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Friday Governors Line: The Central Front of 2010

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kans.), former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (I-R.I.), Terry McAuliffe and Meg Whitman

In 2008, gubernatorial races were the ugly stepchild of the election family. With just 11 races on the docket, the guvs were drastically overshadowed by the historic presidential race, Senate Democrats' push for 60 seats and an expanded Democratic majority in the House.

No longer.

Friday Line

As Republicans seek to pick up the pieces from a series of shattering electoral losses, party strategists have made clear that they will look to the states -- and governors in particular -- for the next generation of leaders.

President Barack Obama clearly understands the import of gubernatorial races in 2010, naming Gov. Tim Kaine (Va.) as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee at least in part due to Kaine's record of running for and winning the top job in a purple state.

And, with the decennial census set for 2010 and a nationwide redistricting (in which the lines of every congressional district in the country are redrawn) to follow in 2011, control of governors' mansions is even more critical in this election.

Did we mention there are a whopping 38 governors races in 2009 and 2010?

All that adds up to tremendous volatility and intrigue -- two of the Fix's favorite words in the English language.

So, without further ado, here is the Fix's first gubernatorial Line of 2009. We are starting with just 10 races but given the number of contests that are likely to be competitive, it's likely we expand the Line before too long.

As always, the number one ranked race is the most likely to switch parties in 2009/2010. Agree or disagree with our picks? The comments section awaits.

To the Line!

10. Arizona (R): Janet Napolitano's (D) appointment as the head of the Department of Homeland Security means that Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican, will be the state's governor for the next two years. While running as an incumbent should be something of an advantage for Brewer, the state's budget is in rough shape and she is almost certain to have to make tough choices (cut services, raise taxes or both) over the next two years. It also remains to be seen how she will handle the big stage. State Attorney General Terry Goddard is going to run and should be considered the Democratic favorite. Jim Pederson, who ran for the Senate in 2006 is also taking a look at the race as is Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon.

9. Michigan (D): Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) is term limited out after two terms and Democrats are privately very worried about keeping this state in their column due to the dismal state of the Michigan economy. Lt. Gov. John Cherry seems like the Democratic favorite but could have a very difficult time casting his candidacy as anything more than another four (or eight) years of Granholm. Republicans have a talented field led by state Attorney General Mike Cox. This has all the making of a major problem for Democrats.

8. Virginia (D): The Commonwealth governors race is the marquee contest of 2009. Democrats are optimistic about their chances and rightfully so; Obama's victory last November was the first time since 1964 that a Democrat won Virginia at the presidential level. But, Republicans nationally see this race as a necessary first step in the rebuilding of the party and will put everything they have behind state Attorney General Bob McDonnell. Kaine is certain to focus heavily on keeping his home state in the Democratic column but the party is headed toward a costly and likely contentious primary in June. Who wins that primary? We can't find a sharp Democratic operative who doesn't think Terry McAuliffe finds a way to end up on top.

7. Nevada (R): Gov. Jim Gibbons's (R) first four years in office have been, to put it kindly, a disaster. His (very) public divorce replete with allegations of infidelity from his former wife is just the tip of an iceberg that threatens to capsize the good ship Gibbons. Gibbons could well face a serious primary challenge (and many Republicans would love to see him defeated before he gets to a general election) but Democrats are already licking their chops at the prospect of running against him next fall. Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid, the son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and state House Speaker Barbara Buckley are both seriously weighing the race.

6. California (R): If Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) decides to run for governor then this state will move up the Line. But, our gut is that DiFi takes a pass -- she seems to be enjoying her new perch as chair of the Intelligence Committee -- and, if she opts out, it gives Republicans some hope of winning the Golden State in 2010. Both sides will have competitive primaries but the one we really can't wait to see is on the Republican side where state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and EBay founder Meg Whitman are headed toward a high-priced collision.

5. Oklahoma (D): An open seat in the reddest state in the country (according to the 2008 presidential election race) spells big trouble for Democrats. The Democratic field is surprisingly strong with state Attorney General Drew Edmondson, a very well known name in Sooner State politics, and Lt. Gov. Jari Askins both in the race. But, given the partisan nature of the state, almost any Republican will start off the general election as the favorite. The GOP field is somewhat cloudy at this point, however, with Sen. Tom Coburn as well as Reps. Mary Fallin and Tom Cole mentioned.

