37 contests. Only 5 are safe and 22 are in the most competitive categories. Needless to say, the 2010 should be epic when it comes to Governor’s races. And the stakes are high: Redistricting looms on the horizon.
|Safe GOP||Likely GOP||Lean GOP||Toss-up||Lean Dem||Likely Dem||Safe Dem|
The following rankings were written in November 2009, and a lot of things have obviously changed.
Likely Take-over (0 D, 1 R)
The 2010 cycle is shaping up to be a disaster for Kansas Democrats, who have been busier sabotaging themselves than searching for viable contenders: Kathleen Sebelius’s departure to Washington left Mark Parkinson in charge of the Governor’s Mansion, giving him an opportunity to run as an incumbent or at least appoint as Lieutenant Governor a politician who could use that position as a springboard for 2010. Not only did Parkinson rule out a run of his own, but he tapped as LG a man who immediately declared he would seek no office. That’s of course not surprising, considering Parkinson used to be the state’s Republican chairman until Sebelius chose him as her running-mate in 2006. This bizarre series of events leaves as the Democrats’ sole candidate retired businessman Tom Wiggans, who should be no match for Sam Brownback. The retiring Senator has also gotten rid of the threat of a primary challenge from SoS Ron Thornburgh, which makes him the overwhelming favorite.
Lean Take-over (4 D, 4 R)
Republicans are all but certain to lose the governorship of one of the bluest states in the country - but that doesn’t mean Democrats are certain to pick-it up: Everyone expects former Senator Lincoln Chaffee to run as an independent, and he should be a formidable candidate thanks to his personal popularity, to his appeal among centrists and to the likelihood that he’ll emerge as the de facto GOP nominee, since Republicans are failing to field any credible contender. That said, Chaffee lost his re-election race in 2006, raising obvious questions as to his electability. Treasurer Frank Caprio and Attorney General Patrick Lynch are both likely to run in what will be a less crowded primary than we expected (Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts and Providence Mayor David Cicilline surprisingly ruled out the race in the spring). One potential obstacle for Democrats: The primary will be held very late (September 14), which could make it difficult for the winner to prepare for the general election.
The situation in the country’s smallest state is rather confusing. Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal is term-limited out of office, but he might file a lawsuit challenging the state’s term-limit law. Why might that succeed? In 2004, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling overturning term limits for state legislators, and it presumably would be willing to apply it to gubernatorial terms. If Freudenthal pursues this course of action and succeeds, he would be able to run for re-election, and he is popular enough that the seat should stay in Democratic hands.
Yet, if Freudenthal announces that he’ll retire peacefully - or if courts refuse to overturn the law - Republicans would be in an ideal position to reclaim the seat. The state is so conservative that a Democratic victory in an open seat can only come as a stunning upset (just as Freudenthal’s 2002 victory was), and Republicans have enough prominent candidates (Secretary of State Max Maxfield, state Speaker Colin Simpson and many others) that whoever wins the primary would be heavily favored. Furthermore, Freudenthal’s indecision could hurt his party’s ability to rally around another contender - especially given that it should take many months for the state Supreme Court to issue a decision.
To hold on to the governorship of one of the country’s bluest states, the GOP will need the type of perfect storm that rarely repeats itself. Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona might be a credible candidate (and he’ll be able to count on term-limited Governor Linda Lingle’s popularity) but Democrats are fielding two well-known and well-liked politicians, neither of whom risks upsetting the state’s partisan balance: A summer poll conducted by Research 2000 confirmed that Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann would start with an edge. That said, a bruising Democratic contest could help Aiona given how late Hawaii holds its primaries (September). There is reason to think Abercombie and Hannemann won’t go easy on each other: The two go way back, having faced each other twice in the 1980s!
An open seat in a Southern state, a tough year for Democrats anywhere in the country - let alone in a state that’s been drifting further to the right every cycle and strong Republican candidates: That’s a clear recipe for a Republican takeover. Whoever wins the primary between Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, Rep. Zach Wamp and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam will be favored heading into the general election. That said, it wasn’t that long ago that Tennessee was still loyal to its Democratic roots - and that can matter in a state race more than in a federal one. State Senator Roy Herron, businessman Mike McWherter (the son of the former governor), state Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle and former state House Majority Leader Kim McMillan are all running, so Democrats will be in a position of staying competitive.
