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Friday Governors Line: A "Once in a Generation" Election

With 38 gubernatorial contests scheduled between now and November 2010, it's hard to overstate the political stakes.

Friday Line

Not only have Republicans repeatedly cited gubernatorial races as the first step in their rebuilding process nationally but the governors elected over the next two years will play a major role in the decennial redistricting process that will help determine control of Congress for the foreseeable future.

"This is a once in a generation political cycle," said Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. "It's the equivalent of what we saw at the presidential level in 2008."

In a sign of the import of the governors races to the overall political playing field, each side has put a leading strategist at the head of their respective organizations; Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer heads the DGA while Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is set to take over the Republican Governors Association in the 2010.

Even down a level much of the top staff talent is being dedicated to the governors races with Daschle and Nick Ayers, the executive director of the RGA, both regarded as rising stars in the operative ranks.

With so much focus on governors and SO many great races, it's hard to narrow the field down to the ten most likely to switch sides. But, we did it anyway.

The number one ranked race is the most likely to switch parties in 2010. As always your kudos and critiques are welcome in the comments section.

To the Line!

10. Virginia (D controlled-2009): It's tough to handicap this race until June 10 when we know the identity of the Democratic nominee. Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe continues to impress -- rolling out a detailed plan to revive the Virginia economy and picking up labor endorsements, the latest of which came from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. (The Post's Virginia governor's race page has everything you could want on this contest.) Former state Del. Brian Moran continues to attack McAuliffe but it isn't clear how effective those hits have been. State Sen. Creigh Deeds, the only one of the trio not from northern Virginia, is biding his time in hopes that McAuliffe and Moran destroy one another and he can shoot the gap. A sidenote: The Fix will be moderating a debate between McAuliffe, Moran and Deeds on May 19 at Northern Virginia Community College. (Previous ranking: 9)

9. Hawaii (R-controlled): Rep. Neil Abercrombie's (D) somewhat surprising decision that he will return to Hawaii to run for governor in 2010 makes him the favorite for the Democratic nod. Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who has indicated an interest in the state's top job, could decide to make a run at Abercrombie's seat instead. It remains to be seen what race Hannemann will choose but if he does run for governor he would give Abercrombie a serious challenge. Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (R) drew national headlines recently when he took issue with the portrayal of Hawaii in a "Saturday Night Live" skit -- arguing that it could hurt the state's already flagging tourism industry. (Previous ranking: 8)

8. New Jersey (D - 2009): It's clear from talking to Democratic strategists that they are quite concerned about Gov. Jon Corzine's (D) reelection chances. The financial meltdown on Wall Street has had a heavily adverse effect on the state's economy and Corzine's background as a former executive with Goldman Sachs has gone from a positive in the eyes of voters to a major negative. Much depends on whether former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R) is as good a candidate as Republicans believe him to be. Christie will paint himself as the outsider voice -- a potentially powerful message in a change environment. (Previous ranking: 10)

7. Michigan (D): The economy in Michigan is among the worst in the nation and the ongoing struggles of GM and Chrysler to find a viable business model don't help matters. How much do Michigan voters blame outgoing Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) for those problems? Granholm got reelected in 2006 despite the struggles of the Michigan economy as voters seemed to blame the Bush administration more than their governor for the economic woes. But, with Bush no longer in the White House can Democrats reasonably argue that now is no time to switch party control of the governorship? Couple that dynamic with the fact that the Republican field is stronger than the Democratic one and Michigan looks like a great chance for the GOP in 2010. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. California (R): This is, without question, the marquee race of the 2010 governors cycle. Why? 1) Because everything is bigger and more expensive in California. 2) Every political operative worth his or her salt is involved in the race somehow. 3) There are a ton of larger than life candidates running including state Attorney General Jerry Brown (D), San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) and former eBay executive Meg Whitman (R). Given the strong Democratic underpinnings of California, whoever emerges from the Democratic primary has to be considered the favorite next November but the massive personal wealth of Whitman and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner (R) give Republicans a reasonable path to victory as well. (Previous ranking: 7)

