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Volatile environment endangers more governors

It's hard out there for a governor.

The national economic slowdown has forced the hand of almost every governor in the country -- creating a politically unsavory choice between raising taxes and cutting services to keep their budgets in balance.

And, the distrust with Washington has begun to foment a broader distaste for incumbents generally as the "throw the bums out" mentality of voters seeps into the state level.

Friday Line

In an election where a whopping 37(!) governors races are up -- and an amazing 22 of them are open seats -- that sort of volatility makes choosing the 15 races most likely to switch sides this fall a difficult chore.

But, that's why they pay the Fix the big bucks!

As always the top ranked race is the most likely to switch parties in November. Disagree with our rankings? You can rate the races yourself at the bottom of this post.

To the Line!

Coming off the Line: Colorado
Coming onto the Line: Wisconsin

15. Wisconsin (Democratic-controlled): The upper Midwest has been hit the hardest by the economic downturn and, as a result, voters are looking for change. That change sentiment is compounded by the fact that retiring Gov. Jim Doyle (D) has held the office for eight years and is leaving amid faltering poll numbers. The Republican establishment believes Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is a star but no one has told former Rep. Mark Neumann who is also still in the primary race. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who remains a hero in the state for breaking up a violent attack last August, is the odds-on Democratic nominee. (Previous ranking: N/A)

14. California (Republican-controlled): With every passing day, the general election picture in the Golden State comes into clearer focus. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D) unsurprising decision to take a pass on a gubernatorial bid means that state Attorney General Jerry Brown will be the Democratic nominee. And, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman continues to lengthen her lead over state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner on the Republican side. A Brown-Whitman general election is intriguing as it pits the ultimate insider (Brown has been in and out of elected office in California for four decades) against a free-spending outsider with deep business credentials. A recent Field Poll showed Brown ahead by double digits but with Whitman gaining considerable ground. (Previous ranking: 12)

13. Arizona (R): Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has struggled badly since taking over from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (D) last year. Brewer has already drawn a serious primary challenge in the form of state Treasurer Dean Martin but there is talk within Republican circles that if her numbers don't improve soon that she should consider stepping aside for the good of the party. Democrats have coalesced around state Attorney General Terry Goddard. (Previous ranking: 13)

12. Ohio (D): Gov. Ted Strickland wasn't on many target list a year ago but the struggles of the Ohio economy and the surprising fundraising strength of former Rep. John Kasich (R) have turned the Buckeye State into a tight race with major implications for the 2011 redistricting process and the 2012 presidential race. While the polling in this race is not exactly top-of-the-line stuff, the trend line is clear -- and not good for Strickland; Kasich holds a seven-point edge in Real Clear Politics' polling average on the contest. (Previous ranking: 14)

11. Minnesota (R): Minnesotans do love their public service. There are ten Democrats and six Republicans running for the seat being vacated by Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) in November. With such large fields, it's a bit tough to handicap but the Democratic favorites appear to be former Sen. Mark Dayton, former state legislator Matt Entenza, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and state House Speaker Margaret Kelliher. On the Republican side, state Rep. Marty Seifert looks to be the frontrunner. Rybak and Seifert won the statewide, non-binding straw poll held during the state's caucuses earlier this month -- an early test of organizational strength. (Previous ranking: 10)

10. Pennsylvania (D): The Democratic field grew smaller on Thursday when Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty dropped out of the race to run instead for the state Senate. (We featured Doherty as part of our "Rising" series last year.). But, Doherty's departure doesn't change much about the race including the fact that state Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) looks like a solid favorite to replace retiring Gov. Ed Rendell (D) this November. (Previous ranking: 11)

9. Vermont (R): New independent polling in the Green Mountain State shows Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (R) running very competitively against all of the serious Democratic candidates. Republicans note that Dubie is a proven vote-getter in the state but still have to hope that the GOP tilt of the national playing field can counteract the strong Democratic lean of Vermont. (Previous ranking: 7)

8. Connecticut (R): The race to replace retiring Gov. Jodi Rell (R) features competitive primaries in both parties. For Democrats, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy and 2006 Senate nominee Ned Lamont will square off while Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele and former Ambassador Tom Foley are competing for the Republican nod. Independent polling shows a close race no matter which candidates wins their respective party primaries but Connecticut's Democratic lean would seem to give either Lamont or Malloy the slight edge. (Previous ranking: 8)

7. Hawaii (R): Democrats are heading for a nasty primary between Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who is expected to resign his House seat later this month, and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Abercrombie's attack on Hannemann for refusing to formally declare his candidacy while acting like a candidate is only the start. Republicans have been united behind Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona for some time now. That said, this is Hawaii and it's hard to imagine the White House will let Democrats lose the governorship in President Obama's home state. (Previous ranking: 5)