Governor Jim Douglas’s unexpected August retirement gave Democrats a golden opportunity to reclaim a position that has escaped them ever since Howard Dean left the Governor’s Mansion in 2002. Not only is Vermont one of the most liberal states in the country, but Democrats also have a strong bench to choose from from: Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, former LG Doug Racine, former state Sen. Matt Dunne, state Sen. Susan Bartless (all of whom are already running) would all start the general election favored. Yet, Republicans should be competitive thanks to the candidacy of Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie, who has been elected every two years since 2002. Complicating matters is the fact that the Progressive Party is a major force in the state (in 2008, its gubernatorial nominee came in front of the Democratic candidate) and Democrats have to take Progressive demands seriously if they want to recapture the governorship.
It’s a testament to Oklahoma voters’ willingness to buck their federal voting patterns in local races that Democrats hold every single of the state’s statewide offices! Heading into the 2010 open seat race, they have two top-tier candidates already running: LG Jari Askins and AG Drew Edmonson. Yet, Oklahoma is as staunchly conservative state as any - and that’s enough to give the GOP an edge in any open seat race. Republicans were not weighed down by their lack of statewide bench: A former Lieutenant Governor, Rep. Mary Fallin managed to impose herself as the GOP’s heir apparent - especially after former Rep. J.C. Watts announced he would not run. Whether she faces Askins or Edmonson, don’t expect Fallin to win the race in a walk but the state’s partisan leanings gives her the early edge.
The Golden State was supposed to host a blockbuster of a Democratic primary. Instead, Loretta Sanchez, John Garamendi, Antonio Villaraigosa and Gavin Newsom dropped out one by one, leaving Attorney General Jerry Brown as the last man standing. Senator Diane Feinstein is still making noise about jumping in, but at this point it is safe to call Brown the presumptive nominee. He will get to stockpile millions he can use to pummel his Republican opponent as soon as one emerges, bloodied and in financial difficulty. Indeed, Meg Whitman, Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell are locked in an unpredictable 3-way GOP race that has already gotten very heated.
It was never going to be easy for Republicans to defend the governorship of one of the country’s most emblematic blue states, and this asymmetrical situation should only aggravate matters. At first considered the frontrunner, Whitman stumbled due to reports about her nonexistent voting record; the GOP’s best shot might be to nominate the relatively moderate Campbell, but whether he could financially compete in an expensive state like California is an open question. In any case, early polls are showing Brown heavily favored to win against any of them; the reputable Field Poll’s October 2009 survey had him leading by margins ranging from 20% and 25%. Yet, Brown should be careful not to wait for the general election to start offering detailed proposals as to how he’ll fix the state and not to let the GOP dominate the airwaves in the meantime.
Culver has suddenly become one of the most vulnerable incumbents of the 2010 cycle - a startling evolution for someone who won his first term such surprising ease. The recession, which is bound to have more political consequences in the Midwest than elsewhere in the country, damaged his approval rating - and the GOP moved in for the kill by recruiting the most formidable challenger possible: Terry Branstad, who served as Iowa Governor from 1982 to 1998. While Branstad has some vulnerabilities for Culver to exploit (will voters want to reach back more than a decade to satisfy a desire for new leadership? will conservatives reconcile with a man they almost defeated in 1994?), two recent polls showed Culver trailing by the sort of margins incumbents rarely recover from: Rasmussen has Branstad leading 54% to 34%, Selzer 57% to 33%.
Toss-up (4 D, 5 R)
Jodi Rell was heavily favored to win a second full term; instead, her retirement creates the state’s first gubernatorial open seat since 1994 and hands Democrats a golden opportunity to reclaim a position that has escaped them since 1990. Of course, state Republicans have had their share of success and their probable nominee (Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele) is as credible as the GOP can hope for in New England. And yet, it will be tough for any Republican to win in a state Obama won with 61% of the vote - especially when they won’t be able to focus the spotlight on an unpopular Democratic incumbent. SoS Susan Bysiewicz, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, former Senate candidate Ned Lamont and two others are seeking the Democratic nomination; any of them (especially Bysiewicz) would enter the general election as the slight favorite.
