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 Redistricting


Guber Quick Hits, Sat 6/5/10

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Alaska: Gov. Sean Parnell slashed $336 million from the 2011 legislative budget. Among the cuts was an expansion of the Denali Kid Care program because some of the funds would be used to pay for medically necessary abortions. Democratic gubernatorial challenger Ethan Berkowitz ramped up the campaign rhetoric criticizing Parnell’s decision. ”Real men don’t pick on kids,” Berkowitz said in a press release. “Sean Parnell’s coldhearted cut hurts real Alaskan children and families.”

Arizona: Homeland Security Secretary (and former AZ Governor) Janet Napolitano takes her successor to task for trying to “score political points” about border safety. Napolitano points out the data shows an increasingly secure border region and, without mentioning Gov. Jan Brewer by name, derides the GOP’s fear-mongering, concluding, “ Too often, lately, political bumper-sticker slogans are being presented as real solutions.”

California: Steve Poizner continues beefing up his anti-immigrant  street cred (although when he’s trailing by a 2-to-1 margin in the latest polls, what’s the point?) by announcing the backing of notorious Maricopa (AZ) County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Even if he manages to surprise everyone and upset MegaBucks, this endless stream of immigrant bashing has made him unelectable in November.

Maryland: Is it too early to be looking at a 2014 guber contest? Democratic Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler seems to be laying the groundwork for a future campaign as he runs for re-election as a champion of gay marriage.

New York: Andrew Cuomo will not submit his name for nomination by the Working Families Party this weekend amid reports that he’s tried strong-arm the minor party into putting placeholder candidates in the gubernatorial and attorney general races. A federal investigation into the Working Families campaign finances and Cuomo’s campaign promises to cut spending and hold the line on taxes clashes with the leftist coalition’s goal of expanding the size and scope of government.

Oregon: An official of the fastest-growing party in the Beaver State has been caught on tape saying any candidate who wants the Independent Party’s endorsement must donate to the party. Oops. Selling nominations is against state law.

Tennessee: Democrat Mike McWherter has launched his “Mike Works Tour” of the Volunteer State as part of his effort to attract some media attention from the high-profile Republican primary contest between Zach Wamp, Bill Haslam and Ron Ramsey.

Utah: The Beehive State’s lone Democratic congressman is making the case for electing Salt Lake Mayor Peter Corroon as the next governor. Citing his fears that a GOP-led legislature and governor will target him out of a congressional seat in the redistricting process he’s urging voters that electing Corroon is their best safeguard against a looming partisan gerrymander.


Quick Hits,Thursday 5/13/10

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Keeping it clean: Two upper Midwest states with a reputation for clean and fair elections, Minnesota and Wisconsin, are going to compare their voter participation files from the 2008 election to make sure no one illegally voted in both states.

Alabama: Frank Luntz hearts Tim James’ English-only ad (actually, his focus group loves it). “Of all the ads we’ve tested,” says Luntz, “I don’t think we’ve had any that have been so controversial, and done so well as this one.”

California: Steve Poizner, who polls show closing what was once an enormous gap with Meg Whitman, made a $2.5 million deposit in his own campaign. That brings his total to $22.5 million. MegaBucks must be wondering, “Is that all you got?” considering she’s put nearly $60 million of her billions into buying the GOP nomination. If Poizner is able to close the deal an upset her on June 8th, she’ll be asking a whole other set of questions.

Connecticut: This is why gambling (or gaming in the industry’s parlance) is becoming a budget fix for many states. Imagine how dire Connecticut’s budget woes would be without the hundreds of millions coming in from slots.

Nevada: “A whopping 85 percent of likely Republican primary voters would support an Arizona-like law in Nevada to crack down on illegal immigrants, according to a new poll that shows why GOP candidates in the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races have rushed to praise the border state,” reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

New York: A federal judge has halted David Paterson’s cost-saving plan to furlough 100,000 state employees. There’s still a $9.2 billion hole in the Empire State’s budget.

Oklahoma: Republican hypocrisy at it’s finest.

Oregon: In the only state that conducts elections 100% by mail, GOP guber wannabe Allen Alley is making an “innovative” ad buy – in a very old school medium – the state’s newspapers. A quarter of a million copies of an 8-page insert (pdf) distributed inside 27 small dailies and weeklies around the state.  It’s actually a pretty informative campaign piece. In a state where you have to sit down with a voter guide and take time to fill out your ballot at home, having something like this (pdf) to review may make a difference.

Pennsylvania: State Republicans are determined to regain the House majority this fall, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The Keystone State was one of the fiercest redistricting battlegrounds last decade and Republicans hope they’ll head into redistricting (in which PA will lose yet another seat) with the both the Governor’s Mansion and legislative majority on their side.

Tennessee: The House Speaker is accusing the Senate Leader of playing politics with budget negotiations. If Ron Ramsey wasn’t running for governor, the speaker contends, a deal to plug the state’s budget deficit would have been reached by now. Trading partisan charges over spending and taxes during tough economic times is commonplace these days. What isn’t is when the two lawmakers are both Republicans.


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.


