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


Archive for Election of a Generation


See You In November (Again)

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Stateline points out that with Roy Barnes convincing (but totally anticipated) victory in yesterday’s Georgia Democratic primary, all five former governors seeking their old offices this year will appear on the November ballot.

Apparently the voter outrage at incumbents (or so the 2010 media narrative would like us to believe) doesn’t extend to former officeholders. We seem to have misty, water-colored memories of the way things were when Bob Ehrlich, Terry Branstad, Jerry Brown, John Kitzhaber and Barnes were in office.

The roster of former governors spans generations, as Brown is a throwback to the 70s, Branstad’s long tenure spanned the 80s and 90s, and Kitzhaber also held office way back in the 20th century. All of them left office voluntarily. Only Barnes and Ehrlich are back for redemption.

Primary success, however, may not translate into victory in November. Only Branstad is comfortably ahead in midsummer polling. As Stateline observes, Democrats, no matter how fondly they’re remembered, may not be able to overcome the electorate’s discontent with Democrats:

While the plethora of former governors suggests that primary voters trust old hands with the reins of state government this year, there are few guarantees about what will happen in November. What seems true at this early stage is that Democratic former governors — even in reliably Democratic states — are running into the same political headwinds that their party faces nationally.

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The national media and the cable chattering classes obsess over whether the US House will be led by a Speaker Boehner and whether a Republican wave can wash away the Democrats’ Senate majority in the November midterms. The Beltway-centric focus of the punditocracy’s groupthink overlooks the critical and undeniable importance of the races that will actually make a difference in the lives of average Americans for the next decade – the gubernatorial contests.

In today’s WaPo Dan Balz makes the point that with 24 open seat contests (many governors are bumping up against term limits) and only a handful of incumbents not facing serious challengers the partisan makeup of the nation’s gubernatorial map is likely to look much different than it does today.

~ Washington Post graphic (note: Minnesota is incorrectly colored blue, the incumbent Tim Pawlenty is a Republican)

The stakes for both parties couldn’t be higher, Balz writes:

Nick Ayers, the executive director of the Republican Governors Association, offers this preview of what’s at stake in the 37 gubernatorial races in November. Between now and Election Day, the association and its Democratic counterpart will be engaged in “a $100 million-plus chess match for control of the foundation of American politics for the next 10 years.”

If that sounds like hyperbole, it isn’t. The Washington political community is understandably obsessed with the battle for control of Congress that will play out between now and November and the implications for how President Obama may govern in the second half of his first term. But no one at this weekend’s summer meeting of the National Governors Association underestimates the potentially greater significance of the outcomes in the states this fall.

Everything from implications for redistricting to 2012 presidential politics to contrasting styles of Republican and Democratic governance that will be put before the American people will be affected by what happens in the races for governor. As Nathan Daschle, the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, put it, “It’s the most important gubernatorial election in a generation.”

Daschle noted that many of the House seats that switch parties this November could shift back in two years. “Gubernatorial politics, particularly in a year like this, are long-term structural changes,” he said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates in many regions are buffeted by the same winds facing House and Senate Democrats and most prognosticators predict Republicans to pick up many Governor’s Mansions across the country.  The University of Minnesota recently raised the possibility the GOP could reach it’s highest gubernatorial total since the days of Warren Harding.

Democrats appear in trouble from coast-to-coast, but the party’s problems are particularly acute in the traditional presidential battlegrounds of the Midwest. Losing control across the swath of states stretching from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin through Michigan, Ohio and into Pennsylvania is a very real possibility. Congressional redistricting in these states with shrinking delegations will help shape the congressional majority for the coming decade.

While Republicans have turned to wealthy self-financers (Meg Whitman in California), embraced a crop of diverse female nominees (Nikki Haley in SC and Susana Martinez in NM), they’ve also seen fractious primaries, especially in Iowa. The Florida and Georgia primaries could derail GOP hopes of holding onto those burgeoning Southern states where the 2010 Census count will result in new congressional seats.

Beyond redistricting, the loss of governor’s mansions could undermine the Obama Administration in two ways. As Balz points out, it could make the 2012 electoral map much more challenging for the president as he seeks re-election. Republican governors (think Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004) were critical in helping George W. Bush’s presidential aspirations.