4. Hawaii (R): It's hard to imagine that Democrats don't win back the president's home state when this seat comes open in 2010. Gov. Linda Lingle (R) doesn't get enough credit nationally for her political savvy but the strong Democratic roots of Hawaii make it very tough to build any sort of long term Republican success. Lt. Gov. Duke Aoina (R) is the heir apparent to the Lingle legacy but doesn't get the same sort of rave reviews Lingle drew when she was running in 2002. Democrats have yet to sort themselves out yet with Rep. Neil Abercrombie, state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and state Sen. Malama Soloman all looking at the race.

3. Kansas (D): Like Oklahoma, the underlying Republicanism of Kansas makes this a VERY tough hold for Democrats in an open seat situation. Democratic recruiters still hold out hope that Rep. Dennis Moore will consider the race but that seems like wishful thinking. The only other major candidate mentioned for Democrats at the moment is state Treasurer Dennis McKinney. Sen. Sam Brownback (R) is returning to the state to run for governor and, despite the fact he is likely to face a primary challenge, has to be considered the favorite to be the next chief executive of the Sunflower State.

2. Rhode Island (R): By the numbers, this is a seat Democrats should control. Obama won it with 63 percent of the vote in 2008 and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) convincingly beat former Sen. Lincoln Chafee in 2006. And, a number of high-profile Democrats are lining up for the race -- including openly gay Providence Mayor David Cicilline -- while there are no obvious Republican stars looking at the contest. The X-factor? Chafee, who is contemplating a bid as an Independent. If Chafee gets in, he has a legitimate shot of winning this thing. If not, the Democratic nominee will be heavily favored. Either way, it is a long shot that the next governor of Rhode Island has an "R" after his (or her) name.

1. Wyoming (D): Don't be fooled by the the success of term-limited Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D). Wyoming is still rock-ribbed Republican country and this seat is going to be an almost impossible hold for Democrats. There is virtually no Democratic bench in the state while two statewide elected Republicans -- the Agriculture Commissioner and the Auditor -- as well as state House Speaker Colin Simpson are weighing bids.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 23, 2009; 12:31 PM ET
Categories:  Governors , The Line  
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Next: The Gillibrand Pick: Winners and Losers


You missed a big one in Iowa. Chet Culver will be defeated as well. His own party doesn't like him and thinks he is incompetent. The R's are lining up and blood is in the water.

Posted by: IowaShouldBeFirst | January 26, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Paterson IS NOT in any trouble in NY-
he has a powerful NYC/Harlem political machine working for him-
he is popular with liberals from his time in the state senate
he is popular with moderates because he took over a real mess from Spitzer and has been very forthcoming about sacrifices needed (although he honestly needs to look more at balancing our budget with help from the rich rather than on the backs of the middleclass/poor with service cuts)
He is well liked by other legislators- it is unlikely that many of them will challenge him (Souzo in Nassau county is the only possiblity I can think of)
People respect his Gildebrand choice- it works for him well upstate and with women

Look at polling- most of us (NYers) did NOT want Kennedy put in on the merits of her name only.

I see Paterson in a landslide.

As for the other governors, I don't know if the Dems can retain MI or win back AZ.
Why did rising star Napolatino take a 3rd rate cabinet position (homeland security?) and leave her state with a repug? She could have challenged McCain in '10 or waited for a supreme court justiceship

The Dems shouldn't lose CA and should take back HI

Posted by: nycLeon | January 26, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

10)ARIZONA. Why not Rep Jeff Flake for Arizona Governor? Republicans seem to only have cranky old men in Arizona. Flake is a young libertarian with a lot of ideas that appeal across the board. The Republicans can vanish into irrelevancy if they keep running negative campaigns and losing. Flake's a likeable, bright guy with a positive message. Grijalva's going to surprise for McCain's seat when it comes up.

