We are down to only one safe Democratic governorship anywhere in the country.
With New York moving to the “likely Democratic” column due to a series of developments (Rick Lazio’s withdrawal, polls showing a single-digit race, questions about Attorney General-fatigue) and with Governor Lynch looking increasingly shaky in New Hampshire’s until-recently safe governorship, Democrats don’t have much left to hang onto. And they should be grateful key governorships like Missouri, Washington and North Carolina are not in play this year.
And yet, despite the large number of contests that have moved towards the GOP in recent months, Democratic odds continue to brighten in the country’s biggest prize: California. Despite Jerry Brown’s many gaffes (I still find it hard to believe he let himself be baited into attacking Bill Clinton) and Meg Whitman’s record spending, the Democrat looked like he was finally opening up a lead in recent weeks - and that was before Whitman’s former housekeeper shook-up the race with her accusatory press conference. Whitman has been on the defensive ever since, even offering to take a polygraph test before retracting herself. I am leaving the race in the toss-up section for now, but it’s certainly tilting Democratic - something I would certainly not had said two weeks ago.
And Democrats got good news from a far more unlikelier place this week: the Midwest! While the entire region looked all but lost for Democratic candidates, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn have suddenly rebounded in a series of polls (3 Ohio polls showing a 1%-race within 24 hours whereas we hadn’t since that type of margin since June, and 2 Illinois surveys showing a toss-up); they both remain “lean Republican” for now, but whereas two weeks ago both states were close to moving further towards the GOP they are now very much in play. Also in the Midwest, there is now enough evidence that Minnesota looks good for Democrats that I am moving the race out of the toss-up column.
Unfortunately for Democrats, the other big “toss-up” prize is going the other direction. Rick Scott’s millions look to be having the same effect in the general election as they did in the GOP primary, as he has erased the consistent advantage Alex Sink enjoyed since late August. This is a race Democrats should really focus on - both because of Florida’s size and because the contest remains very much winnable given Scott’s obvious vulnerabilities. In other good news for the GOP, Georgia and New Mexico move to “lean Republican” while Iowa and Oklahoma move to “likely Republican.”
|Safe GOP||Likely GOP||Lean GOP||Toss-up||Lean Dem||Likely Dem||Safe Dem|
Georgia, toss-up to lean Republican: While Roy Barnes remains very much in contention, Georgia has become too GOP-friendly a state for a Democrat not to be an underdog - especially when it doesn’t appear that turnout among African-Americans (a key constituency for Democrats in any state, let alone in Georgia) will be anywhere as high as in 2008. Add to that the fact that the race will go to a December runoff if neither candidate reaches 50%, and the very least we can say is that Barnes will not be the victor on November 2nd. That said, it is fairly likely he’ll be able to hold former Rep. Nathan Deal under that threshold too. Deal might have taken a consistent albeit narrow lead in the polls, but he has a lot of baggage (remember that he resigned from the House in the hopes of avoiding the release of a damning ethics report) that might get wider exposure in a runoff campaign.
Iowa, lean Republican to likely Republican: It’s hard to remember, but Governor Culver actually started the cycle in a fairly comfortable position; that was before the electorate turned against Democrats, before the Midwest became ground zero of the party’s nightmare and before Terry Branstad announced he would seek his old position back. Culver trailed Branstad massively from the beginning of the campaign, and the more we approach Election Day the more hopeless his situation becomes. It’s one thing for an incumbent to trail by double-digits a year before the election; quite another six weeks prior. At the moment, Iowa no longer appears to be in play - and Branstad is probably going to become king-maker as head of the state that is going to lunch the 2012 Republican primaries.
Minnesota, toss-up to lean Democratic: Minnesota is one relatively bright spot for Democrats. Since Democrats nominated Mark Dayton to be their nominee, the former Senator has enjoyed a decent lead in a series of polls - typically in the high single-digits. This can be attributed to a number of factors. For one, the incumbent Governor is a Republican - a rare sight in the Midwest, and one that seems to be diminishing voters’ desire to turn to the GOP to achieve changeover.
Second, Republican nominee Tom Emmer is very conservative, especially on social issues - more than is advisable for a GOP nominee in a swing state that typically tilts to the left. While many other conservatives are highly competitive in blue states (think of Brady in Illinois), the fact that this an open race means Emmer cannot just deflect attention to an incumbent’s unpopularity. Furthermore, the presence of Independent Party nominee Tom Horner gives moderates who do not want to vote for a Democrat this year a place to go other than Emmer. And we certainly cannot rule out Horner becoming a contender for the win; he is flirting with the 20% bar in polls.
New Mexico, toss-up to lean Republican: Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish has to be all the more pained at the collapse of her gubernatorial prospects that she was so close from becoming Governor at the end of 2008: Obama had appointed Governor Bill Richardson to his Cabinet, and had Richardson not withdrawn from consideration Denish would have replaced him in the Governor’s Mansion. But that only seemed to delay her coronation, as Denish started off in a strong position to win the open Governor’s race in 2010.
That was before it became clear just how powerful the GOP wave had become - and just how much Democrats would suffer in states in which they are unpopular at the local level on top of the national level. New Mexico is one of these states. While it looked to have swung decisively blue in 2008, Richardson’s ethical struggles combined and the state’s economic difficulties transformed the political landscape - and what was unimaginable 18 months ago is now very much true: Denish is undeniably trailing her Republican opponent, DA Susana Martinez, who has been highly-touted by GOP officials ever since she won her primary. Going forward, remember that New Mexico is one of those states Obama has to defend in 2010.
New York, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Governor Carl Paladino… That’s such a difficult notion to entertain I have trouble upgrading the GOP’s prospects in this race, but there is no question that what long looked like an Andrew Cuomo juggernaut has weakened. His 40% leads are no more, and while all polls still show he remains the clear favorite, two post-primary surveys have found that the race is down to single-digits. Perhaps the sight of a Governor-in-waiting annoyed New Yorkers and perhaps there is something to the argument that an Attorney General’s popularity is shallow and can easily be punctured (as was demonstrated with Martha Coakley and to a lesser extent with Richard Blumenthal); or perhaps the margin was always bound to shrink given that suburban New Yorkers already signaled in November 2009 just how much they were ready to oust Democrats (Tom Suozzi can speak to that). Add to that Rick Lazio’s decision to drop out of the race, allowing Paladino to consolidate the Conservative Party line on top of the GOP line, and a path to victory opens up for the Republican nominee.
That said, New York is still a reliably Democratic state and Paladino (a millionaire best-known for sending out racist emails, for getting in a physical altercation with a New York Post reporter and for proposing to house welfare recipients in prisons) is so extremist that a number of Republicans have looked uncomfortable campaigning for him. The mere fact that we’re considering a victory by Paladino possible is a testament to the GOP’s success this year; it’s hard to imagine Republicans can hope for more
Oklahoma, lean Republican to likely Republican: On paper, Democrats should have a good chance to defend this governorship: Not only do they have a strong candidate in Lieutenant Governor Jeri Askins but they won the last open race, which held in 2002 - no bright year for their party. But the electorate is far more hostile towards Democrats this year than it was eight years ago. Oklahoma is simply too conservative a state for Republicans not to be clearly favored in these circumstances, and Republican Rep. Mary Fallin (a former Lieutenant Governor) is not the type of politician to blunder her way out of front-running status. One thing is clear: Oklahoma will have its first female Governor come 2011.