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 Must-Reads


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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Today’s Guber Primaries

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Today is the biggest primary voting day of the year. From coast-to-coast, American voters in an angry anti-incumbent mood will trickle into polling booths, cast their votes in pathetically low numbers, and provide cable TeeVee’s chattering punditocracy with more tea leaves to ruminate over.

Voters are making gubernatorial choices in six states today, from Maine to California.

A quick look at today’s highlights:

1) GOP Primary Madness - Most of the action is on the Republican side of the docket. In all six states voting today, Republicans have been duking it out for months. Democrats, on the other hand, were successful in essentially clearing the field everywhere but South Carolina and Maine. The DGA thinks this GOP-infighting has “paved the way” for Democratic victories in the fall. They make the argument competitive primaries have caused deep divisions within the Republican Party that will be impossible to overcome. I seem to recall Republicans predicting much the same thing as they gleefully watched Hillary and Barack’s primary contest drag on and on and on in 2008. Primary contests can strengthen the eventual nominee.

2) Changing of the Guard – Only two incumbents are on the ballot today. One, the inept and ethically-challenged Jim Gibbons is expected to be defeated  in Nevada’s Republican primary. Polls show the other, Iowa Democrat Chet Culver, vulnerable in November, meaning it’s highly likely that every state voting in governor’s races today could have a new chief executive next January.

3) Golden Oldies –  Two former governors are attempting comebacks (and are early favorites to win back their old offices). Iowa’s longest serving governor in history, Republican Terry Branstad hopes to emerge from a competitive GOP primary to take on Culver while California Democrats are banking on 1970′s retread Jerry Brown to win Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office.

4) Issue Avoidance – Governors and state legislatures are grappling with unprecedented budget crises. Difficult decisions about taxes and spending cuts are paralyzing state governments from Sacramento to Augusta. But gubernatorial candidates are 0n the campaign trail fighting over immigration (virtually everywhere), gay marriage (Iowa & Maine), sex scandals (South Carolina) and health care lawsuits (again, virtually every GOP primary) while offering few details as to how they would actually balance budgets in the tight economy.

5) 2012 GOP Sweepstakes – Two critical early presidential states – Iowa and South Carolina – are selecting GOP nominees and the field of presidential wannabes have been placing their bets, hoping to back the eventual winner. Having a critical backer in the Governor’s Mansion in either (or both) state could provide Palin, Huckabee or Romney a leg up on the competitors. Tim Pawlenty, the only sitting governor in the bunch, has made it a policy to not endorse in competitive primaries. The most interesting choice thus far has been Palin’s support of moderate Terry Branstad in Iowa. Backing the front-runner isn’t exactly the “rogue” choice and might, therefore, indicate Palin may be seriously thinking about a 2012 bid.

6) Potential Run-offs – The likelihood of a run-off in South Carolina’s GOP primary is pretty high, although some Nikki Haley supporters are hoping she can reach 50%, avoiding a run-off. In South Dakota, there is a possibility that none of the Republicans will reach the 35% threshold to win the GOP nomination outright. This could be a place where Tea Party activists make a difference.

A brief synopsis of each state voting today can be found here: California, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, South Carolina, South Dakota

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Must-Reads, Friday 5/21/10

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California: It seems the only way to play the game of politics in the Golden State is to have billions in your bank account. Could the web be the great equalizer?

Rand Paul’s Big League Debut: The Atlantic’s Joshua Green, who spent time on the campaign trail in Kentucky prior to Tuesday when Rand Paul won the GOP Senate nod, believes a big factor in Paul’s win and subsequent meltdown this week has to do with the “diminished local press corps.” Political journalists (if there are any left in this Internet Age) failed to adequately challenge Paul during the campaign.  When he met Rachel as the nominee, it was a surprise to Dr. Paul that his talking point answers weren’t enough.

Rethinking the Enthusiasm Gap: PPP’s Tom Jensen says the gap between Republican and Democratic interest in 2010 midterms may be driven by Democratic satisfaction just as much as it is by GOP anger. Love it when the conventional wisdom is turned upside down!

The GOP’s Swing to the Right: Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson explains why the GOP is in danger of over-reaching. It’s Obama’s fault. Do these guys take responsibility for anything?

April’s Revenue Mean More Stormy Sessions Ahead: States across the country are reporting lower-than-expected income tax revenue in the critical month of April, further darkening the fiscal picture for state lawmakers and governors.