Additionally, there’s the specter of Republicans in state capitals across the country hindering the implementation of Obama’s Democratic agenda. As GOP governors and attorneys general have already shown regarding healthcare (and now immigration in Arizona), they can erect structural and legal obstacles to federal policies they oppose. Emboldened Republican governors (think Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie as prototypes), will be jockeying for a national spotlight to become the spokesperson – or leader – of the Republican opposition.


Sunday Must Reads, 6/13/10

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Dems Coming Home – Public Policy Polling says Democratic voters are unifying behind their candidates and have now pulled into a statistical tie with Republicans on the generic ballot test. Dems have also closed the gap among independent voters, meaning the November beating everyone expects the Democrats to take at the polls may not be as severe as once feared.

The biggest reason for the shift is that the party is becoming more unified. Democratic voters are planning to support their candidates by a 76 point margin, 84-8. That represents an 11 point increase from March when it was just 65 points at 80-15.

Compared to that March survey, when the GOP had a 46-43 generic ballot advantage, Democrats are also seeing some good news with independents. They still lean toward the Republicans by a 36-21 margin but that 15 point deficit is smaller than the 44-26 gap that existed previously. Perhaps more important 43% of independents are now in the undecided column compared to just 30% back in the winter. That’s an indication those voters are at least back up for grabs for Democrats to win.

Year of the Rookie – Josh Goodman at has a post up pointing out that the 2010 election cycle could set a record for number of rookie governors being sworn into office next January.

The Demise of the 4th Estate – The slow yet steady decline of the nation’s local newspapers has created a dearth of local political reporters on the campaign trail, contributing to the rise of  unvetted candidates like Rand Paul and Nikki Haley defeating experienced establishment candidates, writes Walter Shapiro at Politics Daily.

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The Wall Street Journal reports that the Republican Governor’s Association’s foray into the Massachusetts gubernatorial contest is only the opening salvo in what is reported to be a well-financed GOP effort to win Governor’s Mansions across the country.

The brass-knuckles media buy in Massachusetts—where the three candidates are clustered with about 30% of the vote each—is the first big move in a plan by the governors group to spend as much as $65 million to tilt the political playing field in critical states in the 2010 election cycle. According to people familiar with the plan, the RGA will launch another media blitz Tuesday in Colorado, where Republican Scott McIniss and Democratic Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper are locked in a tight race for governor.

While the Republican National Committee and its chairman, Michael Steele, have been mired in criticism this year, the RGA and its silver-haired chairman, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, have been muscling their way to the center stage of Republican politics. If their plan is credited with a string of new Republican governorships, many political strategists believe it will also lay the foundation for a 2012 presidential bid by Mr. Barbour, who chaired the Republican National Committee when his party swept into control of Congress in 1994.

Barbour knows the stakes are much larger than his own political career.  Whoever controls the key governor’s offices after the 2010 elections will have a leg up on redistricting, having an influence on determining the partisan balance in Congress for the next decade.  Looking toward 2014, the Journal also notes that incumbent governors can also have coattails that help in mid-term senate contests.

In many states they also play a big role in influencing election rules and can be kingmakers in presidential primary battles, meaning Haley could have plenty of political chits to cash in come 2012.

For it’s part, the DGA expects to spend a record amount in this cycle, although their $40 million is dwarfed by what the RGA has budgeted. The cash advantage could make the difference in many states, where incumbents are battling historic budget deficits and an angry electorate.

The WSJ ‘s graphic shows how the movement in gubernatorial contests has been toward the GOP over the past few months.


Anyone who doubts how important the 2010 gubernatorial contests are should check Ben Smith’s post over at Politico about the SEIU upping their investment in governor’s races and the redistricting process in the current cycle.

Newly elected SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said the union would intensify its commitment to politics under her leadership, “moving forward in an even bigger way on organizing, politics and restoring our relationships throughout the American labor movement.”

Henry, whose election today was expected after her victory over her predecessor Andy Stern’s protege in an internal battle, paid tribute to Stern and pledged to continue his priorities while mending fences with other unions. The SEIU voted today to allot $4 million each to a new fund for private-sector organizing, and $4 million for governors races in seven states.

The contests the union will be targeting include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Ohio, and Florida. All are expected  to be competitive, except New York, where AG Andrew Cuomo is heavily favored to win.

