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The Friday Line: Ten More Govs. Races to Watch

With 36 gubernatorial contests on the ballot this November, it's been difficult to choose just 10 "top" races for the Friday Line. Since we make up the rules as we go, this month's governors rankings will take a closer look at the second-tier of races, those that rank from 11 to 20 in terms of their chances of switching parties in the fall.

Almost every one of the races in this "second 10" should be hotly contested by both parties, and the contests occupying slots 11 to 15 could well eventually crack the top 10 before the cycle is over. (See my last governors rankings here.)

As always, kudos and quibbles are welcome in the comments section below.

20. Texas -- Rick Perry (R): While we don't expect Perry to lose this fall, this race has too many intriguing elements to leave it off the Line entirely. In addition to Perry and former Rep. Chris Bell (D), two other candidates -- state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn (mother of White House spokesman Scott McClellan) and humorist Kinky Friedman -- are seeking to petition their way onto the ballot as independents. To do so, both need to secure more than 45,000 signatures of Texans who did not vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary by May 11 to qualify. If they do, expect a wild race that will garner considerable attention from the media. An independent poll conducted in mid-February showed Perry at 36 percent, Bell at 19 percent, Strayhorn at 16 percent and Friedman at 10 percent. Stay tuned.

19. Minnesota -- Tim Pawlenty (R): This race has drawn little national attention but has the potential to get interesting depending on who emerges as the Democratic nominee. The first major test for the Democratic candidates will be the state convention in July; a candidate will need to secure 60 percent of the vote to gain the formal endorsement of the party. State Attorney General Mike Hatch appears to be the frontrunner, having won the party's statewide caucus earlier this month, but he may not be able to secure the necessary delegate support to win the official party backing. Hatch, along with state Sen. Becky Lourey and wealthy developer Kelly Doran, plans to stay in the contest through the September primary no matter how the party convention turns out. Pawlenty could be hurt by a national climate that favors Democrats in this blue-leaning state.

18. Oregon -- Ted Kulongoski (D): Kulongoski dodged a major bullet when popular former Gov. John Kitzhaber decided not to challenge him in the May 16 Democratic primary. Even so, Kulongoski faces a primary test from former state Treasurer Jim Hill, who placed second behind Kulongoski in the 2002 primary, and Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson. Republicans have a primary of their own between 2002 nominee Kevin Mannix, state Sen. Jason Atkinson and Portland attorney Ron Saxton, who lost the 2002 GOP primary to Mannix. Kulongoski's numbers are far from stellar, so this remains a race to keep on the radar screen.

17. Alabama -- Bob Riley (R): Riley appeared to be in serious political trouble following voters' rejection in 2003 of his ballot proposal to update the state's tax code (a change that would have raised taxes overall by $1 billion). And his problems seemed compounded when former Alabama state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, a conservative darling, entered the GOP primary. But Riley is now stumping for a tax cut plan of his own, and Moore has struggled to coalesce support against the incumbent, trailing 56 percent to 28 percent in a Mobile Register survey released in February. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, the establishment favorite on the Democratic side, is locked in a primary with former Gov. Don Siegelman, who narrowly lost to Riley in 2002. Although Siegelman is scheduled to go on trial in May on federal racketeering charges, he could well defeat Baxley in the state's June 6 primary, which would make Riley's reelection bid considerably smoother.

16. Pennsylvania -- Ed Rendell (D): Polling continues to show Rendell running neck and neck with former Pittsburgh Steelers great Lynn Swann (R). The race still seems like a mismatch between the consummate politician -- Rendell -- and a newcomer to politics -- Swann. But in a year when voters' distrust of politicians is nearing an all-time high, Swann's dearth of political experience could serve him well. Swann's performance recently on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" made The Fix doubt that he is ready for prime time, but Republican strategists insist he will not make a major slip-up like that again. The race still tilts toward Rendell, but Swann is showing that he can make this a race.