While Democrats were determined to mount a top challenge to Governor Tim Pawlenty, his decision to pull a Mitt Romney (not seek re-election to better prepare the upcoming presidential race) makes it that much more likely state Democrats can pull off their first gubernatorial victory… since 1986! Pawlenty’s retirement announcement led anyone whose anyone in state politics to express interest in a run, and both parties have unusually crowded fields. Yet, Republicans haven’t been as successful at recruiting their top prospects. While Democrats will decide between Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, former Senator Mark Dayton, state Speaker Margaret Anderson and a number of state legislators, former Rep. Jim Ramstad’s decision not to run means that the GOP will nominate a conservative (former Auditor Pat Anderson, state legislators) - or perhaps Norm Coleman (who was so wounded in 2008 that it’s hard to see him mounting a competitive general election campaign).
That Michigan long looked like Democrats’ biggest liability in 2008 shows that the party’s hold on the Governor’s Mansion has made it take some of the blame for the state’s economic woes. That situation should be a problem for Democratic front-runner Lieutenant Governor John Cherry, who should have trouble distancing himself from Jennifer Granholm’s record while Republicans (who are locked in an unpredictable 4-way primary between AG Mike Cox, Sheriff Eric Bouchard, Rep. Peter Hoekstra and businessman Rick Snyder) will be able to campaign as outsiders. Cherry could still face primary trouble.
With early polls showing Cherry trailing in most general election match-ups (at least two surveys have shown Cox leading the Lieutenant Governor by double-digits), Michigan is one of the GOP’s top takeover opportunity - and it would be a major one. The Wolverine State, which has recently been slipping from Republicans, is a symbol of the country’s economic crisis and a GOP victory would lead the party to celebrate the reemergence of the Reagan Coalition. Inversely, for Democrats to pull off a defense two years after Obama’s double-digit victory would allow them to boast that Michigan should no longer be considered a swing state.
Janet Napolitano’s resignation might end as a mixed blessing for Jan Brewer, who was elevated from Secretary of State to Governor. On the one hand, it will allow her to run as an incumbent; on the other, it’s increasingly looking like that will be an unenviable position in the 2010 cycle. Brewer has had a lot of trouble imposing herself, especially given the budget stalemate that’s opposed her to the (GOP-controlled) legislature, and it’s no surprise that she’ll face a tough Republican primary: former party chair John Munger and Paradise Valley mayor Vernon Parker are already running, and Treasurer Dean Martin could join the fun. A crowded field could help Brewer survive, which is probably the best-case scenario for Democrats given that an incumbent stuck with a 30% approval rating rarely wins re-election. Yet, Democrats’ presumptive nominee (Attorney General Terry Goddard) looks popular enough that he should start with a slight edge against any of aforementioned Republicans. One wild card is the plausible (yet unlikely) entry of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his staunch anti-immigration policies; he might be 77 years old, but a recent poll found he would dominate the race.
Charlie Crist’s decision to run for Senate made one of the cycle’s few uncompetitive Governor’s race a pure toss-up. CFO Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum are high-profile and well-connected candidates who were their party’s obvious choices, and their showdown is likely to remain tight until the very end in the country’s paradigmatic swing state. While Sink might be a slightly superior candidate (some Republicans have been concerned that McCollum faces electability issues), but that should be offset by the cycle’s Republican tilt - a situation analogous to that in Missouri’s Senate race. Early polls have found a tight race; while some pollsters (Quinnipiac, Mason-Dixon and Rasmussen) found McCollum ahead outside of the MoE, some of that advantage is due to a superior name recognition and other reputable polls have found Sink leading within the MoE.
Jim Gibbons is arguably the most unpopular governor in the country (the latest poll found his approval rating at a jaw-dropping 14%), and his chances of winning re-election are lower than David Paterson’s. In fact, just as in New York, the incumbent is unlikely to even make it to the general election. Former Attorney General Brian Sandoval is running in the GOP primary, and it’s hard to see him losing now the field is being cleared for him. Sandoval might be as formidable a contender as the GOP can hope for, but his weaknesses and Nevada’s dramatic 2008 leftward turn mean that Democrats would have a great shot at winning the governorship if the last name of their presumptive nominee wasn’t Reid.
