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


StateHouseRock Race Rankings – The Big Picture, Sept 09

By · Sep, 09 2009

Labor Day 2009 marks the starting point for the general election sprint to the finish line in the gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia where Democrats are struggling to defend two Governor’s Chairs against a Republican Party hoping wins in both states will herald their political revival.

It’s also a good time to survey the 2010 gubernatorial landscape and make predictions about which party will control the nation’s Governor’s Mansions when the states begin the post-Census redistricting process. In most states governors play a role (sometimes a veto-wielding one) in drawing legislative districts. Therefore, the winners of these contests will play a huge role in determining the next decade’s congressional partisan makeup.

While much is made of the size of the Democratic Party’s House and Senate majorities, the nation’s governors are also a critical and often overlooked component to successfully implementing the party’s agenda. The political implications  resting on the outcome of these gubernatorial races are enormous for President Obama. Will he have allies or a reenergized opposition residing in the nation’s Governor’s Mansions?

We’re now only fourteen months away from what the Democratic Governor’s Association calls the “Election of a Generation” when voters in 37 states will elect their chief executives, meaning the candidate recruiting season is coming to a close. In most states, the primary races have already come into focus with clear frontrunners emerging in many. In fact, the first 2010 battleground will unfold in the president’s homestate as the Illinois February primary is now less than five months away.

Now seems like a good time to check in on where the races stand. Over the next week StateHouseRock will post analysis of all 39 gubernatorial races (including the NJ & VA contests), starting with the most likely to switch partisan control to the safest retention contests.

  • Wed Sept 9: The Big Picture
  • Thur Sept 10: The Pick-Up Opportunities (Part 1)
  • Fri Sept 11: The Pick-Up Opportunities (Part 2)
  • Sat Sept 12: The Toss-Ups
  • Mon Sept 14: The Races to Watch (Part 1)
  • Tues Sept 15: The Races to Watch (Part 2)
  • Wed Sept 16: The Potential Long-Shots
  • Thur Sept 17: The Safe Chairs  

Safe Dem Likely Dem Lean Dem Toss-Up Lean GOP Likely GOP Safe GOP
New Jersey*    
Arkansas Maine California Arizona# Alabama Alaska# Idaho
Maryland New Mexico Colorado Florida Georgia  Connecticut Kansas
New Hampshire Oregon Hawai’i Michigan Oklahoma Tennessee Nebraska
  Vermont Illinois# Minnesota S. Carolina Wyoming S. Dakota
Iowa Rhode Island Texas Utah#
    New York#        




Chart Key
* indicates 2009 contest                  
# indicates current occupant not elected to position (there are six “Accidental Governors” but Kansas Democrat Mark Parkinson has said he will not run in 2010). 
Italicized states are open seat contests                
BOLD indicates a party switch                  
RED = Republican incumbent                  
BLUE = Democratic incumbent                  

 A look at the emerging campaign themes over the fold 

The Big Picture:

Will the recession continue to imperil the political careers of America’s governors?  Can independent candidacies alter the political establishment in Democratic-dominated New England? Who among the roster of Accidental Governors be able to win their chairs running in their own right?

Will Republicans be able to revive their damaged brand by winning back a majority of the nation’s Governor’s Mansions? Or can Democrats overcome the economic drag and maintain their current advantage?  Will the GOP suceed in making the gubernatorial elections into a referendum on President Obama’s agenda?

These are just a few of the Big Picture questions looming over the often overshadowed contests in the 2010 midterms – the gubernatorial races in 37 states.

While those questions remain unanswered, we do know one thing for certain – the gubernatorial storylines have already provided enough twists and turns to rival the imaginations of Hollywood’s most creative screenwriters. If the summer of 2009 is any indication, the campaigns ahead promise to be intriguing and unpredictable.

Beyond the multiple (21 so far!) open seat contests there are scandal-tainted incumbents (Nevada’s Jim Gibbons), substantive independent candidates (Rhode Island’s Chafee), explosive high-octane primary battles (Texas’ Hutchison vs. Perry), and unelected incumbents struggling to avoid more self-inflicted wounds (New York’s Paterson).

There are also many candidates hoping the past is prologue. Nearly a half dozen former governors (Iowa’s Terry Branstad, Georgia’s Roy Barnes, California’s Jerry Brown, Maryland’s Bob Ehrlich and even Wisconsin’s Tommy Thompson) are either running or have expressed interest in an encore performance.

When the summer began the GOP counted three potential presidential candidates among their gubernatorial ranks. By Labor Day, the political journeys of two had taken unpredictable and fascinating turns.

·         Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty was the first (and the most conventional) of the three to make news when he announced in early June his decision to not seek a third term in St. Paul to devote his time exploring a 2012. His decision unleashed a bipartisan flood of candidates vying to replace him.

·         Then the darling of the GOP’s fiscal conservatives, Mark Sanford, shocked his South Carolina constituents by “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” The fallout from the Sanford Saga has continued to fascinate throughout the summer and threatens the GOP’s chances of holding the Palmetto State Governor’s Mansion. His affair may reach far beyond Columbia, however. It was he (during one of history’s most uncomfortable to watch press conferences) who first directed the nation’s attention to the C Street fraternity house. Gubernatorial candidates in a handful of other states have been forced to answer questions about their relationship and knowledge about the secretive Fellowship. Will these questions derail any of their campaigns?

·         Not to be outdone by her South Carolina colleague, the tabloids’ favorite politician decided to not only take the road less traveled, but one that had never been traveled before. She simply opted to “qivit,” making political observers from both sides of the aisle shake their heads in disbelief.  Whether or not she has plans for a White House run in the future, it’s certain the media (and the American public) can’t help but stare at the Sarah from Wasilla.

As the recession deepened and lingered throughout 2009, governors across America (especially Democrats) saw their job approval numbers slip precipitously. If there is the proverbial “canary in the coalmine” alerting Democrats to their political peril it is New Jersey’s Jon Corzine, whose abysmal poll numbers plaguing his re-election campaign have surfaced in states across the nation.  Incumbents from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to Colorado have seen their job approval numbers plummet in the face of huge budget deficits and economic dislocation.

Regardless of party, governors across the nation wielded veto stamps at a furious pace as they faced off with legislatures over solving massive budget shortfalls. Governors are on the frontline battling the recession, forced to maneuver through a minefield littered with the politically explosive choices of steep tax increases or painful service cuts and layoffs. If the economy doesn’t dramatically improve, it will be the rare governor who has a clear path to reelection.

Anyone paying attention to the 09 races is aware of the symbolic importance both national parties are placing on who wins the Governor’s Mansions in Richmond and Trenton. Even before August’s raucous health care town halls, Republicans believed their rebound begins in ’09 and early summer polls revealed the possibility of a landscape favorable to the GOP emerging.

The first debate between Virginia’s Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell provided a glimpse into what could become a common sparring act in 2010. Both parties are trying to “nationalize” the Virginia contest, testing campaign themes for the vital races ahead. McDonnell is hoping to use the public’s unease about an expansion of the federal government, soaring deficits and a federal takeover of the healthcare industry to score electoral victories. Essentially, they want to make the 2010 midterms a referendum on the Obama agenda.

Deeds and the Democrats, for their part, are trying to portray the GOP as the party of No Solutions and the culprits who created the crises currently confronting the nation. Their argument boils down to a simple question: Why would voters choose to hand control back to a party with such a dismal track record?  The Virginia election will provide insight on whether Democrats can continue to win elections by running against George W. Bush.

But even as party strategists and the national media try to “nationalize” the gubernatorial contests, it’s often local issues that determine the victors. That’s why we’re taking a state-by-state look this week.




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