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Friday Governors Line: The Roots of a Republican Resurgence?

If there is a bright spot for Republicans as they look to future elections, it is in governors races.

There are 38 races up for grabs between now and November 2010 and Democrats currently hold 21 of those governorships including a number in Republican-friendly states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Republican strategists also believe they are positioned to claim one -- or possibly both -- of the 2009 gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia, victories that would provide the dispirited party a much needed shot in the arm.

National Democrats are far from conceding either contest, however, having just transferred $740,000 into a Virginia committee to support whichever candidate emerges from the June 9 primary.

Both 2009 races make our Friday Line of the ten races most likely to switch parties over the next two years. As always, the number one ranked contest is the race we consider the most vulnerable to a party switch.

Agree with our picks? Disagree? The comments section awaits.

10. Hawaii (R-controlled): Until the Democratic field shakes out, it's hard to know exactly where this race will go. Rep. Neil Abercrombie is in the race while two potential heavyweights -- Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa -- remain undecided. Republicans have largely united behind Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona and he could benefit from a divisive (and expensive) Democratic primary. (Previous ranking: 9)

9. New Jersey (D-Controlled): There's little doubt that Gov. Jon Corzine (D) is in trouble heading into the fall election as voters have soured on him and his Wall Street background. But, it remains far from clear whether former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie is the superstar candidate that many in the GOP have billed him. Former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan is running surprisingly strongly against Christie in the Republican primary and while Christie is still the heavily favorite -- given the heavy backing he enjoys from the party establishment -- the fact that he has taken on some water over questions on his ethics isn't a good sign for Republican hopes in the fall. (Previous ranking: 8)

8. Virginia (D): Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe still looks like the frontrunner in next month's primary but polling shows the race could be won by any of the three candidates -- McAuliffe, former state Del. Brian Moran or state Sen. Creigh Deeds. (We were impressed -- and a little surprised -- by the strength of Deeds' fundraising over the first three months of the year.) State Attorney General Bob McDonnell has largely avoided the spotlight, content (smartly) to let the Democrats beat one another up while he stows away cash for the general election. If McAuliffe winds up as the Democratic nominee, this race will take on a national profile almost immediately -- a development that could work in McDonnell's favor. (Previous ranking: 10)

7. Michigan (D): For the first time in a very long time, the American auto industry got some good news this week with the announcement that Chrysler would emerge from bankruptcy thanks to a partnership with Fiat. The fate of the auto industry is directly tied to next year's Michigan governors race. The Republican field is deep and strong with state Attorney General Mike Cox and early but no means overwhelming favorite. Lt. Gov. John Cherry is in the race for Democrats and state House Speaker Andy Dillon is thinking about the race. The better the Michigan economy, the better chance Democrats have to keep this seat in their column. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Tennessee (D): Democrats' chances of holding the Tennessee governorship improved slightly last week when Mike McWherter, the son of legendary Volunteer State Governor Ned Ray McWherter, announced he would seek the state's top office. Thanks to his well-known last name, McWherter is the favorite in the Democratic primary although it remains to be seen how good a candidate he will be in his own right. Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslem remains the frontrunner for the GOP nod and would start a general election with an advantage over any of the Democratic candidates. (Previous ranking: 5)

5. California (R): As expected, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom entered the California governor's race to much fanfare last week. Newsom is set on painting the Democratic primary with state Attorney General Jerry Brown as a generational contest. The wildcard is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who still remains undecided on a gubernatorial bid in 2010 and could upset Newsom's best laid plans. On the Republican side, most Republicans believe former eBay president Meg Whitman will be the nominee but state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has significant personal money and appears willing to spend it. (Previous ranking: 6)

4. Oklahoma (D): The reddest state in the country, according to the 2008 presidential election results, Oklahoma seems poised to elect a Republican governor after eight years of Democratic control. Republicans, however, don't seem thrilled with their current crop of candidates -- Rep. Mary Fallin and state Sen. Randy Brogdon -- and national operatives have worked to convince former Rep. J.C. Watts to run. Watts, a former star quarterback at the University of Oklahoma, seems to be leaning toward a bid and would immediately emerge as the favorite to replace term limited Gov. Brad Henry (D). Democrats have two strong potential candidates; Lt. Gov. Jari Askins is in the contest while state Attorney General Drew Edmondson continues to ponder a bid but is raising money like a candidate.