Buckeye State Dems Stockpile Cash

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Ohio Democrats are building a significant cash advantage over their GOP rivals in the critical swing state of Ohio. Gov Ted Strickland – whose poll numbers have weakened with the stagnating economy – is outpacing challenger John Kasich, raising $2.5 million to $516,000 during the most recent period. More importantly the Democrat maintains a 9-1 advantage in cash-on-hand. (h/t – Swing State Project)

Looking toward the 2011 reapportionment process, Democrats in the Ohio House of Representatives are also amassing campaign cash at a faster pace than the GOP, who lost control of the chamber after years of dominance in the 2008 election. If Democrats can maintain control of the House, Governor’s Mansion and win either the State Auditor or Secretary of State races next year, they will have a 3-2 majority on the Apportionment Board.

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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.

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DGA Identifies Top Targets

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In a fundraising appeal the Democratic Governor’s Association touts four states currently held by Republicans as newly emerging pick-up opportunities: Florida, Georgia, Minnesota and…Alaska?

Two – Florida and Minnesota - are obvious, widely regarded as pure toss-ups. It is unlikely Florida, and to a lesser extent Minnesota, would have been at the top of a 2010 Democratic target list if either Charlie Crist or Tim Pawlenty had chosen to run for reelection. Former Democratic Governor Roy Barnes’ candidacy in Georgia gave Team Blue an unanticipated boost in that open seat contest. While Republicans probably still hold a slight advantage in Georgia, all of these races will likely to remain competitive and high profile contests throughout 2010.   Alaska, the fourth seat on this list (and the only one not currently open), probably appears simply because of the star power of the current incumbent. This list appeared in a fundraising appeal, after all.

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The Election of a Generation

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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?

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A Sunshine State Preview

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The intense spotlight on Gov. Charlie Crist and his decision to leave Tallahasee to run the open Senate seat has cast the race to replace him into shadow. While the headlines may follow Crist, the governor’s race is where the real Sunshine State race is going to unfold. Until Barack Obama’s win in the 2008 presidential campaign, Democrats had suffered dating back to the catastrophic 2000 recount. The smarter Bush brother was able to coast to re-election in 2002, and the moderate Crist had no trouble retaining the Governor’s Mansion for the GOP.  As one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, Democrats are a minority in both houses of the legislature and trail 15-10 in the congressional delegation despite holding a statewide registration advantage over Republicans.

Crist’s Senate decision provides Democrats the opportunity to capture a seat at the redistricting table. Now rated as a competitive toss-up race, it is widely anticipated that Democratic Chief Financial Officer (in other states that’s the Treasurer) Alex Sink will face off against Republican Bill McCollum.

Over at The Southern Political Report, they’re questioning the GOP’s wisdom in clearing the decks for Bill McCollum. They describe Sink as an appealing candidate capable of recapturing the Governor’s Mansion for the Democrats (and recent polls show the race as a pure toss-up).
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Why StateHouseRock?

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StateHouseRock will be a clearinghouse for information regarding the real 2010 political battlegrounds – the races for the nation’s governor chairs. Over the next eighteen months, voters in thirty-nine states will be electing their chief executive. In nearly half (eighteen) they will be choosing a new governor, as the incumbent will not be running. The new decade will usher in a new generation of leadership in states large and small.

Most of these officials will have at least a seat (if not veto power) over the redistricting process following the 2010 Census. All one has to do is simply recall the high-profile confrontation early this decade when newly-empowered Texas Republicans chased AWOL Democrats with Department of Homeland Security resources to force the passage of a controversial Republican-friendly redistricting plan to recognize how important gubernatorial (and state legislative elections) can be to the balance of power in Washington. Texas wasn’t the only state that saw drawn-out partisan skirmishes over the decennial mapmaking exercise.

Beyond redistricting, it could be argued that governors and the decisions made at the state level have a large impact on the daily lives of average Americans than the decisions made inside the Beltway. With this in mind, this site aims to discuss the gubernatorial campaigns including the candidates, the local and national issues influencing the contest, campaign financing, and polling.

While gubernatorial elections are by nature fueled by local issues, the current cycle is likely to have two national storylines play out in StateHouse campaigns.

Many have said the states will be where the Republican Party resurrects it’s political fortunes. Will the conservatives continue their Limbaugh-led purity purge of moderates, pushing their party further from mainstream America? Or will moderates be successful in nominating candidates who stand a better chance in general elections? The first battle in this civil war is only days away. This Tuesday in New Jersey, Garden State Republicans go to the polls to choose between Steve Lonegan, a darling of the conservative activist base, or moderate Chris Christie who has the backing of establishment-type Republicans.

The winner of that contest takes on Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine, whose anemic poll numbers ought to be worrisome to all incumbent governors seeking reelection in 2010. The recession and state budget deficits could rescramble the political calculus in races across the country. Governors are on the frontlines of this recession, forced to balance budgets through draconian program cuts or raising taxes. Will voters make them pay a price at the ballot box if the economic turmoil continues?

In addition to these national narratives, a secondary storyline emerges in a handful of states. Republican governors with presidential ambitions (Palin, Pawlenty and term-limited Sanford quickly come to mind) have already made headlines as they jockey for positioning in the 2012 GOP Sweepstakes.

With all of these storylines it’s clear why the StateHouseRocks.