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The Friday Line: Ranking the '06 Gov. Races

We have a new No. 1 on The Fix's Friday line, but you'll have to scroll down to find out which statehouse is now rated as the most likely to change parties next year (see the last rankings here).  Governors races in New Jersey and Virginia dropped off the list as Democrats held both in the 2005 election.

10. Wisconsin -- Gov. Jim Doyle (D): Doyle jumps into the top 10 thanks to a confluence of factors, including continued pessimism about the state's economy and the the presence of two strong Republican candidates -- Rep. Mark Green and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. Doyle didn't help his cause last month when he refused to allow a state contract to be rebid after it came to light that the company awarded the contract had donated to his campaign.  Two recent polls paint vastly different images of the race.  A Strategic Vision survey shows Doyle fighting for his political life, while a Wisconsin Public Radio poll puts him on much stronger footing.  He probably stands somewhere in between the two polls, thus earning him a spot on this week's line. (Previous Ranking: N/A.)

9. Arkansas -- OPEN: Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) is retiring: Both sides seem to have settled on a nominee -- state Attorney General Mike Beebe for the Democrats and former Rep. Asa Hutchinson for the Republicans. Former Clinton administration official Bill Halter is also contemplating a bid for the Democratic nomination, but much of the party establishment is already lined up behind Beebe.  Beebe has already raised $1.8 million for the race, compared to $632,000 for Hutchinson and $507,000 for Halter (only $23,000 of Halter's total came from in-state donors). The state's demographics are tough to predict since Democrats control 5 of the state's six federal posts while President Bush carried the state by nine points in 2004.  One to watch for sure. (Previous ranking: N/A.)

8. Oregon -- Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D):  Kulongoski is in a world of hurt politically as he attempts to beat back a serious primary challenge from a handful of candidates, including popular former Gov. John Kitzhaber. Kitzhaber has given decidedly mixed signals about the race -- as he did in 2001 when Senate Democrats wooed him to challenge Sen. Gordon Smith (R) only to see him bow out.  A recent poll showed Kitzhaber with a 29 to 27 percent lead over Kulongoski.  Republicans have a stable of candidates of their own, with 2002 nominee Kevin Mannix leading the field currently thanks to a large name-recognition edge.  (Previous ranking: N/A.)

7. California -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R): The four reform propositions placed on the 2005 ballot by Schwarzenegger were all defeated, a sign that Golden State voters may have tired of the Governator's schtick.  He has a year to turn around that impression -- a large but not impossible task given Schwarzenegger's star status. Democrats have two potential candidates -- state Controller Steve Westly and state Treasurer Phil Angelides.  Neither are well known by California voters, but regardless who the Democrats nominate, this race is all about Schwarzenegger. (Previous ranking: 9.)

6. Michigan -- Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D): Granholm came into office in 2002 as a national Democratic star but now finds herself in jeopardy as she prepares to run for a second term. The miserable state of the economy is the prime culprit for Granholm's vulnerability, but the millions that likely Republican nominee Dick DeVos is willing to spend makes her situation all the more tenuous.  Strategists say DeVos could spend upwards of $60 million of his personal fortune, a staggering figure that could leave Granholm's fundraising, however impressive, in the dust. Nothing has changed in this race over the past month, but Michigan moves up to 6 now that Virginia and New Jersey have dropped off the list. (Previous ranking: 8.)

5. Maryland -- Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R): Given Maryland's strong Democratic tilt (Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry won there by 13 points in 2004) and the current political climate nationally, this seat should be Democrats' for the taking.  But the party has thus far been unable to avoid a primary between Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan.  O'Malley is the favorite, but Duncan shows no signs of backing down. A September 2006 Democratic primary, which would likely be a costly and nasty affair, could bolster Ehrlich's chances of reelection. And while  polling shows Ehrlich in real trouble, he has shown an ability to beat the odds and convince Democrats to vote for him.  Should Democrats clear the field for O'Malley, Ehrlich will be in real trouble. (Previous ranking: 5.)

4. Massachusetts -- Gov. Mitt Romney (R): As Romney continues to spend more and more time in Iowa and New Hampshire, the likelihood of him seeking a second term grows smaller and smaller -- as do Republicans' chances of holding the seat. (Romney will make a final decision on whether to seek reelection by Dec. 21.) If, as expected, Romney chooses not to run, Republicans will turn to Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey. Democrats are playing host to a primary between state Attorney General Tom Reilly and attorney Deval Patrick.  Reilly appears to be the favorite in the primary and the general election.  A recent Opinion Dynamics poll showed Reilly ahead of Healey 45 percent to 27 percent. If Romney pulls a surprise and runs for a second term, he would be considered at least an even money shot. If not, Democrats will be licking their chops. (Previous ranking: 7.)

3. Iowa -- Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) is retiring: Although Vilsack is finishing up a successful second term in office, he surprisingly does not have an political successor waiting to replace him in 2006.  Democrats initially seemed ready to unite behind Secretary of State Chet Culver, but a lackluster start to his campaign has some in the party looking elsewhere -- with former Vilsack chief economic development officer Mike Blouin receiving the most attention.  Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Nussle (R) continues to cement his status as the frontrunner in his race against the GOP's 2002 gubernatorial candidate -- Bob Vander Plaats -- by launching a television ad campaign in western Iowa (Vander Plaats's base) earlier this month. (Previous ranking: 3.)

2. Ohio -- Gov. Bob Taft (R) is retiring: The failure of the four ballot initiatives backed by "Reform Ohio Now" on Nov. 8 should be sobering for Democrats who believed passage of the measures would  be an early sign of big gains in the Buckeye State next year.  Even so, this remains a prime opportunity for the party considering the fact that the scandals surrounding Taft don't appear to be going away any time soon. Rep. Ted Strickland's (D) primary campaign got a major boost on Tuesday when he won the endorsements of more than two dozen Democratic state legislators.  Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman is also running for the Democratic nomination but seems to be getting pushed to the side by the party establishment.  Three statewide Republican officials are battling for their party's nomination, with Secretary of State Ken Blackwell the early favorite.  (Previous ranking: 1.)

1. New York -- Gov. George Pataki (R) is retiring:  It's hard not to rank the Empire State as the most likely seat to turn over come November 2006. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer holds leads of thirty points or more over any of the potential Republican nominees and has already lined up support from more than a dozen labor organizations, endorsements that make it difficult for Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi to mount a credible primary challenge. And did we mention that Spitzer had more than $12 million in the bank at the end of July and should add $5 million to that total by January?  Spitzer seems close to unstoppable at this point. (Previous ranking: 2.)

Editor's Note: Reader comments on this post have been turned off after some inappropriate comments were posted.  (Saturday, Nov. 19).

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 18, 2005; 8:10 AM ET
Categories:  Governors , The Line  
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