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The Line: High Stakes in 2010 Govs Races

With the 2007 elections behind us, the gubernatorial landscape for 2008 is decidedly sparse. There are just 11 races on the slate for next November, and only four of those -- Indiana, Missouri, Washington and North Carolina -- are expected to be truly competitive.

Thus, The Fix's eye has already started to wander to 2010, when 36 states will hold governors races. Due to term limits, nearly half of those (17) will be open seats. The governors' landscape is all the more important when you consider that the winners in 2010 will exert considerable influence over the decennial redistricting process that will reshape the lines of congressional and legislative districts across the country.

Given the redistricting factor, fast-growing states like Arizona (where Democrat Janet Napolitano can't run again in 2010) and Georgia (where Republican Sonny Perdue is likewise term limited) will likely be crucial in determining the fate of the two parties at the national level for decades to come.

Democrats will also face some tough open-seat tests in areas not considered very friendly for their party -- Oklahoma, Kansas and Wyoming to name three. The question for Democrats is whether the party's inroads in these ruby red states are the result of a single popular politician or a sign of a real awakening in areas that have long been ceded to the GOP.

Republicans are not without their own challenges -- Rhode Island's open seat being the most prominent. But all in all, the 2010 cycle could well be the start of a Republican revival at the state level.

Although the 2010 elections are nearly three years off, most races are already well underway.

Take, for example, Pennsylvania, where Gov. Ed Rendell (D) is term-limited out of office in 2010. Former Sen. Rick Santorum is actively considering the race on the Republican side, as is 2006 gubernatorial nominee Lynn Swann. The Democratic names mentioned lack the star quality of Santorum or Swann but should be favored given the state's underlying demographics.

Then there's New Mexico, where national Democrats tried -- apparently unsuccessfully -- to woo Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D) to run for the seat being left open next year by Sen. Pete Domenici (R). Denish seems more interested in being governor in 2010, especially considering that her intraparty rival -- Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez -- is running for the Senate. (The Albuquerque Journal, bless its heart, has already commissioned a 2010 governors poll.)

Michigan, too, has already seen considerable jockeying, as state Attorney General Mike Cox, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, 2006 Senate nominee Mike Bouchard and 2006 gubernatorial nominee Dick DeVos are already circling one another for the GOP nomination. Lt. Gov. John Cherry is the most prominent Democrat mentioned.

We could go on and on and, well, on. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's take a quick look at the top 5 races for this cycle.

5. ???: We just don't see a race that could be competitive enough to include in this spot just yet. Maybe the open Delaware seat? Then again, maybe not. Any thoughts? The comments section is open.

4. North Carolina: All of the money and name identification is on the Democratic side, as Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue and state Attorney General Treasurer Richard Moore prepare to battle it out. Republicans have a handful of little-known candidates. Sure, the Republican presidential nominee is almost certain to carry the Tarheel State next year, but voters have shown they prefer Democrats in the governor's mansion. (Previous ranking: N/A)

3. Washington: Former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) made it official late last month: He's running again against Gov. Christine Gregoire (D). Given the narrowness of Rossi's loss in 2004, this should be another great race -- although Gregoire is aided by the power of incumbency and the Democratic winds blowing nationally. (Previous ranking: 5)

2. Indiana: The Fix spent a day in Indianapolis late last month and had a chance to see the two Democrats running for governor -- former Rep. Jill Long Thompson and architect Jim Schellinger. Long Thompson is steady if not spectacular and relies heavily on her personal story. (At the event I attended, she mentioned she had been raised on a farm in answer to nearly every question asked of her.) Schellinger is the more charismatic of the two but is clearly a political novice with few policy proposals behind his rhetoric. Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) is a savvy campaigner and is already aggressively working to remind Hoosier voters of the promises he kept since taking office. (Previous ranking: 4)

1. Missouri: Even Republicans acknowledge that Gov. Matt Blunt (R) is behind right now in his reelection race against state Attorney General Jay Nixon (D). And Blunt's handling of questions regarding the firing of his deputy counsel has been less than stellar. Still, this is Missouri, where statewide political races are almost always decided by a point or two. (Previous ranking: 3)

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 9, 2007; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Governors , The Line  
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