6. Iowa (D): Gov. Chet Culver is in deep trouble in his bid for a second term. A new poll conducted for the Des Moines Register showed Culver trailing former Gov. Terry Branstad (R) 53 percent to 33 percent and with just one in three (36 percent) of Iowans approving of the job he has done in his first three-plus years in office. If Culver's poll numbers remain that dismal, the talk of him stepping aside will almost certainly grow louder. (Previous ranking: 9)

5. Michigan (D): Things have gone from bad to worse for Democrats in Michigan over the past few weeks. First, Denise Ilitch, the wealthy daughter of the owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, decided against a bid. Then former state Treasurer Robert Bowman, who could have brought his own significant personal resources to the contest, said no. That leaves Democrats with Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and state House Speaker Andy Dillon as their leading candidates in what is looking increasingly like a quixotic bid to hold the Wolverine State governorship. (Previous ranking: 6)

4. Oklahoma (D): State Attorney General Drew Edmondson (D) ended
2009 with nearly double the cash on hand of Rep. Mary Fallin
(R), an encouraging sign for Democrats hoping to keep the seat of term limited Gov. Brad Henry. But, Edmondson has a serious primary in the form of Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and, even if he wins, he must overcome the strongly Republican nature of the Sooner State. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Tennessee (D): The drama in the governor's race is entirely focused on the Republican primary as Democrats readily acknowledge they are almost certain to come up short this fall. Rep. Zach Wamp said earlier today that the race is rapidly becoming a two-man fight between he and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and called on Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsay to get out of the race. Democrats are likely to nominate Mike McWherter but it probably won't matter much. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Rhode Island (R): Republicans concede they have no potential candidates in the mold of term limited Gov. Don Carcieri (R) -- although Carcieri's communications director is running for the GOP nod. The Democratic primary between state Treasurer Frank Caprio and state Attorney General Patrick Lynch is shaping up to be a good one and former Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who is running as an independent, will be waiting in the general election. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Kansas (D): Gov. Sam Brownback (R). (Previous ranking: 1)

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 19, 2010; 12:57 PM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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Next: Bayh's out, Ellsworth's In (and other political news)



A typical fundraising letter from the Democratic party and its dated thinking elicited this response from me:

Dear Governor Kaine and Representative Van Hollen:

It is not a question of "chipping in" (with reference to the letter below) to help the party. Your letter represents the simplistic approach of your tiresome party management. It is a question of getting rid of Democrats who have become lackeys of lobbying groups. Get them out of Congress! It is a question of exercising leadership and reconstructing our political narrative in an effort to correct Faux News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin. By asking for money, you are perpetuating the axioms that rule Republicans and that have made Washington a cesspool. Have you seen your website? It is all about donations. The Democratic party does not need money, it needs ideas, an injection of new blood with moral rectitude when it comes to its approach to governance. Have you thought about that? Show us moral and political vision when it comes to freeing yourselves from the entangling alliances with big business.
Should you keep asking for funds without distinguishing yourselves in terms of principles, you will deliver Congress and the White House to Republicans in a silver platter.


Justo J. Sanchez

In a message dated 2/21/2010 1:38:16 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, writes:

Justo J. --

Friday, speaking at an ultra-conservative conference, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty attacked the Recovery Act and said "we can't spend more than we have" -- even though he couldn't balance his state budget without dipping into Recovery Act funds.

It's just another hypocritical attack from a party that is more interested in partisan gridlock than putting Americans back to work.

We're pushing back on every hypocritical claim the GOP can dream up, and our charge is getting headlines across the country. But it seems like there is no limit to GOP hypocrisy, so we need to keep our rapid-response program going strong.

Can you chip in to help?



Posted by: JJSanchez | February 21, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Jimmy2004 that IL is in play - it goes to the point that CC makes at the beginning that finding just 15 states in the present environment is rather tricky. And by any normal way of looking at things, IL is the President's home state, not HI. No-one calls CT W's home state, or IL Reagan's. It is where you make your career that counts. If the state you are born in is your home state, Obama is the first presidential candidate since 1996 to carry his home state, though Gore, who doesn't have a home state, did carry the District of Columbia.

Posted by: qlangley | February 21, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

I hate to tell everyone this.... but reconcilation needs 60 votes on several procedural aspects of getting the legislation through the Senate.

Lawrence O'Donnell was on MSNBC the other day - AND HE SAID THE SAME THING.

Apparently, the liberals have gotten themselves into such a delusional state that they refuse to check the facts - they are in a state of group-speak - anything outside is ignored.

Rahm Emmanuel does not know the rules of the Senate.

WE ALL KNOW THAT OBAMA DOES NOT KNOW THE RULES OF THE SENATE - BOY IS THAT A LAUGH - but who in the White House knows the rules of the Senate ? Who is giving them this advice that they have the reconciliation option available to them ???