15. Maine -- John Baldacci (D): Filing closed in Maine this week with two Democrats, three Republicans and a Green party candidate all qualifying for the race. Baldacci is not likely to be seriously tested in the Democratic primary, while state Sen. Peter Mills and former Rep. Dave Emery are considered the two frontrunners for the Republican nomination. The picture for 2006 is not yet complete, however, as independent candidates have until June 1 to file their candidacies. Maine has shown a penchant for electing independents -- witness Gov. Angus King's (I) eight-year tenure from 1994 to 2002. And the state's public financing system, which provides funds for any candidate able to collect 2,500 $5 contributions, gives candidates able to reach that threshold a chance to compete with better-funded politicians like Baldacci. Baldacci doesn't seem to have committed any fireable offense, but Democrats are worried enough about his reelection prospects to earn him a spot in the top 15.

14. Illinois -- Rod Blagojevich (D): Republicans are set to pick their nominee Tuesday. State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka is the frontrunner, although we hear state Sen. Bill Brady is gaining ground thanks to his support downstate. Blagojevich has been buffeted by controversy over allegations of favoritism in state contracts for major donors to his campaign. The allegations have taken their toll on Blagojevich's poll numbers: He held just a seven-point lead over Topinka in an independent poll taken earlier this month. Blagojevich's biggest asset in the race is his bank account, which weighs in at nearly $16 million. Starting at such a financial disadvantage, Topinka (or whoever winds up as the GOP nominee) will need millions of dollars in support from the Republican Governors Association, which has a number of other more pressing priorities in 2006.

13. Alaska -- Frank Murkowski (R): Murkowski's poll numbers are miserable, and he continues to postpone a decision on whether he will run again. Our guess? He retires. That sentiment is shared by both former state Sen. John Binkley and former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin, each of whom is raising money to run for the Republican nomination in the August primary. Binkley raised more than $350,000 in the first six weeks of his campaign, establishing him as the nominal frontrunner. State Reps. Eric Croft and Ethan Berkowitz are seeking the Democratic nomination, but they are being overshadowed by former Gov. (and 2004 Senate candidate) Tony Knowles, who continues to mull a bid. Alaska is a solidly Republican state in federal races, but it has shown a willingness to elect Democrats to state office. If Knowles decides to run, this will be a barn-burner.

12. Nevada -- OPEN (Republican Kenny Guinn is retiring): The massive population growth in Nevada makes its politics extremely changeable. Although Guinn is leaving office on a high note after eight years, Democrats believe the state's ever-changing populace gives them a real chance to win here in November. Both parties will play host to August primaries. For Democrats, state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus and Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson are squaring off. Titus is the more liberal of the two, and hence the slight favorite in the primary, although Gibson released a poll conducted for his campaign in February that showed him trailing by just two points. On the Republican side, it appears to be Rep. Jim Gibbons's race to lose, although he faces Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt and state Sen. Bob Beers in the primary. Democrats believe that Gibbons is too conservative for the average Nevada voter and think either Titus or Gibson can beat him.

11. Colorado -- OPEN (Republican Bill Owens is retiring): Republicans seem headed toward an August primary between Rep. Bob Beauprez, the establishment choice, and former University of Denver President Marc Holtzman. A Tarrance Group poll conducted for Beauprez in January showed the congressman with a commanding 58 percent to 13 percent lead over Holtzman. Former Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter has the Democratic field to himself after a number of other potential candidates -- including Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper -- took a pass. There were concerns within the Democratic base about Ritter's anti-abortion views, but the party has now coalesced behind him. A poll conducted for the Denver Post in February showed Ritter with a 43 percent to 37 percent edge over Beapurez -- a startling result given the latter's higher name identification and base in the Denver area. With Democrats winning open Senate and House seats in 2004, Colorado looks to be trending their way.

A quick run-down of the top 10 governors races (from the Feb. 17 Friday Line):

10. Florida (currently R)
9. California (R)
8. Michigan (D)
7. Wisconsin (D)
6. Arkansas (R)
5. Massachusetts (R)
4. Maryland (R)
3. Iowa (D)
2. Ohio (R)
1. New York (R)

Don't forget to check out's interactive Election 2006 map for information on competitive House, Senate and governors races.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 17, 2006; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Governors , The Line  
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