The State Houses – What’s At Stake in 2010

Thirty-nine states will be electing a governor during the 2009-2010 election cycle. Of these, eighteen races will not include an incumbent and four incumbents who will be running were not elected to their current position. The recession and huge budget deficits threaten to undercut the power of incumbency for governors running for reelection.

The Current Line-Up

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Jun
14

The Election of a Generation

By · Jun, 14 2009

Over at the Democratic Governor’s Association, they have taken to calling the current 2009-2010 political cycle “The Election of a Generation.” At first this may seem to be self-serving hyperbole, especially after the seismic 2008 presidential campaign. But it’s hard to deny that the elections that began this month in New Jersey and Virginia will have an enormous impact on the American story for decades to come. In the current cycle voters in all but three states (WV, MT and MS) will be electing either a governor or a senator. In at least 25 states (TX and UT could be added to the list) voters will be electing both. 

But it’s not simply the sheer volume of potentially competitive contests that make this election so critical. Many political observers believe a Republican Party resurgence (if it come) will begin at the state level. We’ve already seen Republican governors jockeying for positioning in the 2012 GOP presidential sweepstakes by challenging the Obama Administration on stimulus funding. While the Republican Party is a greatly diminished minority in DC, it still holds key governor’s mansions in strongly Democratic states (CA, CT, HI, VT and RI), critical swing states (FL, NV, and AZ) while Democrats maintain footholds in unlikely red locales like Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kansas.

National Republicans are already looking to the 2009 New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial contests as opportunities to thwart the Obama victory’s transformative potential. If Democrats fail to defend critical Governorships, conservative commentators will be heralding America’s return to it’s ‘right-of-center’ roots. By holding steady in 2010, Democrats can solidify the gains made over the past two election cycles and further validate Obama’s victory.

Because many incumbent governors are bumping up against term limits, there are a slew of Governor’s Mansions that will have new inhabitants in January 2011. Since governors in most states play a role in the nation’s annual redistricting ritual, the victors will draw the maps that will influence the balance of power in the House of Representatives throughout the next decade. Political observers currently predict about a half dozen competitive senate races on the horizon. The same forecasters foresee double that number of gubernatorial races to be “toss-ups.”

What does “The Election of a Generation” look like?

The Hill ran a piece recentlyabout the unprecedented proliferation of competitive Senate races in the nation’s largest states. There will be at least nine Senate campaigns in the ten largest states. If Kay Bailey Hutchison jumps into the Texas gubernatorial contest as widely anticipated, the number of campaigns will grow to ten, leaving Michigan the only top ten state without a Senate race.

The story is similar in the gubernatorial column. The chart below shows the races on the horizon in the nation’s largest ten states. The shading in column one indicates the 2008 presidential results (Blue-Obama, Red-McCain). The same color coding applies to the indicate which party currently holds the Senate and Governor’s Chairs, except for Specter whose green indicates he will be running as a Democrat but was last elected as a Republican. Italicized names indicate the incumbent is an “Accidental” officeholder, never having been elected to current office.

    Senate Governor
1 California Boxer OPEN
2 Texas **** Perry
3 New York Schumer Paterson
Gillibrand
4 Florida OPEN OPEN
5 Illinois Burris Quinn
6 Pennsylvania Specter OPEN
7 Ohio OPEN Strickland
8 Michigan   OPEN
9 Georgia Isakson OPEN
10 North Carolina Burr   

Currently, of the ten senate contests only three (Boxer in California, Schumer in New York and Isakson in Georgia) are considered to have a relatively easy path to reelection. The California race could become extremely expensive if a self-funder like former HP CEO Carly Fiorina announces a run. Regardless, the amount of money necessary to finance these elections as well as the nearly 40 gubernatorial and remaining two dozen senate contests will unquestionably dwarf that spent during any previous mid-term cycle.

Beyond the high-profile Senate contests, the gubernatorial races particularly in the Mega States of California, Texas, New York, and Florida already have story lines that are attracting national attention. 

In California, where a governor was thrown out of office after Enron manufactured rolling ”brownouts” across the state earlier this decade, the state is confronting a massive budget disaster, deep cultural schisms wrought by Prop 8 and an intractable political stalemate in Sacramento.  

In Texas, where the incumbent likely facing an intense primary fight against the state’s popular senior Senator, has lurched to the right by discussing the rebirth of the Lone Star Republic.

In New York, one of the nation’s “Accidental Governors” is wishing with each passing day that his predecessor had never been caught with an expensive call girl.

In Florida, the popular incumbent’s decision to make a bid for the open Senate seat transformed the largest swing state’s gubernatorial race into a true “Toss-Up” contest.

And that’s just the Mega States where nearly one in three Americans reside. While they’re certain to draw their share of attention, money and energy, the list of critical contests also includes scandal-plagued Illinois, economically troubled Michigan, a free-for-all in Minnesota and incumbents with plummeting approval numbers across the country facing voters during a time of economic dislocation and uncertainty.

11 New Jersey   Corzine 31 Mississippi    
12 Virginia   OPEN 32 Arkansas Lincoln Beebe
13 Washington Murray 33 Kansas OPEN OPEN
14 Arizona McCain Brewer 34 Utah Bennett Herbert
15 Massachusetts   Patrick 35 Nevada Reid Gibbons
16 Indiana Bayh 36 New Mexico   OPEN
17 Tennessee   OPEN 37 West Virginia    
18 Missouri OPEN 38 Nebraska   Heineman
19 Maryland Mikulski O’Malley 39 Idaho Crapo Otter
20 Wisconsin Feingold Doyle 40 Maine   OPEN
21 Minnesota   OPEN 41 New Hampshire OPEN Lynch
22 Colorado Bennet Ritter 42 Hawaii Inouye OPEN
23 Alabama Shelby OPEN 43 Rhode Island   OPEN
24 South Carolina DeMint OPEN 44 Montana    
25 Louisiana Vitter 45 Delaware OPEN
26 Kentucky Bunning 46 South Dakota Thune OPEN
27 Oregon Wyden OPEN 47 Alaska   Palin
28 Oklahoma Coburn OPEN 48 North Dakota Dorgan
29 Connecticut Dodd Rell 49 Vermont Leahy Douglas
30 Iowa Grassley Culver 50 Wyoming   OPEN

Of note, there will only be a gubernatorial election in Utah if current Governor John Huntsman is approved as Obama’s new envoy to China. Similarly, there will only be a Senate race in Texas if Kay Bailey Hutchison runs for governor against fellow Republican Rick Perry. There is speculation that Dave Freudenthal, the Democratic incumbent in Wyoming could successfully challenge the state’s term limit law, if he so chooses.  Currently, it is listed as an OPEN seat contest.

That’s the broad-lens snapshot of what the Election of a Generation looks like seventeen months before election day 2010. Without doubt, this month’s primaries in New Jersey and Virginia were only the opening scenes of a classic election that will change history.

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