is now in a three-way race with veteran Democratic Rep. Michael Michaud, a slight favorite, and independent Eliot Cutler. The presence of Cutler on the ballot has Democrats worried they could lose a prime pick-up opportunity.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.