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Posted at 10:54 AM ET, 11/19/2010

North Carolina, Indiana host marquee governors races in 2012

By Chris Cillizza

After the political bonanza that was the 2010 gubernatorial cycle -- 37 races! -- the next two years will be significantly quieter at the governor's level with three races (Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana) set for 2011 and another 11 up in 2012.

The relative dearth of races does not mean, however, that there aren't some interesting storylines to track in governors races over the next two years.

Our favorite? Two states -- North Carolina and Indiana -- that went for President Obama in 2008 after decades of voting for Republicans at the presidential level are hosting what look to be very competitive governors races.

Both states have moved away from Democrats since that election as Sen. Richard Burr (R) won reelection easily earlier this month in North Carolina and Indiana Republicans picked up two House seats and the open seat created by Sen. Evan Bayh's (D) unexpected retirement.

Friday Line

How competitive will they be in 2012? And, if Obama doesn't compete that heavily in one (or both) does it hamstring his party's chances of winning the governorships?

Below you'll find our first 2011/2012 governors Line -- handicapping the five races most likely to switch party control over the next two years. Kudos? Critiques? Offer them in the comments section.

To the Line!

5. West Virginia 2011/2012 (Democratic-controlled): Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D), who took office on Monday following former Gov. Joe Manchin's (D) departure for the Senate, will face voters either in 2011 or 2012, depending on state legislators' interpretation of West Virginia's succession law. Regardless of what year the election takes place, Tomblin will face the challenge of running as an unelected incumbent in a state where any Democrat runs the risk of being saddled with the unpopular Democratic Party brand. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito would be the Republican most likely to challenge Tomblin; she turned down the opportunity to run against Manchin in this year's Senate race but hasn't closed the door to a gubernatorial run.

4. Montana 2012 (D): Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) is term-limited, and the race to replace him is already taking shape. Two-term former Rep. Rick Hill (R) jumped into the race shortly after the Nov. 2 elections, and he joins two former state senators already in the GOP primary: Corey Stapleton and Ken Miller. The big names, though, are state Attorney General Steve Bullock (D) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R). Either would immediately jump to frontrunner status in their primary. Rehberg is a former lieutenant governor, but he also has the option of running against Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) if he would rather stay in Washington.

3. Kentucky 2011(D): Republicans had a big win in Kentucky this year with Sen.-elect Rand Paul's (R) victory over state Attorney General Jack Conway (D), making Gov. Steve Beshear (D) a natural target in 2011. Even so, Beshear starts his re-election bid on strong footing. He has raised $3 million for his bid so far, and a late-October poll showed him with an approval rating of 56 percent, an impressive showing for an incumbent governor in an economically hard-hit state. The tea party movement that fueled Paul's victory could play an outsized role in 2011, especially since it's an off-year election. (Also a factor: Paul's former campaign manager, David Adams, is heading up the campaign businessman Phil Moffett who is running for the GOP nod.)

2. Indiana 2012 (R): Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) is term limited out of office and Democrats are hoping that Bayh makes the race. Bayh's well known name, fundraising capacity and moderate credentials would make him a favorite against almost any Republican. (He also served as governor of the state for much of the 1990s.) Rep. Mike Pence is mentioned on the Republican side but he appears more interested in running for the GOP presidential nod in 2012 than for governor. Lt Gov. Becky Skillman seems like the more likely Republican nominee.

1. North Carolina 2012 (D) 2012: Gov. Bev Perdue , who won narrowly in 2008, has been plagued by poor approval ratings throughout her tenure as governor. A spokesman recently said she has "every intention" of running again (whatever that means), but her approval rating was 15 points lower than her disapproval in a recent survey from High Point University. The most likely GOP candidate is former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R), who is practically salivating at the thought of a rematch.

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | November 19, 2010; 10:54 AM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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