5. Tennessee (D): Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam (R) continues to look like the candidate to beat in the open seat race in the Volunteer State. His latest savvy move was inking Tom Ingram, former chief of staff to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), to a consulting deal. The Democratic field remains in some disarray with former state House Majority Leader Kim McMillan the current favorite although a number of other candidates are considering bids. The lack of a deep Democratic bench is due, at least in part to outgoing Gov. Phil Bredesen, a policy wonk who never spent time grooming a successor for the state's top office. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Rhode Island (R): The news that former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (I) is going to run for governor in 2010 makes handicapping this race quite difficult. With Chafee in, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian (R) is likely out, leaving the Republican nod to state Rep. Joe Trillo. Meanwhile, the Democratic field may well grow as former Rep. Bob Weygand has said he is considering a run. (Previous ranking: 2)

3. Oklahoma (D): The Republican field for the seat of term limited Gov. Brad Henry (D) got a bit clearer this week as Rep. Tom Cole removed himself from consideration. Rep. Mary Fallin is the current favorite in the contest but national GOP strategists are hoping that former Rep. J.C. Watts decides to run as well. And, Gary Richardson, who took 14 percent running as an independent in 2002, has said he may run again -- this time as a Republican. Given the state's strong Republican lean, whoever emerges as the GOP nominee is a clear favorite next fall although Democrats are fielding two serious candidates in Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and state Attorney General Drew Edmondson. (Previous ranking: 4)

2. Kansas (D): Until Gov. Kathleen Sebelius(D) is confirmed (or not confirmed) as Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Democratic field is effectively frozen. If Sebelius becomes head of HHS, then Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, who has said he will not seek statewide office in 2010, becomes governor. The big announcement then would be who Parkinson picks as his second-in-command as that person would almost certainly have a leg up on being the Democrats' gubernatorial nominee in 2010. Regardless, Sen. Sam Brownback (R), who is coming back to the state to run for governor, is the clear favorite. (Previous ranking: 3)

1. Nevada (R): Fix friend -- and king of Nevada journalism -- Jon Ralston has taken to referring to Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) with a symbol: 0. That says all you need to know about Gibbons' standing as he weighs whether to seek a second term. If he runs and makes it through the primary, this is a near-certain pickup for Democrats. The frontrunner for the Democratic nod is Rory Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission, but state Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley is also considering the race. (Previous ranking: 1)

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 3, 2009; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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Surprised to see Hawaii so low on the list and Wyoming ommitted entirely. These are two states (along with Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee) that have always been obvious for returning 'home' when the current popular governors step down. Rhode Island is obviously in a similar category, though the Chafee candidacy complicates predictions there.

The overall balance of these ten - even with Wyoming excluded - is a net loss of two for the Democrats. That is probably to be expected in current circumstances, and it the opportunity for unified government in California would perhaps make up for a net loss this small.

Posted by: qlangley | April 6, 2009 6:42 AM | Report abuse

You are forgetting Florida. If Charlie Crist opts for the Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez, chances are that the state's Democratic CFO, Alex Sink, will make a run for Governor. That would pit her against the likely Republican nominee, Attorney General Bill McCollum. McCollum has run for statewide office in Florida over and over and over again, and never managed to win until he ran for a seat no one cared about--Attorney General.

The Dems would have a great shot at picking up the Governor's Mansion in Florida for the first time since Walkin' Lawton held it in the 90's.

Posted by: jaxpolitics | April 5, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

"i'm surprised illinois is not on the list."

The Republicans have got nothin' there. They couldn't even beat the obviously corrupt Blago in 2006, and now he's gone.

Posted by: SeanC1 | April 3, 2009 5:47 PM | Report abuse

very funny, 'scribbler'

Posted by: drindl | April 3, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it matters quite so the individual soviets always bend to the politburo's wishes - in effect making the actual commissars more or less unimportant.