Must-Reads, Monday 5/17/10

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Who Carries More Risk from this Spring’s Primary Battles? – Nate Silver has a fascinating and thorough (as usual) rebuttal to a WSJ article claiming the leftist insurgent challenges in high-profile Democratic primary contests (Halter in Arkansas, Specter in Pennsylvania and Colleen Hanabusa in this week’s Hawai’i special) spell trouble for the Democrats in November. He argues competitive Democratic primaries are actually beneficial to the nominee who emerges while a Republican primary contest runs the risk of making the GOP nominee less attractive outside the party’s traditional base:

A great deal of American politics derives from the fact that the Democratic base is pluralistic (but therefore sometimes incohesive), whereas the Republican one is more homogenous (but therefore sometimes overly narrow). The Republicans’ cohesiveness has helped to reinforce their enthusiasm, and they are likely to have an excellent November. However, they could conceivably cost themselves 1-3 Senate seats, and 5-10 House seats, by nominating suboptimal (electorally speaking) candidates. By contrast, the effects of Democratic primary challenges are more ambiguous, and may be as much of a help to the party as a hindrance.

Man the Barricades! – File this under “The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same,” has a brief timeline of our nation’s immigration debate over the years. It’s a reminder that America’s desire to close the doors to new arrivals is quite often fueled by those who looked different from those already here. What was that about a post-racial politics?

A Demographic Earthquake is Transforming America – The Brookings Institution has released a comprehensive study analyzing the demographic transformation America is experiencing.  They describe the nation as undergoing “the most significant socio-demographic change since the huge wave of immigration in the early 20th Century.” They see the potential for great opportunity in these change but warn:

Failure to manage this change could have grave consequences for America’s future quality of life. But success would allow us to use this demographic transformation as a competitive advantage for the 21st century.

The study envisions both metropolitan areas and Washington working simultaneously as necessary to address these changes that will (or already are) affecting the lives of every American family. Their recommendations about the role of the federal government are unlikely to find support among the Tea Party crowd:

Washington should develop macro-level responses. These include comprehensive immigration reform that better incorporates new Americans into our society and economy; a revamping of transportation and housing policy that reduces energy inefficient sprawl and accommodates seniors; programs to increase post-secondary education for our emerging workforce; and redoubling efforts, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, that help make work pay for working-class families.

Presidential Meddling: With incumbents endangered seemingly everywhere one looks, it seems odd for the president to be investing his political capital in the high-profile Pennsylvania Sestak-Specter primary. In fact, the White House has created many of it’s own Senate political headaches. Politico has a look at how such risky moves quite often leave the president with a political embarrassment.


Must Reads, Thursday 5/13/10

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The theme of today’s Must-Read headlines is “Budget Busting Bonanza”

ViceRoyalties – The WSJ looks at how states are tapping into people’s “vices” to close budget holes. Gambling, cigarette and alcohol tax hikes, ending Sunday Blue Laws and even legalizing marijuana are on the table in state capitals across the nation.

Class Warfare - Another way to find revenue is to raise taxes on the wealthiest citizens.  reports eight states chose this option last year, but reports that  proposals in New Jersey and Minnesota face long odds as incumbent Republican governors with national profiles face off with state legislators.

Corporate Welfare - Nevada’s Legislative Council Bureau has tallied the potential liabilities that could result from corporate lawsuits demanding tax rebates working their way through the courts. Overall the state’s budget – already estimated to have a $2.5-$3 billion deficit – could have additional $358 million in costs. Despite this looming financial crisis, Nevada politicians running for election this year seem to prefer the ostrich approach (stick your head in the sand and ignore the danger) is best.

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TGIF’s Must-Reads

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A few articles from around the intertubes:

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones But Names Will Never Hurt Me: Even as kids, we knew that words mattered, despite how we tried to deflect taunts.

In the political arena, words like “Socialist,” “Liberal,” and “Family Values” are tossed around by partisan spinmeisters as they work to shape the debate, demonize their opponents and derail policies. Pew Research has tested some of these terms and reveals some surprising results. Who would have predicted that “progressive” is a label viewed more positively than “capitalism”? Perhaps the recent plundering of the American economy by Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe has something to do with that.

Also fascinating to see two “Republican” labels like “family values” and “state’s rights” right alongside two “Democratic” labels like “civil rights” and “civil liberties.”

I have always thought that the term “socialism” has a much less powerful and sinister connotation to to anyone too young to remember when the Berlin Wall was a permanent, intractable fact of political life. When that barrier fell and the world changed, the specter and power of “socialist!” as an epithet in American politics was greatly diminished.

UTAH: Former GOP Governor and current US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman talks politics with the Salt Lake Tribune. With the anticipated ouster of Senator Bob Bennett at this weekend’s GOP State Convention, Huntsman advocated changing Utah’s  nominating process:

“The answer simply needs to be: How do you engage more people in politics? And if that’s through a direct primary, that needs to be a very serious consideration,” Huntsman, who is now U.S. Ambassador to China, said in an interview Thursday.

Opponents of the convention system — which Huntsman twice successfully navigated to become governor — say it focuses power in the hands of the party activists and doesn’t represent the average Utahn.

