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The Friday Line: Governors' Races to Watch

Governors' races take center stage in this week's Friday Line. With 38 seats -- 22 Republican and 16 Democrats -- up for grabs this November and next, narrowing it down to just 10 races to watch is a tough task. The races are listed from most likely to turn over to least likely to turn over. As always, comments and criticisms are welcome.

1. Ohio -- OPEN: Gov. Bob Taft (R) is term-limited. A perfect storm seems to be forming in Ohio that threatens to wash away Republicans' long hold on the statehouse. Taft is easily the least popular governor in the country (15 percent job approval in a poll last month), and his taint is trickling down to the candidates running to replace him. All three are current statewide officeholders and, therefore, are not in the best position to distance themselves from Taft. Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell seems the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, but at this point it may not be worth having. Rep. Ted Strickland is the Democrats' frontrunner but is being challenged in the primary by Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman. This is the Democrats' race to lose.

2. New York -- OPEN: Gov. George Pataki (R) is retiring. The New York race is nipping on the heels of Ohio as Democrats' strongest pickup chance. Sen. Charles Schumer's decision not to run for governor has cleared the Democratic field for high profile state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. The Republican side is much less clear, with former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld the only announced candidate.  But uber-wealthy (and  perennial) candidate Tom Golisano is considered likely to run. Former state Assembly minority leader John Faso has begun to raise money for a potential race, and Secretary of State Randy Daniels is also mentioned. Spitzer is a solid favorite.

3. Iowa -- OPEN: Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) is retiring. Republicans see their chance to win in Iowa next year after losing the last two gubernatorial races. The Republican of choice is Rep. Jim Nussle, who has held a Democratic-leaning Eastern Iowa district since 1990. Nussle will face a primary against 2002 gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats. The expected Democratic frontrunner -- Secretary of State Chet Culver -- has not performed as expected and Vilsack administration official Mike Blouin got into the race earlier this week.

4. Virginia (2005) - OPEN: Gov. Mark Warner (D) is term-limited. After the 2004 presidential election, most Republicans expected a victory in Virginia. But President Bush's numbers have tumbled in the state as Warner's have shot through the roof - making a takeover of the seat by state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore much more difficult than expected.  Even so, Kilgore has narrow edges in recent polls, and Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine has not been able to energize rural voters in the same way Warner did in 2001. Republicans are jittery, but Democrats aren't exactly exuding confidence themselves with just 12 days left.

5. Maryland -- Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R): Take the current political climate nationally, mix in Maryland's decidedly Democratic lean, and add a pinch of a potential Democratic superstar candidate, and you have a recipe for trouble for Ehrlich. Those facts are leavened by Ehrlich's knack for winning races he wasn't supposed to -- both in his eight years in Congress and his upset win over then Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) in 2002. National Democrats are hoping Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley emerges from the primary against Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan. A recent poll showed O'Malley and Duncan both leading Ehrlich.

6. New Jersey (2005) -- OPEN: Acting Gov. Dick Codey (D) is not running. From the start, partisans on both sides of the aisle expected a win by New Jersey Sen. Jon Corzine (D). But a slew of polls over the past two weeks have shown businessman Doug Forrester well within striking distance in the final days. Republicans believe that Forrester could capitalize on the mood of change they believe is at work in the state following the ethical controversies of former governor Jim McGreevey (D) and former senator Robert Torricelli (D). Even so, Corzine has pushed his lead back to high single digits with a withering attack on Forrester's alleged ethical issues -- a drumbeat that should continue through Election Day.

7. Massachusetts -- Gov. Mitt Romney (R): This race is ranked as high as it is because no one we talk to expects Romney to seek a second term.  He has been traveling the country for much of the past year in an effort to sow the seeds for a run for the 2008 GOP nomination.  If, as expected, Romney doesn't run again, his second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, is the favorite for the Republican nomination. Democrats are currently hosting a primary between state Attorney General Tom Reilly and attorney Deval Patrick.

8. Michigan -- Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D): Granholm faces two major challenges in her quest for reelection. First, she must find a way to explain the dismal state of the Michigan economy to voters. Second, she must contend with billionaire Dick DeVos, the former president of Amway. Rumors are flying fast and furious that DeVos will spend upward of $60 million from his own pocket in the race; Granholm will be lucky to raise and spend half of that. All is not lost for Granholm. A recent independent poll showed that 39 percent of voters blamed President Bush for the sluggish economy; 24 percent blamed Granholm. DeVos is also an untested candidate and wealthy businessmen do not have the best record of success when their first run is for statewide office. Still, this is one to watch.

9. California - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R): Schwarzenegger's ascension to the governorship in October 2003 will be retold by political junkies for decades to come. But after a strong start in office, the "Governator" has lost considerable steam. He is currently embroiled in an all-out campaign to pass four ballot initiatives in a special election on Nov. 8 -- none of which is ahead in the polls at the moment. State Controller Steve Westly and state treasurer Phil Angelides are already raising millions on the Democratic side. Schwarzenegger can't be measured by yardsticks used on the average politician; but by any objective standard, he can expect a dogfight next November.

10. Oklahoma -- Gov. Brad Henry (D): Henry's vulnerability at this point is largely the result of the state's strong Republican lean, having given Bush a 22 percent margin in 2004. Though Henry is seen as having done a solid job in office, he was elected with just 43 percent of the vote in 2002 -- thanks to a decidedly lackluster campaign by former representative Steve Largent (R) and a third-party candidate who attracted a number of GOP-leaning voters. National Republicans seem to be behind Rep. Ernest Istook as their candidate; Istook has held an Oklahoma City-based district since 1992 and as a result has exposure in the state's largest media market. But he is not the most inspiring of candidates and has yet to prove himself in a statewide bid.

See the last two Friday Lines on the Senate and House races to watch.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 28, 2005; 9:35 AM ET
Categories:  Governors , The Line  
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