3. Nevada (R): Democrats are content at the moment to watch Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) twist in the wind in the midst of a series of personal and professional problems that have sidetracked his administration from almost the minute he was sworn in. Most Democrats believe Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid will be their party's nominee in 2010 although state House Barbara Buckley is also seriously considering a run. Gibbons will face a primary challenge from former state Sen. Joe Heck and possibly others. (Previous ranking: 1)

2. Kansas (D): Sen. Sam Brownback (R) is well-known, well-liked and well-financed in gubernatorial race. The new governor of Kansas -- Mark Parkinson -- has already made clear that he will not run for a full term in 2010, leaving Democrats in a huge lurch. The bench is extremely thin and those Democrats with statewide ambitions likely view the open seat being vacated by Brownback as their better chance. Anything can happen in the course of a campaign but Brownback is a strong frontrunner today. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Rhode Island (R): Former Sen. Lincoln Chafee's (accidental) announcement that he will run as an independent for governor in 2010 opens up the very real possibility that he could be elected to the state's top job next November. Democrats are gearing up for a crowded primary and the Republican field isn't particularly strong while the Chafee brand in Rhode Island is extremely strong -- thanks in large part to Chafee's father, John, a longtime elected official in the state. Odds are that either Chafee or the eventual Democratic nominee winds up as the state's next governor, a scenario that makes this our new number one race on the Line. (Previous ranking: 4)

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 1, 2009; 3:15 PM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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I am surprised, Chris, that you think Chafee's likely entry damages GOP chances in Rhode Island. I would have thought that a complex three way race is the best chance the GOP has (short of a superstar candidate) in a state where the party is very much in the minority. To put it bluntly, if you only have a third of the vote, pray for a three way (or more) race.

Obviously, RI should be very high on the list, no question of that. But Chafee's entry harms the Democrats much more than the GOP, and might even help the Republicans a little.

Posted by: qlangley | May 5, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Chris, Would start keeping an eye on Ohio. Its not worthy of your top ten yet but Strickland's numbers are dropping and Ohio will vote with their wallet as usual, meaning the economy will play a very large part. Add John Kasich to the mix and without respect to the economy, you've likely got an interesting race. Strickland's highest approval numbers come from Central Ohio where Kasich was elected Congressman for several terms. While Strickland's appeal crosses lines, oddly so does Kasich. Worth keeping your eye on. It will be on your list at some point. You heard it here first, from a Democrat, no less.

Posted by: danielOH | May 4, 2009 8:39 PM | Report abuse

PAWLENTY vs. THE PEOPLE. Take another look at Minnesota, where the guber race is entwined with the Coleman debacle in the US Senate race. Tim Pawlenty (R) is playing too cute by half the question of awarding Franken an election certificate next month after the state Supremes opine and rule; that in a state that overwhelmingly thinks this has gone on long enough and that Franken should get his seat so we can have the representation we deserve. Teflon Tim's well-known national ambitions are helped if he is a sitting governor, but that means winning against the MN tradition for only two gov terms. He's counting on anti-tax sentiment in a state that voted to raise the sales tax last year to benefit the arts and environment. Tell us exactly how you'll spend the money on something we love, and Minnesotans are likely to approve the tax. Pawlenty never won his guber races with majorities, only pluralities. And the field of Dem hopefuls has several strong candidates, including the Mayor of Minneapolis, RT Rybak, who is an expert at MN-style grassroots campaigns and has connections to President Obama. If you want harbinger races on your radar, Minnesota should be at least a 10 on your list.