Is the Answer Blowing in the Wind? – looks at how the recent federal decision to give the go-ahead to the offshore wind  turbines off Cape Cod has propelled similar projects in other states toward implementation of long-delayed plans.

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Thursday’s Must Reads

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Virginia: The WaPo discusses the love-hate relationship Virginia politicians (mostly Republicans) have with Uncle Sam. They like to denounce federal deficits and stimulus packages but they’re the biggest pigs at the trough sucking up the cash. Did you know that ten cents of every dollar the federal government spends anywhere on Earth is spent in Virginia? I sure didn’t.

Ohio: Overlooked in the election results from Tuesday’s primaries was the surprisingly easy passage of State Issue 1 on the Buckeye State ballot. Belying the narrative that Americans are fed up with big government and stimulus spending, 60% of Ohio voters approved authorizing the state to issue $700 million in general-obligation bonds to keep the job-creating, high-tech Third Frontier investment program alive for three more years. Even GOP guber wannabe John Kasich had indicated he supported the program.

Huh? Hasn’t the GOP been telling us all along that government doesn’t create jobs?

Money Bombs Fizzle? – The Texas Tribune takes a look at campaign “money bombs” as a campaign tool. Sure, they raise money fast and often provide a media hit, but it’s not clear they translate into the one thing that matters: votes.

The Enthusiasm Gap Materializes: For months, we’ve heard about how conservatives and Republican voters are far more fired up to get out and vote in the 2010 midterms. Tuesday’s voting provided the first hard evidence that Democrats have a challenging task ahead – Democratic turnout was off nearly everywhere compared to the 2006 midterms.

It’s All About the Kids? – Harold Meyerson observes in the WaPo that  it’s students who are paying the highest price as states around the country make budget decisions. How do we build a 21st century workforce when we choose to shortchange our children’s future? Not only are we saddling future generations with unmanageable debt, we’re not giving them the tools to figure out how to deal with it. Meyerson writes:

One of the precious few points of consensus in our polarized land is that we need to do a better job educating our kids. But consensus, apparently, gets you only so far. In red states and blue, in urban, suburban and rural districts with unionized and non-unionized teachers, the story is the same: The worst recession since the 1930s is clobbering the nation’s schools.

Florida: Will the Man Without a Party wield his veto pen again? Pro-choice advocates could join teachers in the Charlie Crist Coalition if he does.

New Jersey: Former Gov. Jon Corzine’s decade long campaign finance spending spree has come to an end. It’s not sour grapes over being tossed from office last November that has caused him stop writing checks. It’s some of the clean government reforms he signed as governor may prohibit him, as the CEO of MF Holdings, to make contributions to Trenton officeholders.


Wednesday’s Must-Reads

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Arizona: The WaPo’s Ruth Marcus blames the new Arizona “If You’re Brown, Hit the Ground” law on a surprising culprit: Clean Elections.

Florida’s Billionaire Politicians: Following in the steps of Michael Bloomberg and Jon Corzine, billionaires seem to be popping up all around. The Mega-Rich, no longer content in buying our political leaders, want to become political leaders in our Mega-States. In California, Meg Whitman, Steve Poizner and Carly Fiorina are all hoping their deep pockets can offset the Democratic advantages in the state. Now, Florida bazillionaires Rick Scott and Jeff Greene are late entries into statewide races (Scott in the GOP guber primary and Greene in the Dem Senate primary). The Miami Herald asks, “They’re rich, they’re running — can they win?”

Primary Lessons: Yesterday, Politico reported on how the establishment-backed candidates in the Tuesday’s three contested Senate primaries were slouching toward the finish line. All survived, although DSCC-favored Cal Cunningham finished second to Elaine Marshall and will face a late June run-off.  In today’s post-election analysis, Politico observes, “Turnout was low and there were no major upsets or shocking results — every House and Senate incumbent on the ballot in the three states won renomination — but there was no shortage of evidence of voter unrest. In the marquee Senate primaries, establishment-backed candidates delivered wobbly performances that are sure to worry their national parties.”

The GOP’s Tea Party: Richard Viguerie, widely regarded as one of the founders of conservative direct mail (a forebear of Karl Rove) writes in the WaPo about how he sees the Tea Party movement as the “fourth leg” holding up the Republican Party (along with national security hawks, “family values” voters, and free market capitalists). He senses an historic opportunity, “The emergence of the “tea party” movement, for the first time in my life I sense that it may be possible for conservatives to actually shrink the federal government.

Progressive Counterpoint: Katrina vanden Heuvel takes Viguerie’s piece and argues his advice is more aptly applied to progressives who are struggling to find their footing a year into the Obama Administration.

Progressives should remain independent, challenging the limits of the current debate, taking the policy offensive. Progressives — far more than the corporate-backed, upper-middle-class Tea Partyers — can take on the entrenched interests, the crony capitalist arrangements, the failed conservative policies and the compromised leadership of major institutions from Wall Street to the mainstream media.