Posted by: newbeeboy | April 3, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Finally, my calls have been answered, not by AG Holder, or Biden, or Geithner, or anybody sane, but by NEWT. Newt and his "GOD SQUAD" will save us from the threat of energy weapons, if the Cheney forces remaining in the Obama Administration do not get him first. See:

Then read

Posted by: scribbler50 | April 3, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

i'm surprised illinois is not on the list.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 3, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

CC, I think Kansas is #1 as to what race is most likely to change hands. Sam Brownback is the next gov. of Kansas hands down, no matter who runs. I believe Oklahoma & Tenn. are huge pick-up opportunities for R's as well. Rhode Island will not be won by a Republican, not likely at all. However, Linc Chafee may well win as an independent, leaving the 2 major parties under the dust. Democrats have a wonderful opportunity in Nevada, assuming Jim Gibbons wins the primary. If Gibbons loses the primary in 2010, the race is back on even kill and will likely be a close one. Nevada may not want to annoint Rory Reid, and may give Harry a tough road to reelection as well. California is certainly the funnest race to watch from all sides. In the R primary you got Poizner vs. Whitman vs. Campbell and on the D primary you got Brown vs. Newsome vs. Villagorosa. I think the races are really Poizner vs. Whitman & Brown vs. Villagorosa. However, if Diane Feinstein gets into the race, she is the Democratic nominee and the front-runner by a mile against Poizner or Whitman. I doubt Feinstein gets in and I think she stays in the Senate, which makes this race as fun as it can be.

Here in 2009, Chris Christie is the favorite in New Jersey. I think we will see a Republican governor in NJ for the 1st time in a long time: Chris Christie. In Va., McDonnell is the front-runner. He's raising money and has a great statewide organization, including in Northern Va. already. I believe McAuliffe would be an easier opponent for McDonnell than would Moran. Deeds would be the easiest opponent, but he's very unlikely to win the D primary. Moran would be the toughest general election opponent, but either way McDonnell is the front runner.

Posted by: reason5 | April 3, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Hey Chris, there's one obvious omission here: Wyoming. Mr. Cook has this as lean-Republican already.

Posted by: DanSMN | April 3, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse


Despite being a usually terrific political analyst you continue to misunderstand Oklahoma politics.

As I've commented before, Oklahoma certainly leans towards the GOP in presidential and congressional elections, but there is no "strong Republican lean" when it comes to statewide races.

There are far more registered Democrats than Republicans in Oklahoma. While these tend to be fairly conservative blue dog Democrats with conservative social values that manifest themselves in the form of GOP success on the national scale, gubernatorial races are far from a lock for Republicans.

The outgoing governor, Brad Henry, is a Democrat. Five out of the last seven Governors of Oklahoma have been Democrats. Before them, 17 of the state's 19 previous governors were Democrats, although I'm not sure partisan affiliations predating the 60s are really relevant.

Democrats hold 46% of the Senate's seats in Oklahoma.

Granted, Oklahoma was the only state in the U.S. to have every county turn red for McCain this past November. I just advise that you not let the cross-over voting in national elections shape your view of the competitiveness of statewide races.

Posted by: dford525 | April 3, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Agree, that Gov.'s races could help reshape the GOP IF moderates get nominated and enough get elected. BUT never underestimate the GOP's proclivity to pander to the base.


Did Bush-Cheney "Torture Matrix" Hit Hillary '08 Rally?

Journalist's account:

Posted by: scrivener50 | April 3, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Did you forget to mention that Rory Reid is Harry Reid's son?

Isn't nepotism grand?

Posted by: Realitycheck6 | April 3, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

well, don't feel bad.
arizona has nothing happening ever to write about !! (smiles)))

guess new york is in a hostage situation at an immigration services office.

not good...

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 3, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Interesting that The Fix did not mention Feinstein for the CA race.

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 3, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

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