There are currently ten 2009-2010 gubernatorial races where the incumbent party is likely to lose the Governor’s Mansion. The top six likely to flip chairs were reviewed here. Numbers 6 through 10 appear below the fold. The top five Pick-Up Opportunities are all open seat contests. Only two incumbents (Nevada’s Jim Gibbons and New Jersey’s Jon Corzine) appear in our top ten list (at #7 and #9). 

Both 2009 races appear here, as Democrats continue trailing in both New Jersey and Virginia as Election Day quickly approaches. The Democratic Party has brighter prospects in the two western states of California and Nevada, while they are likely to struggle defending the open Governor’s Chair in Oklahoma, a state shifting toward the GOP at all levels of government. The contests in this group are all listed as “LEAN TAKEOVER,” meaning that while the challenging party is favored, there are scenarios in which the incumbent party can defend the governorship. For instance, if Nevada’s Gibbons retires or loses in a primary (both very likely scenarios), winning the Carson City Governor’s Mansion becomes a more difficult proposition for the Democrats. 

Analysis on gubernatorial races 6-10 can be found below the fold Read More→

The StateHouseRock Governor’s Race ratings begin with the five states most likely to see a party switch in the 2010 elections. All five are open Governor’s races. At the presidential level, none of these states are considered competitive swing states as each is firmly entrenched in either the Democratic Blue (Vermont and Hawai’i) or Republican Red (Kansas, Wyoming and Tennessee) column.  The incumbent governors all hail from the party that doesn’t carry the state in the electoral college.

These rankings are hardly set in stone. Any number of  circumstances could dramatically alter each party’s prospects in any state on the list.

Prior to Jim Douglas’ retirement announcement in late August, Vermont was a relatively safe bet to remain in Republican hands. That’s no longer the case. The race in Tennessee is the most crowded of the five and could move toward the Democrats (and futher down the list) depending on which candidates win their party’s nominations. If the two high-profile Democrats in Hawai’i engage in a no-holds-barred primary contest, the victor could emerge weakened, providing an opportunity for the GOP to retain the seat. Vermont’s GOP hasn’t yet regrouped from Douglas’ decision. If a credible candidate steps forward, the ranking might change. Wyoming could drop from near the top of the SHR rankings to the bottom if Dave Freudenthal challenges the state’s term-limits laws.

On to the rankings:

Read More→

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 Read More→


The Sleeping Giant No More

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The US Census recently released a report on voter turnout in the 2008 presidential election. The most important finding with electoral ramifications for years to come is the enormous surge among Hispanic voters. Nearly 2.2 million more Hispanic voters showed up at the polls in 2008 over 2004, an increase of over 28%. Josh Goodman has an interesting writeup on the Latino voting bloc’s increasing importance, including a chart showing the Hispanic percentage by state.

Most political observers know by now that the Latino vote (which supported President Obama by a 2-1 margin) was critical to his electoral college success, helping the Democrats add Nevada, Florida and Colorado to their electoral college column. Historically, Latinos have been an underperforming population on election day, consistently voting at rates below the overall average. Perhaps the failure of comprehensive immigration reform or the 2006 May Day rallies sparked by the anti-Hispanic rhetoric coming from some (mostly Republican) political leaders awakened the sleeping giant of American politics.

If so, it’s bad news for Republicans.

Read More→


DGA on Record Fundraising Pace

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Hotline reports (h/t SSP) the Democratic Governor’s Association raised $11.6 million over the first six months of 2009, an increase of $400,000 from the same period last year. With only two races this year (as opposed to 11 in 2008), the national organization should be pretty flush when defending the Democratic Governor’s Mansions in New Jersey and Virginia this fall. On the horizon, of course, is the intense 2010 battlefield, when 37 states will hold gubernatorial races.

“Our extraordinary fundraising demonstrates that the 2009 and 2010 governors’ races are at the center of the political landscape,” said MT Gov. Brian Schweitzer, chairman of the DGA. “The DGA is the only organization devoted exclusively to electing governors who will advance President Obama’s efforts to create jobs and fight for the middle class – while also working to ensure a fair redistricting process. Our donors reached deep to contribute, and we are grateful for their generosity. These results are even more impressive given the difficult fundraising climate, and builds on the strong foundation we have already laid to protect our majority.”

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