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Head of Democratic governors: 2014 is not a 'change' election

By Dan Merica and Ashley Killough, CNN
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue April 29, 2014
Gov. Peter Shumlin says his party will be attacking the reformer credentials of New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie and other incumbent GOP govs.
Gov. Peter Shumlin says his party will be attacking the reformer credentials of New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie and other incumbent GOP govs.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Leading Democratic governor: Middle class voters in 2014 care about economic opportunity
  • Shumlin: "I am not so sure that this is the change election"
  • According to CNN's initial analysis, roughly half of this year's 36 races for governor could be competitive
  • GOP group: Democratic governors continue to raise taxes and increase spending

Washington (CNN) -- Since Barack Obama was first elected president in 2008, the word "change" was popular with Democrats who were seeking to win elected office.

Obama effectively used it to tap into voters' disenchantment with President George W. Bush, and he ultimately swept into the White House in a watershed year for Democrats.

But with the 2014 election on the horizon, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, said this year's gubernatorial contests won't be about that operative word.

Key gubernatorial races in 2014

"I am not so sure that this is the change election," Shumlin said Tuesday during an editorial board meeting with CNN.

"I think this is the election where voters care about one thing, middle class voters, both independents and Democrats, care about one thing: Did you or can you create better opportunities for us and our kids?"

The Democratic leader continued by stating that voters who have suffered through "10 years of a stagnating economy" and have slowly "seen jobs trickle back," want to know what candidates are "going to do to improve my wallet."

"I don't think it is going to be a lofty, idealist change election," Shumlin concluded.

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Four years removed, the 2010 midterm election looms large over this November's contests.

Republicans - in both Congress and in the states legislatures - won major gains by tapping into anti-Obama sentiment and riding the tea party wave. But those same Republicans now have to defend their wins -- Republican governors are left to defend 22 governorships in November compared to only 14 for Democrats.

According to CNN's initial analysis, roughly half of this year's 36 races for governor could be competitive. Democrats are on the defensive in two highly competitive races, in Illinois and Arkansas, while Republicans are defending four toss-up races, in Florida, Maine, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Five races are "tilting" in favor of Democrats - Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island - and another five are "tilting" in favor of Republicans - Ohio, Arizona, New Mexico, South Carolina and Wisconsin. The other seven Democratic seats and 13 Republicans seats are considered safe.

For Shumlin, the man in charge with ensuring Democrats make gains in November, the map is tiling in his favor. In particular, the Vermont governor said Democrats plan to use the way Republicans ran in 2010 against them.

"These guys got elected as the reformers, do you remember that?" Shumlin said. "In 2010, tea party governors got elected as reformers."

Shumlin went on to hit a number of Republican governors for ethics investigations and tax cuts for high-income earners. He said that the last four years of leadership from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker prove that Republicans aren't reformers.

"Any myth that these guys are reformers is officially dead," Shumlin said.

By pressing a message centered on raising the minimum wage and strengthening the middle class, those campaigning for Democratic governors and candidates feel like they are in better position to make gains in 2014 than congressional Democrats, where it is looking more likely the Democrats will continue to be a minority in the House.

Republicans, as expected, have a different view of the map.

In a Tuesday statement, Jon Thompson, spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, said, "While Democrat governors continue to raise taxes, increase spending, and waste hardworking taxpayers' money on failed Obamacare exchanges in their states, Republican governors are cutting taxes, lowering spending, balancing budgets, reforming education and driving the American Comeback."

Will GOP's Obamacare focus pay off?

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Obama: Republicans 'were wrong' about Obamacare

Republicans also have bragging rights when it comes to money in the bank. The Republican Governors Association raised $23.5 million in the first quarter of 2014, nearly doubling the $12.5 million their Democratic counterpart brought in. The RGA haul was a record for the group and more than doubled what it raised in the first three months of 2010.

"RGA's strong financial position will give us the resources to push back against the public sector unions and the White House, who have targeted Republican governors and candidates for defeat," Phil Cox, the group's executive director said earlier this year.

Democrats hope to make up those fundraising gaps in the coming months and are using a prolific Democratic fundraiser - former President Bill Clinton - to do just that.

Clinton will headline a May fundraiser with Mike Ross, the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful in Arkansas, and the former President will also headline a DGA fundraiser for Charlie Crist in Miami on May 6.

Hillary Clinton, however, has not been asked by the DGA for help in the midterms. Clinton, who left the State Department in early 2013 and is now considered the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 if she runs, has largely stayed away from highly political events in favor of paid speeches and corporate engagements.

Shumlin downplayed the fact that Clinton has yet to campaign for the DGA and noted that she did help her longtime friend Terry McAuliffe, who ran and won the Virginia governor's mansion in 2013.

"The Clintons have been really helpful to us," Shumlin said.

"Obviously, you know Hillary is kind of laying a little bit low these last few months since she stopped being secretary of state but President Clinton has been hugely helpful. ... Everybody would love to have the Clintons help and we are getting it."

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Special Coverage: The 2014 midterms

CNN's Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

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