9) MICHIGAN. Can't even guess. Too much hangs on fate of big 2. Ford's a pretty successful company


7) NEVADA: Either Jon Porter (R) or Oscar (D) could walk away with it if the other doesn't go. I think Oscar might just give it a shot because while Porter's got a good chance to beat Reidin general, no Democrat could beat Reid in a Primary. Everybody's so sick of Reid, Porter's another guy like Flake who shows that Republicans are people too and will get a ton of even liberal votes. OSCAR GOODMAN WILL BE NEXT NEVADA GOVERNOR. That's fun.

6) CALIFORNIA. Republicans LOVE Meg. She'll be tough to beat and FEINSTEIN's just too stale and is such a Blue Dog that it will be hard to separate them on the issues. Why should she give up senior position in Senate Democratic Caucus? GAVIN NEWSOM, though, is a STAR. 2004, 2006 and 2008 were a perfect series of innoculations against the poison of homophobia. YES ON 8 could not win in 2010. Newsom's popular because he's good. Good on social issues and great on economic issues. And his unabashed fight for LGBTQ rights makes him look strong and principled. Goodbye Arnie, not too good to know you, you jerk. Hello, Gavin and welcome to SUPERSTARDOM.

5) OKLAHOMA. Whichever the creepiest retrograde Republican is will win.

4) HAWAII. Abercrombie's needed because either Inouye or Akaka's retiring and Abercrombie's a slam dunk for the seat. Lingle did nothing but make a mellow state kind of twitchy and with hometown hero Obama in WH, Democrats will make clean sweep.

3) KANSAS. I don't agree with Sam Brownback on the issues but for an ultra-conservative Republican he's not insane. He's extremely bright and politically astute and cannot lose this election.

2) RHODE ISLAND. Tossup as Chris writes. Both choices good.

1) WYOMING: Very close race between Freudenthal and Simpson. Toss up.

EXTRA) NEW YORK GOVERNOR: David Paterson, surprising easy. Democrats love him for his progressive views. Centrist love him for bringing stability and some dignity back to the office after Spitzer. Republicans don't mind him because he gets along with everybody and gets the way Albany is, everybody gets a piece of what they want.


Posted by: DexterClinkscale | January 23, 2009 11:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm about as solid a Democrat as you can get, but I would work my heart out for Chafee's run, if I could.

He's won a LOT of credibility from me, and I'm sure people like me, for his actions in the Senate. To lose a Senate race with a 63% approval rating is a rare and unique feat -- it means that Chafee starts with a definite leg-up in any future statewide race.

I just hope he'll be a more successful governor than Lowell Weicker, with whom he shares a certain striking resemblance.

Posted by: BlackRegent | January 23, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Are you kidding me? Mike Cox as part of a talented field for Michigan governor? As an admitted adulterer who had shady closed-door meetings with Kwame Kilpatrick? Yeah right. It's nothing but old far-right GOP hacks in the running for governor - the same kind of people voters resoundingly rejected this year. I wouldn't count John Cherry out: the man knows Michigan politics, and (especially in comparison to Mike Cox), is actually a good guy.

Posted by: GoGreen2 | January 23, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Chris, I don't see how you leave off Tennessee, which I think belongs at number 5 or 6. Phil Bredesen (D) isn't running and the Democrats are waiting in the wings for Harold Ford, Jr. to let everyone know he isn't running b/c he'd rather play around up in D.C. There are no other Democratic candidates with statewide name recognition. Meanwhile several Republicans have already announced, including Shelby County DA Bill Gibbons. In addition, despite the national trend, the Tennessee state legislature flipped over to the Republicans for the first time in years. Tennessee definitely deserves a spot on the line!

Posted by: sps0618 | January 23, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

If we get enough Federalization, we won't need Governors.

Posted by: newbeeboy | January 23, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

