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A good August for Democrats in governors races but trouble looms in Midwest

August may have been the Democratic Governors Association's best month of 2010, which, of course, isn't saying all that much given the struggles the party has endured so far this year.

Still, primary results in Connecticut, Colorado and Florida all appear to have improved Democrats' chances of winning governor's races in each state.

In Connecticut, former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy's crushing defeat of self funding Ned Lamont gives Democrats a steady presence on the campaign trail with none of the baggage that Lamont carried. Former Ambassador Tom Foley's narrow win on the GOP side is also good news for Democrats as he has been dogged by personal problems.

Friday Line

In Colorado, businessman Dan Maes -- a total unknown -- bested former Rep. Scott McInnis in the Republican primary after McInnis failed to bounce back from an admission that he had committed plagiary. Maes' victory coupled with former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo's independent bid has Republicans acknowledging that the once-promising pickup opportunity is now likely gone.

Former health care CEO Rick Scott's surprise win in Tuesday's Florida Republican primary had Democrats celebrating as they believe Scott's time as head of Columbia/HCA is ripe to be mined for negative ads. That may be a bit of premature celebration -- Scott's wealth is an x-factor -- but the GOP nominee has to overcome some major negatives in the eyes of Florida voters.

Even as Democrats were getting good news in a handful of August primaries, gubernatorial races in the Upper Midwest/Rustbelt (Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania) continued to grow more and more difficult for the party to hold -- thanks to a combination of poor candidates, sluggish state economies and an eroding national political environment.

Add it up and Republicans are still headed for considerable gains this fall at the state level. Will they reach the 30 governorships that Republican Governors Association executive director Nick Ayers has set as a goal?

Our top 15 races likely to switch parties are below. The number one race is the most likely to turn. Have thoughts of your own? The comments section awaits.

To the Line!

Coming off the Line: California
Coming onto the Line: Ohio, Florida

15. (tie) Wisconsin (Democratic controlled): Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) has been hitting Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker (R) where it hurts -- airing a series of ads charging that voters "can't trust him with our money" and "can't trust him to tell the truth." But Walker, who faces off against former Rep. Mark Neumann in a Sept. 14 primary, and national Republicans have launched an ad offensive of their own. When President Barack Obama visited the state last week to raise money for Barrett, Walker released a scathing TV ad mocking the President, while the RGA has gone up with a new, apparently Miller Lite-inspired spot. (It is Wisconsin, after all.) (Previous ranking: 13)

15. (tie) Ohio (D): Ask Democrats for an incumbent who is running the right sort of race and they will point you to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. And, Strickland -- and the Democratic Governors Association -- deserve credit for taking the bark off of former Rep. John Kasich (R) for his work at Lehman Brothers after leaving Congress. But, the average of polls conducted in the race puts Kasich up four points, which should be a point of concern for Democrats. (Previous ranking: N/A)

14. Florida (Republican controlled): Handicapping this race so soon after former health care executive Rick Scott's upset victory over state Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Sunshine State's Republican primary is difficult. McCollum is still very bitter about the loss and Scott's negatives are quite high following a bruising primary. But, Scott spent better than $50 million of his own money on the primary and promises more to come in the general. And, state CFO Alex Sink (D) has yet to prove herself on the big stage. (Previous ranking: N/A)

13. New Mexico (D): Doña Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez (R) is challenging Gov. Bill Richardson (D) to a debate. The only problem is, Martinez isn't running against Richardson. She's running against Richardson's deputy, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D). Or is she? Luckily for Denish, Richardson was on a trade mission in Cuba when Martinez's invitation was issued. If Denish had it her way, Richardson might extend avoid the state through to early November. Meanwhile, the DGA is going on the offensive for Denish, launching a new TV ad today portraying Martinez as just another political insider caught up in a scandal over bonuses. (Previous ranking: 15)

