Friday Governors Line: The Central Front of 2010
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.
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.
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