The MN race should be very competitive. T-Paw may or may not run again, and if he does, he'll be running for a third four-year term - not something voters hand out lightly (no Governor has ever won one in Minnesota). Even if he does run, he's no lock to win, and if he doesn't run, there's no clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination; Norm Coleman is probably next in line if he loses his court battle & wants the nomination, but he was already the Republican gubernatorial nominee once (and lost), and if he's available for this race, it means he was voted out of his Senate seat too -- having lost those two races to a professional wrestler and a professional comedian, respectively. The Democratic field is unclear as well, but the fact is that last cycle's DFL nominee, AG Mike Hatch, was an extremely unpopular and poorly-thought-of guy who just happened to be the highest-profile Dem in the state. There wasn't a Democrat in MN outside of Hatch's family and campaign staff who was happy about the personally abrasive and nakedly ambitious Hatch being the party's candidate. Dems should be in a much better position this time around. The early line for the 2010 nomination starts with Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner at the top (being a female County Attorney from the Twin Cities has worked out OK in statewide elections of late, as Amy Klobuchar can attest), followed closely by State Senator Tom Bakk, who serves one of the state's most diehard Democratic constituencies, the Iron Range. Pawlenty has the opportunity to make a lot of hay out of his rising-star status in the national GOP, but his immediate political future in Minnesota may be dimming for that very reason - his constituents are beginning to see him as someone whose energies are focused on DC rather than the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Posted by: soundslikedrums | January 23, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

billmcg writes
"You definitely need more than 10 slots."

I could see that, or if its workload, just concentrate on the 2009 races. Of the 10 given, only two have explicit indicators of which year the election is held: VA (2009) and CA (2010). Are we supposed to guess about the rest?

Posted by: bsimon1 | January 23, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

If Terry McAuliffe wins the Democratic primary in VA, you can move the race in Virginia to the #1 spot.

That said, the Democratic base in Virginia - that is, those living in Northern Virginia - know this. Don't expect McAuliffe to finish above third in the primary.

Posted by: | January 23, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

austin11 writes
"Over the next years, Congress' apparent acquiescence with Bush policies might also become a topic of discussion. What would be the political fallout from something like that?

I dunno."

That's an interesting line of thinking & story worth watching. Other stories worth watching: Are the governors and/or candidates taking their cues from the nat'l party leadership, or are they each finding their own way? In CA, for instance, the Schwarz has gone all moderate - will Poizner/Whitman campaign as a sequel or a new feature?

Posted by: bsimon1 | January 23, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

You definitely need more than 10 slots. Or maybe a tour of all the seats up for grabs. Illinois, NY (especially but not only if Paterson gets primaried), Minnesota (especially but not only if Pawlenty steps down to run for president), Maine, Tennessee, Florida -- the list of potentially competitive races goes on and on.

Posted by: billmcg1 | January 23, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

ugh, #10---first thing I read was Arizona.

Yes, Jan Brewer, Republican.
The last time a Secr of State waltzed into the Governor's office (without an election) was the Fife Symington resignation when Jane Dee Hull took over.

And she was terrible. She messed up this state ROYAL....I can't even begin to tell you the laws and CODE she tweaked to get her way! That took us 5 to 6 years to correct.
Secretary of State Jan Brewer "ran" the code and rule making process here, as did Hull, and now she will be Governor.
I see nothing but backsliding and trouble.

I was a bit sad about Janet N. taking Homeland Security over because I knew that the hard work we had done -FINALLY getting GOOD legislation passed, will be overturned by Brewer.

Arizona is a "scam" state. Open a business, scam people, and split within 3 years. Air conditioning is the biggest SCAM of all down here.
Plus, a right to work state. OMG folks, do you have time to hear some stories of the rudeness and pathetic treating of subordinates that takes place down here.
Just ask me.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | January 23, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse


A note on the Wyoming match up...The leading Republican candidates for Governor of Wyoming include the former Director of Agriculture, Ron Micheli, the current State Auditor, Rita Meyer, and the current Speaker of the House, Colin Simpson.


Posted by: alexaandrews | January 23, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

While I agree with the decision not to put it on the line, Oregon should be a good race too, especially if the right candidates run/don't run. If it's Fmr. Sen. Smith or Rep. Walden vs a second tier candidate like fmr SoS Bradbury, R's should actually be favored. State Sen. Atkinson is also a good potential candidate.

There are very few states that can actually be considered safe at this point.

Posted by: AnthonyJBrady | January 23, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

"Sam Brownback (R) is returning to the state to run for governor and, despite the fact he is likely to face a primary challenge, has to be considered the favorite to be the next chief executive of the Sunflower State."

Environmentalists should view this as a real challenge. Segelius has held off a proliferation of new coal-fired electric plants that planned on selling their power to out-of-state interests while polluting the Kansas air.