12. Minnesota (R): Democrats disagree about who their strongest candidate was in this month's primary. After a close race, they got former Sen. Mark Dayton, who carries plenty of issues from his one term in the Senate but also can self-fund the race. The good news for Democrats is the GOP nominee -- Tom Emmer --leaves something to be desired, too, and he likely won't have near as much money as Dayton. (Previous ranking: 10)

11. Illinois (D): The turmoil surrounding Gov. Pat Quinn's (D) campaign is mirrored by the growing concerns national Democrats have about their ability to hold this seat in President Obama's home state. Quinn is a mediocre fundraiser and, to date, an inconsistent -- at best -- candidate on the stump. State Sen. Bill Brady was a surprise primary winner and is probably a little too conservative for the state but given the poor quality campaign Quinn is running it may not matter. (Previous ranking: 12)

10. Pennsylvania (D): After Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato (D) closed the gap on state Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) a bit in last month's Quinnipiac poll, he's back down double digits among likely voters in a new Franklin and Marshall poll released this week. Part of that lead could be chalked up to name ID, but most of it's voter enthusiasm - Corbett leads by just one point among registered voters. It will be Onorato's job to motivate his base. (Previous ranking: 11)

9. Hawaii (R): The Republican Governors Association is trying to take advantage of a potentially nasty Democratic primary in the Aloha State -- launching a second batch of ads introducing Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (R) to voters last week. Democrats are thrilled the RGA is putting money into a state that they believe the GOP simply can't win. Republican internal polling shows the race close, but a Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll last week showed either former Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) or former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann (D) lead Aiona by double digits. (Previous ranking: 7)

8. Connecticut (R): Democrats got their best possible matchup from the Nutmeg State primaries earlier this month. Former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy (D) is a solid and proven commodity while former Ambassador Tom Foley (R) limped to the finish line -- best by personal problems. This is a rare race where Democratic prospects have improved over the last month. (Previous ranking: 9)

7. Iowa (D): Gov. Chet Culver (D) recently admitted that his administration has made its "fair share of mistakes" -- an acknowledgment that his first four years in office are a weakness not a strength as he seeks a second term against former Gov. Terry Branstad (R). This is very much Branstad's race to lose. (Previous ranking: 6)

6. Michigan (D): This month's primary couldn't have turned out much better for Republicans, with self-funding former Gateway president Rick Snyder (R) beating a field of well-known politicians. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is the Democratic nominee but isn't given much of a chance. Don't expect to see national Democrats spend a dime trying to hold this one. (Previous ranking: 8)

5. Oklahoma (D) Lt. Gov. Jari Askins pulled off a mild upset in the Democratic primary last month when she bested state Attorney General Drew Edmondson. But, it's hard to imagine Askins repeating that performance this November against Rep. Mary Fallin (R) in the decidedly conservative Sooner State. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Tennessee (D): Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam convincingly won the GOP nod with 47 percent of the vote in a contentious three-way primary earlier this month, giving him a strong start against businessman Mike McWherter (D), the son of former Gov. Ned Ray McWherter. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Rhode Island (R): This is probably the one state where Republicans won't put up a fight to keep their seat. Democratic state TreasurerFrank Caprio (D) and former GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee (I) appear set to take the bulk to the vote, and two Republican candidates have barely raised any money. The Caprio-Chafee matchup should be interesting, though, given that there's not a real viable GOP candidate and both men bring to the table solid centrist credentials. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Kansas (D): Sen. Sam Brownback won the GOP primary this month and a poll last week showed him leading state Sen. Tom Holland (D) 67 percent to 25 percent. It's a done deal for Brownback. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Wyoming (D): Most of the excitement in this race happened earlier this month when former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead narrowly defeated state Auditor Rita Meyer, the endorsed candidate of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), by 714 votes in the Republican primary. Three of the Equality State's last four governors have been Democrats, but that's on track to change Nov. 2 when Mead likely trounces former state Democratic Party chairwoman Leslie Petersen in the general. (Previous ranking: 1)

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | August 27, 2010; 1:28 PM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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