Tuesday’s Must-Reads

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California: After four months of steadily growing revenue, the April’s critical tax revenue in the nation’s largest state plummeted, coming in 30% below budget forecasts. The Los Angeles Times reports on the difficult choices facing the tarnished Golden State.

Illinois: The Chicago Tribune editorializes on the demise of redistricting reform in the state. Democrats, who control a super-majority in the state Senate and are one vote short in the House, barely failed in pushing through their plan that would have kept incumbents in charge of the once-a-decade reapportionment. According to the Trib, the Dems kept a competing GOP plan that would have taken the map-making out of lawmakers’ hands bottled up in committee. For anyone wishing for more competitive elections, a less-polarized legislative branch and a more civil discourse failing to reform redistricting is an unwelcome development.

New York: The New York Times had a fascinating article about how Andrew Cuomo’s still-undeclared guber candidacy might provide the opportunity for the son to finally step from the long shadow of his famous father.

Ohio: An Inspector General’s report concluding a criminal sting planned in the Governor’s Mansion . This is the type of story that takes on a life of it’s own and can tip a close campaign. The Plain Dealer envisions the general election “soft on crime” ads already.

BP Oil Slick and State Budgets: How might the expanding oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico adversely affect already hurting state budgets?

Third Party: In the aftermath of Charlie Crist’s decision to run as an independent in the Florida Senate race, Democratic pollster Doug Schoen writes over at Politico about the “topic du jour” (aside from oil slicks and Time Square car bombs, of course) — the (seeming) proliferation of Third Party candidacies and whether or not 2010 marks the beginning of a viable alternative to the duopoly of the Democratic and Republican Parties. While Crist is Exhibit A in the rise of the Third Party, Schoen says the anger of the Tea Party shows the potential power of this yet-to-be born party and reveals that “first on the agenda would be the addressing the fiscal crisis.” While I don’t disagree about the seething voter anger over fiscal irresponsibility in DC and state capitals, there are structural (read: Constitutional) barriers to the formation of a third political alternative. History simply tells us third party movements either rise up and replace one of the existing, calcified parties or one (or both) of the parties adapt and absorb the agenda of the rising political power. More on this in a later post.

GOP Civil War: In the closing months of the epic 2008 presidential campaign MSNBC’s Chuck Todd predicted that whichever party ended up on the losing end of that contest would be riven by internal divisions from which it might take years to recover. Well, he was right on one count. The losers have been divided and fighting an internal war for the heart and soul of the party. Would the vanquished Republicans move to the middle – rebuilding their “Big Tent” in an effort to regain relevance? Or would they swing further to the right, explaining their electoral defeat on a failure to adhere to conservative principles under the Bush Administration?  As the nation swings into full campaign mode for the first post-2008 elections, it looks like those the latter argument has won the first battles of the war. Will it reap long-term electoral rewards? The AP’s Charles Babbington explains how, even before the 2010 midterms, the GOP’s internal battles have affected the nation’s political direction.


Monday’s Must-Reads

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Georgia: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes the issues that dominated the just-completed legislative session are likely to dominate the 2010 elections and be more challenging by the time the next governor is sworn in. Not surprisingly, the issues here echo those across the nation – budget deficit, taxes and education. A looming hole is the $1 billion dollars in federal stimulus money propping up the current budget isn’t likely to be there next year.

South Carolina: Proving that all politics is local even in this era of jet travel, Columbia’s efforts to entice Southwest Airlines to add the state capital to the discount airlines network puts gubernatorial hopefuls in a quandary as they seek to satisfy their geographic base and reach out to other regions in the Palmetto State.

Virginia: A case of buyer’s remorse? Illustrating just how difficult it is to govern from the extremes, conservative activists are abandoning Governor Bob McDonnell only 6 months after his much-heralded victory in the Old Dominion. The WaPo reports that, despite high-profile attempts to appease them, conservative leaders are denouncing McDonnell as a “typical politician” and “gutless.” Ouch. Could this be a warning sign to others in the GOP? Perhaps those Tea Party invites should include a warning label?


Healthcare Reform: With the deadline for states to decide whether to opt in on the high-risk health insurance pool past, The New York Times has a recap on which states said “yes” and which ones said “no.” Not surprisingly, it mostly breaks down on partisan lines. Big exceptions on the GOP side include New Jersey’s Chris Christie, California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida’s Charlie Crist (technically, he’s still a registered Republican, right?) GOP-led states refusing to participate include Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada and Texas.

Another Sagebrush Rebellion?: Utah’s recently passed challenge to federal authority over vast tracts of Western lands has drawn national attention. has an intriguing article about this issue as a new front in the battle between the states and national government.