Not to be trite, but as Kansas goes, Brownback equals brownlung. There is lkittle doubt, if the Republicans take this governor's chair, that Sebelius' heroic stand against the coal-fired bullies will be reversed.

Her veto was upheld by a single vote in our Republican-mangled statehouse. So, while Kansas may seem like a million miles away, we are a canary in the coal mine, literally.

Again, environmentalists of all stripes should see this contest as one worth investing in. The state line, for what it is worth, is only a mark on a map, there are no state lines in the air we breathe.

Posted by: JEP7 | January 23, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

"two of the Fix's favorite words in the English language..."

Democratic Landslide?

Posted by: JEP7 | January 23, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Chris, if the President does well in office, that might throw a wrench into some of these prognostications, although it's hard to imagine that anything would change the minds of conservative Kansans, except different thinking generations stepping up to vote. There's no evidence of that happening in large enough numbers yet outside the usual liberal islands.

Over the next years, Congress' apparent acquiescence with Bush policies might also become a topic of discussion. What would be the political fallout from something like that?

I dunno.

Posted by: austin11 | January 23, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse


Meg Whitman was not the founder of EBAY. She is the former CEO.

Posted by: dganderson13 | January 23, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Chris -- Don't forget Alabama! With the Republican governor, Bob Riley, retiring, it should provide for a crowded Republican primary between several candidates with potential major flaws. The Democrats have several outstanding candidates including the incumbent Lt. Governor Jim Folsom (a former governor and son of a former governor) as well as Rep. Artur Davis. Could make for an interesting primary season and general election.

Posted by: bibbejr | January 23, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

New York doesn't make the line? Paterson will likely face a primary challenge and I'm sure the GOP will make recapturing the top state post a priority.

Posted by: jwhit34 | January 23, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I'd suggest you also keep an eye on New Mexico. With the controversy surrounding Bill Richardson, his would-be successor, Democratic Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, is still the frontrunner, but who knows where this controversy is going and how it might damage anyone tied to the administration, including her? Former GOP U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson are both rumored to be considering running, which creates an interesting dynamic. And Richardson was preceded in office by the political unknown and libertarian-leaning Gary Johnson, so anything can happen here.

Plus, Val Kilmer is seriously considering running as a Democrat, which adds an unknown dimension to the entire thing. Check it out:

Posted by: nmpoliticsnet | January 23, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Well, Chris while I do see Michigan and (my home state) of Rhode Island switching hands, I'm surprised to see Illinois and New York not at the top. Considering all that Blago is going through, and will continue to do so, my feeling is that an appeal will be made to Jim Edgar to take him down. Also, Paterson has and always seemed "aloof" to me. If New York Republicans can find someone credible enough, I think he can be brought down too.

Lastly, I must say that in RI, they always have crowded Democratic primaries which has always left them with weak general election candidates. If State Treasurer Caprio decides to run, he'll be the Democratic nominee. The lt. gov., attorney general and Providence Mayor are all show-horses. And in my "adopted" state of CA, this is Feinstien's race to win if she wants it. Otherwise, CA will get a weak general election candidate who may/may not be elected with more than 52% of the vote.

Posted by: Javier2 | January 23, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse


Apologies for the mixup on Minnick; he of course represents Idaho, not Wyoming. The text above has been corrected.

Blame it on still being cold from inauguration day!


Posted by: Chris_Cillizza | January 23, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Chris you got your facts wrong about Wyoming. Walt Minnick won Idaho's 1st congressional district not Wyoming's at-large district. Minnick does not even live in Wyoming.

Posted by: jae1227 | January 23, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the VA Dem primary, you might want to talk to Democratic operatives who work in VA politics, state-wide. Not just NoVa folks.

Terry McAuliffe has no constituency in VA whatsoever. Local party chairs are already saying that they despise him. McAuliffe has done nothing for the VA party or for VA. A winning primary campaign in VA needs support from party chairs who can sway local opinion and offer volunteers, networking and fundraisers. McAuliffe needed to be courting this years ago to have their support this year. Instead they see him as a carpetbagger.

No offense, but get your mind out of the beltway here.

Posted by: JacksonLanders | January 23, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

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