Posted by: ERNurse | May 4, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Voters, please remember wher our country was in 2000 and look where it is now after 8 years of "POLICIES AND CORRUPTION OF THE BUSH ADM." If you like $4.39 a gallon gas prices, outragous insurance rates and little to no coverage, forced to buy prescription coverage even if you don't take but one medication or none, tax cuts for the top 2%, war where no bid contracts make Halliburton, Blackwater and the R party rich then vote republican {IF NOT THEN VOTE DEMOCRATIC}

Posted by: SWAMPYPD | May 4, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

I wouldn't call these races the beginning of a Republican resurgence, as in the end the gains and losses will pretty much end up being a wash.

Republicans may win races in Kansas, Tennessee, or Oklahoma, but they are almost certain to lose seats they currently hold in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and California.

The Democrats actually may get lucky as certain races may break in their favor. In Wyoming Freudenthal may be able to run for a third term, holding the seat for the Dems, while certain possible open seats in Florida (Crist for Senate) and Minnesota (Pawlenty will not run and risk losing before 2012) will give the party good shots at those seats.

It's far too early in most of these races, and only as races heat up in states like Maine, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Arizona will we truly be able to see where the two parties are located. As of right now, though, we simply have a continuation of the status quo, with a few seats trading parties.

Plus we should wait to figure out what the hell is going on in Texas.

Posted by: CTMan | May 3, 2009 11:28 PM | Report abuse

Hey Chris,

I do not think that you have been paying as much attention as you should have to the political developments in Virginia! Bob McDonnell has recently created his own Macaca moment, which may have prematurely ended his career as well as the careers of many of Virginia's Republican Delegates and Senators, that chose to follow his directions to vote against taking the $125.5 million in additional unemployment stimulus funds. Bob is in a very tough situation of his own making! The $740,000 from the Democratic Committee is not to support the Democratic candidate but to exploit McDonnell’s missteps!

See two of many articles from across the state at:

Also check out more articles from across the state at

What appeared to be a very boring election is beginning to look like another crushing blow for the Republicans.

Posted by: SamBear | May 2, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse


Governors is the best game the Republicans have going. Then again, states have to balance their budgets, which is virtually impossible in the present economic climate without doing serious harm to many voters.
If a Republican governor outside the Confederacy can emerge from this Depression whole, he or she will be worthy of national attention.
Posted by: douglaslbarber"

Therein lies a major trap for Republican wannabe governors. When the economy turns around, they have to run as Republicans, therefore against raising STATE revenues when all of the states in play desperately need lots more money. In Ohio the usual way republicans dodge that bullet is let the democrats have the majorities they need to raise taxes and other revenues, thereby righting the state's finances, then run against those democrats for raising taxes and balancing the state's budget "on the backs of small business." Strickland has to make it to the Statehouse one more time, and he can raise taxes with impunity, since he will be too old to run again after sitting out a term. Kasich, on the other hand, not having a clue as to what it is you really do to pay for State Government Services, will try four more years of Taft, with the consequential repeat of the last eight years of Republican Governance crammed into four. Elect him in 2010 and the Republicans drink strychnine straight, no chaser.

But he IS what the Republicans want in a Governor. You can't show me two hairs out of place difference among Rhodes, Voinovitch, Taft or Blackwell on fiscal or social approaches to making this state run, and Kasich won't even try.

Posted by: ceflynline | May 2, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Seems to me that during the General Election we all have the same ballot (unless Obama is changing that).. maybe we'll just sign a pledge card at the rally.. that should count..

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 2, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse


A brief exchange yesterday on O'Reilly's show substitute-hosted by Ingraham was good evidence of why the GOP will not be "resurging" for many generations.

Ingraham and a female Dem strategist named (I think) "Menendez" were discussing the new idiotic Boehner-produced anti-BHO scare video which seemed to imply the Congressional Hispanic Caucus members are terrorists.

