DGA Leaders Talk Up Manchin and Heitkamp for Governor in 2016

At the National Governors Association, Democratic leaders compared their jobs favorably with legislating in the Capitol.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV) talks to members of the media at the Capitol Building on October 14, 2013 in Washington, DC. As Democratic and Republican leaders negotiate an end to the shutdown and a way to raise the debt limit, the White House postponed a planned Monday afternoon meeting with Boehner and other Congressional leaders. The government shutdown is currently in its 14th day. (National Journal)

Ahead of a tough slate of 2016 gubernatorial races, the leaders of the Democratic Governors Association tweaked Washington's slow governing pace and said that they are closely watching two incumbent, red-state U.S. senators who could run for their states' top slots.

The 2015 DGA chair, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, and his vice-chair and designated successor for 2016, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, spent part of their Saturday at the National Governors Association meetings in Washington showering praise on Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp. Manchin served as governor of West Virginia before running for Senate in 2010 and has expressed interest in running again, while Heitkamp once ran for governor of North Dakota and has been the subject of gubernatorial rumors at home for months—rumors she declined to address directly when asked in January.

"We don't really have a read" on Manchin potentially running for governor of West Virginia again, Malloy said. "I mean, the fact that he is considering it obviously is significant. He continues to be immensely popular in his state so I think that certainly would make that a much easier state to defend if he was to become a candidate. I think if he wants to be governor and he runs, then he's going to be governor."

Meanwhile, Bullock was excited about the idea of Heitkamp running in North Dakota. "I haven't spoken to her," Bullock said. "But Heidi is a rock star and we'd love to see her run."

Bullock continued, "I think in a lot of areas too, that there's some discussions of sort of the frustration that nothing gets done in Washington, D.C. So they can come home, where you can actually get real results."

Bullock also thinks New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is still "carefully considering" the 2015 Louisiana governor's race and that Landrieu would make a "strong candidate" if he ran. And Malloy said he's genuinely not sure whether another legacy politician, Delaware's Beau Biden, might run for governor of his state in 2016. Biden has not spoken with the press since late 2013.

Bullock said even though Louisiana is a "structurally tough state" for Democrats, if Landrieu ran "that would give us a good fighting chance." Landrieu's sister, former Sen. Mary Landrieu, lost her Senate reelection campaign by double digits in the state last year. But a handful of polls have suggested the New Orleans mayor could be competitive against the race's current front-runner, Republican Sen. David Vitter.

Landrieu was first elected mayor of New Orleans in 2010 after serving just shy of two terms as lieutenant governor, and he is the last of the Landrieu clan to remain in elected office in a state that has become increasingly tough terrain for Democrats. Landrieu's father, Moon Landrieu, is a former New Orleans mayor.

Despite the intrigue surrounding the party's undecided candidates, the 2015-2016 gubernatorial map is generally expected to be a tough one for Democrats, and the focus at this early stage is primarily on three states that are likely to be highly competitive: Kentucky, Missouri, and North Carolina.

The party is banking on candidate quality to help overcome the conservative lean of all three states. Democrats have already coalesced early around Jack Conway in Kentucky, Chris Koster in Missouri, and Roy Cooper in North Carolina. All three currently serve as state attorneys general, and Bullock emphasized that he has close relationships with the three men thanks to his time spent as attorney general of Montana before he became governor.

Bullock faces reelection in a Republican-leaning state himself in 2016. "I'd like to think Montana's a priority race as well," he joked.