It is like a bad rumor that got out.

This is incompetence way beyond anything I have seen... ever.


Posted by: 37thand0street | February 21, 2010 12:26 AM | Report abuse


Come ON - Governor Moonbeam is going to make a comeback

The amazing thing is Governor Brown looks reasonable and wise next to the wacky liberals and Obama who have taken over the democratic party recently.

Gov. Brown is so old, he used to get heat because he predicted that satellites would be used for weather reports.


Posted by: 37thand0street | February 21, 2010 12:17 AM | Report abuse

I love how Cilliza picks the most pro-Brown poll. Meg is barely behind Brown in the biggest and bluest state in the land. Babs Boxer is barely ahead of Republican no names. The Dems are in deep deep doodoo. What will the WaPo do then?

Posted by: kenpasadena | February 20, 2010 10:44 PM | Report abuse

Obama is a hypocrite

What did Obama do in Baltimore ? Grand-STAND

What did Obama do after the meeting with the Republicans ? Obama rushed to talk to the reporters before anyone.

Obama's attitude is the same as with the race card - Only he is allowed to play the race card.



Posted by: 37thand0street | February 20, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Chris, I can't believe you're placing California above Colorado. Colorado should be a top five state. Forget John Hickenlooper's popularity in Denver--in the conservative suburbs it's more image than reality (which will change when Hickenlooper is forced to take positions on issues). And outside of the metro area McInnis is the obvious choice.

And you're missing the fact that Colorado is still a fundamentally conservative state that is now especially disposed to vote GOP given Obama's intense unpopularity.

McInnis wins by three.

Posted by: rawl1234 | February 20, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

What could possibly go wrong with Obama in the leadership position of the democratic party?

Remember all those superdelegates who were going for Obama ???

Remember how all the democrats wanted him??

What could possibly go wrong?


Posted by: 37thand0street | February 19, 2010 10:40 PM | Report abuse

Is Obama preparing to cut a deal - and nominate himself to the Supreme Court and get out ?

He would need 60 Senators to agree to a confirmation vote.


Posted by: 37thand0street | February 19, 2010 10:12 PM | Report abuse

"between him..." NOT "between he...".

If RP is the R nominee, TX will be in play, I think.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | February 19, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Wisconsin could turn into a Republican sweep - on the Senate too - people are upset with the democrats - and the whole thing is about to collapse around them.

The democrats have only themselves to blame for voting for Obama - they should have known that his inexperience and far-left tendencies would have damaged the party.

Obama has damaged the democratic party so badly - already - and Obama's response is EVEN WORSE - Obama has not fixed anything. Obama's attitude over the past few weeks have made the situation worse, not better.



Posted by: 37thand0street | February 19, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Chris-

You called HI the presidents home state (true), but what about Illinois? I'm shocked that's not on the list. Quinn is in seriously trouble of losing - and the GOP has historically had a decent track record in holding the Gov Seat.

Posted by: jimmy2004 | February 19, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Minnesota should be moved up significantly. The Dems have a good field of candidates, while Seifert is both the likely Repub nominee & unlikely to attract moderate/swing/crossover voters. Add that two former Repubs are vying for the IP nomination & the outlook is very good for the DFL. The meme that the national outlook favors repubs is irrelevant to the MN Gov race, which is better characterized as 'throw the bums out,' where the bums are the Pawlenty admin.

Posted by: bsimon1 | February 19, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Democrats have to defend alot more than Republicans, and it's a Republican year. Democrats must defend: Kansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maine, Colorodo, New Mexico, Ohio, Wyoming and Wisconsin. That is 13 states that are definately in play for Republicans to try and pick up. If they can recruit the right candidate, they can also fight hard for Maryland. That's 13, and potentially 14, seats up for Dems. to have to defend. Republicans must defend: Hawaii, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, California and Minnessota. That is 6 states where Republicans will really have to struggle to keep the governor's office. Big advantage to Republicans.

Posted by: reason5 | February 19, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm really surprised that Massachsuetts hasn't made the line. Gov. Patrick's approval ratings have been pretty terrible for quite a while, he's going to have a former Dem 3rd party challenge from State Treasurer Tim Cahill to contend with as well as a well-funded challenge from the GOP with (likely) Charlie Baker.

Posted by: jcrystoff | February 19, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

This kind of matches what I've been seeing. As one of the ground-breaking scientists just said "neener neener neener" ...

Things don't always break the way people think they do, and Gov races depend on what's going on in the state and what will be on the ballot at that election.

For example, WA state will have a Marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot, so turnout in the urban centers will be high and the voting population won't just be the really really old white people you might expect normally.

Posted by: WillSeattle | February 19, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Given the political environment, that's not a bad playing field for the Dems. This is clearly an important set of races with redistricting coming up.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 19, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

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