When Ingraham kept referring to undocumented workers as "aliens," Menendez correctly replied, "Aliens are things up in the sky." Ingraham then, IMO, went into a wild-eyed, blue-heat rage, telling Menendez something like, "You don't tell me what to call them." I believe I also heard a reference to "reconquista," a hate group code word for an alleged Hispanic conspiracy theory to take over the US.

It is hard to see how that kind of GOP message (as well as the I-hope-Obama-fails and more-tax-cuts-for-the-rich mantras) wins over independents and moderate Dems or, uh, folks named Menendez.

The GOP and Fox News no doubt have a devoted following but it's a dangerous, and often ultra violent, fringe element that only talks to each other -- in the language of hate, see recent Jay Severin story, teabaggers, Phalin hate rallies, "gunshows." The GOP is 21% now but the escalator is clearly going down (200,000 Pennsylvanian GOPers switched parties).

Posted by: broadwayjoe | May 2, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Everybody "emerges" from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. How encumbered are they by cranky creditors who want money and don't give a damn about the business? is the operative question - which will be decided, not be the president, nor the congress, but by a judge according to law.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | May 1, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Governors is the best game the Republicans have going. Then again, states have to balance their budgets, which is virtually impossible in the present economic climate without doing serious harm to many voters.

If a Republican governor outside the Confederacy can emerge from this Depression whole, he or she will be worthy of national attention.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | May 1, 2009 8:13 PM | Report abuse

The Roots of a Republican Resurgence?


Posted by: broadwayjoe | May 1, 2009 7:59 PM | Report abuse

10. Disagree here on the Dem primary. Abercrombie is an extremely strong candidate, and should win the primary, and be the favourite in the GE.

8. I'm not sure how the race taking on a national profile would work in favour of McDonnell; the national Republican brand is in tatters, and the Democrats won Virginia in 2008, plus their Senate delegation and a majority of the House seats.

McDonnell remains the frontrunner, though, due to his personal profile; he'd do best to stick with that. The race becoming a proxy war between Obama and, er, Rush Limbaugh, is not something he would want.

"Former Congressman John Kasich, in Ohio, just annouced today he is running against the inept, incumbent Democrat. Kasich led the 1994 Republicans back to power and is going to bring energy back to Ohio... this will be the race to watch in 2010."

Snerk, nope. Kasich is getting crushed by Strickland in polling; consider that Strickland won last time despite his (black) Republican opponent getting 25% of the black vote, instead of the 10% they usually do.

Posted by: SeanC1 | May 1, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Hey Chris,
What about Florida? If the reports are true that Charlie wants in on the Senate race, what happens to the Governors race there?

Posted by: hoss516 | May 1, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

As others have noted, OK is not a red state - it is a presidential red state. Unless Watts runs, the D should win.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | May 1, 2009 5:31 PM | Report abuse

"Friday Governors Line: The Roots of a Republican Resurgence?"

Just keep hoping, Chris -- not a chance.

Posted by: drindl | May 1, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Oklahomans will continue to demonstrate their backward thinking with the election of the dim Wattage.

Posted by: soonerthought | May 1, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

I keep saying.. the Federal Gov't. is so one sided now (let's go ahead and say even the courts will be heading toward Obama) that the Governor's will have less power than ever.. or .. as I oft say.. The power of the individual soviet's kommissar is nil.. since the decisions always fall in favor of the politburo.

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 1, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Former Congressman John Kasich, in Ohio, just annouced today he is running against the inept, incumbent Democrat. Kasich led the 1994 Republicans back to power and is going to bring energy back to Ohio... this will be the race to watch in 2010. Get more info on Kasich here:

Posted by: czechmate1515 | May 1, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Most governors no matter from which party, are in trouble right now because of the economy. And depending on party affiliation they either blame Obama or Bush for their troubles. Considering that, hopefully, the economy will be in much better shape 20 months from now, it's much too early to anoint the next big savior.

Posted by: Opa2 | May 1, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

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