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Three states (maybe four) to elect governors in 2011

Updated: 4:10 p.m.

So, the 2010 election is over. Let the 2011 elections begin!

Three states -- Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi -- will hold gubernatorial elections on Nov. 8, 2011. One of those states, Mississippi, will have an open-seat race, while in the other two, incumbent governors are seeking re-election.

There's also the possibility of a 2011 special election in West Virginia, where Gov. Joe Manchin (D) is vacating the governor's mansion following his election to the seat of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D). State Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin (D) will become acting governor when Manchin resigns, which could come as soon as the end of the week; there is currently debate over whether West Virginia law calls for a special election in 2011 or 2012.

Here's a look at where things stand in each of the 2011 gubernatorial races:

Mississippi governor (R):

Things were already looking pretty good for the GOP in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Haley Barbour, a potential White House 2012 contender, in this Republican-leaning state.

But they look even better after last Tuesday, when Democrats lost control of two of the state's four House seats with the defeats of Democratic Reps. Travis Childers and Gene Taylor.

Barbour's lieutenant governor, Phil Bryant (R), is considered the early frontrunner on the Republican side. Businessman Dave Dennis (R) is also readying for a bid and has already set up a campaign website. State Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann (R), who ran unsuccessfully for Congress last decade, is said to be mulling a run as well.

The GOP primary looks to be competitive; Bryant has the advantage of statewide name identification, but Dennis appears to be putting together a strong "outsider" campaign. Much could depend on who -- if anyone -- emerges as Barbour's preferred candidate.

On the Democratic side, those who have already announced bids include attorney Bill Luckett (D) and Johnny DuPree (D), the first black mayor of Hattiesburg. State Attorney General Jim Hood (D), the only Democrat to hold statewide office, announced earlier this year that he will seek a third term as attorney general and won't pursue a bid for governor.

The qualifying deadline for candidates is March 1, 2011, and the primary is on Aug. 2.

Kentucky governor (D):

The race in the Bluegrass State looks to be the most competitive governor's contest on the ballot in 2011.

Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is running for reelection and a late October poll conducted for the Lexington Herald-Leader and local TV stations showed Beshear beginning his re-election bid with a 56 percent approval rating.

Beshear has also raised $3 million for his bid to date, an impressive warchest that will likely make any would-be primary challengers think twice.

Beshear announced last July that his running mate is Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson (D), as current Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo (D) sought (and lost) the Democratic nomination to state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) in the state's Senate race.

It looks like there will be a spirited primary on the Republican side, where the success of Sen.-elect Rand Paul's tea party-inspired candidacy could loom large.

Tea party member Phil Moffett (R) has already announced a bid; he's running on a slate with state Rep. Mike Harmon (R). Moffett's campaign manager is David Adams, who previously headed Paul's Senate campaign.

Meanwhile, state Senate PresidentDavid Williams (R) and Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer (R) are also running together. Williams and the tea party have butted heads in the past, and in an off-year election, the tea party could have even more influence, a factor that might bode well for Moffett. (And, yes, it is that Richie Farmer -- former point guard for the University of Kentucky Wildcats.)

There's also an independent ticket in the race: 1999 Reform Party nominee Gatewood Galbraith (I) is running with Dea Riley (I).

Early polling shows Beshear besting both of his potential GOP rivals by double-digits, with Williams slightly outperforming Moffett on the GOP side. But, it is still very early and whoever win the Republican nod on May 17 is likely to give Beshear a real race.

Louisiana governor (R):

Popular incumbent Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) -- a near-certain national candidate at some point in the not-too-distant future -- is running for re-election.

Louisiana's open primary, in which candidates of all parties participate, is on Oct. 22, 2011. If no-one gets above 50 percent, a runoff will be held on Nov. 19, 2011.

When he ran in 2007, Jindal took more than 54 percent of the vote, becoming the first non-incumbent to be elected without a runoff.

Among the potential Democratic contenders is Rep. Charlie Melancon, who fell short in his bid against Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) this year. Some Democrats believe Melancon could benefit thanks to his increased name ID as well as the fact that he'd be running in an off-year election and in a less-nationalized race. Other possible challengers include Caroline Fayard, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor; and Jim Bernhard, CEO of the Shaw Group and a former chairman of the state Democratic Party.

West Virginia governor (D):

Tomblin has said that he is open to possibly considering a special election in 2011; otherwise, the special will be held in 2012, when the regularly-scheduled election will also take place.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R), whose father, Arch Moore, served several terms as governor of West Virginia, would likely be a top contender on the GOP side, although she has also been floated as a potential challenger to Manchin in 2012 as well.

Several Democrats have expressed interest in running as well, including state House Speaker Rick Thompson, state Sens. Jeff Kessler and Brooks McCabe; state Treasurer John Perdue and state Secretary of State Natalie Tennant could also be in the mix.

By Felicia Sonmez  | November 9, 2010; 3:20 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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