State Speaker Barbara Buckley’s unexpected exit means that Harry Reid’s son Rory could coast to the Democratic nomination, leaving father and son to headline the state’s Democratic ticket. Whatever Rory’s competences and campaign skills, it would be hard for him to overcome the senator’s unpopularity and the overt display of dynastic politics (a recent poll had Sandoval leading Reid by 18%.) The wild card: Las Vegas’s Democratic Mayor Oscar Goodman is weighing jumping as an independent, which would create an unpredictable 3-way contest. (Note that Goodman is a registered Democrat and, while he’s expressed clear preference to running as an independent, I don’t believe h has ruled out seeking the Democratic nomination.)
Ever since he won the 2006 open race with stunning ease and Colorado turned decisively blue in 2008, Bill Ritter headed towards his re-election race with confidence. But the drop in his approval rating, the economic crisis and a national environment that has soured on Democrats (in Colorado more than elsewhere) have put him in a tough spot. To make matters worse, a prominent Republican has all but locked up his party’s nomination - and former two recent polls show him with a slight lead. Democrats were hoping former Rep. Scott McInnis would be bruised by what looked like sure to be a brutal primary against former Rep. Tom Tancredo or against state Senator John Penry, but, in a remarkably rare show of party unity, both ended up endorsing McInnis.
Given the high stakes of winning the governorship of one of the country’s most populous states (not to mention one of its most important swing states), it’s shocking how undercovered this contest has been. Part of the reason is the surprising fact that all Democratic candidates are low-profile politicians. Sure, Auditor Jack Wagner, former Rep. Joe Hoeffel, County Executive Dan Onorato, businessmen Tom Knox and possibly Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty would all make credible general election candidates but for now they aren’t inspiring much passion: Of the 5 polls that have been conducted as of November 2009, not one found a single Democrat receiving the support of more than 19% of respondents.
Republican voters, meanwhile, look like they will nominate Attorney General Tom Corbett over Rep. Jim Gerlach. Logic would dictate that the more moderate Gerlach is more electable in a state that has been trending blue, but the tough national environment will make this a tough hold for Democrats and early polls find Corbett posting big leads against all Democrats. A victory would be one of the GOP’s biggest prizes of Election Night, and it would reassure party strategists that they could still contest the Keystone State in the 2012 presidential race after 6 losses in a row - many of them tight, but the last one decisive.
Jim Doyle’s decision to retire did not come as a big surprise, and it might very well have improved Democratic chances of holding on to this governorship. But the the state is closely divided enough that an open seat race is sure to be highly competitive, no matter the political environment. On the GOP side, former Rep. Mark Neumann and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker have long been in the race; they led Doyle in a poll released mid-June and either should prove a strong contender in the general election. As for Democrats, they are very satisfied with their probable nominee: After the White House intervened to convince Milwaukee Mayor to jump in the race, Barrett complied while Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton dropped out. It will be harder for the GOP to tie Barrett to to the unpopular incumbent governor and to the recession.
Lean Retention (3 D, 3 R)
Ted Strickland entered the 2010 cycle heavily favored to win a second term. But the economic crisis makes next year tricky for any Governor, let alone one in a Midwestern state. Complicating matters is that Republicans landed the candidate they were after from the very beginning: former Rep. John Kasich faces no competition to win the GOP nomination. A well-connected politician who Bob Dole considered for the 1996 vice-presidential slot, Kasich has been out of Congress long enough (he retired in 2000) that he could distance himself from George W. Bush’s legacy; yet, he should face big problems justifying his work as the managing director of Lehman Brothers’ Columbus investment banking division. Recent polls find a dead-heat; in Quinnipiac, for instance, Strickland went from leading by 30% in February to being locked in a tie in November, a worrisome showing for the incumbent given Kasich’s still-low name recognition.
After successive cycles of sharp decline, Democrats had somewhat of a renaissance in 2008 and they scored a major recruitment coup this summer when they convinced former Governor Roy Barnes to seek his old job back. Barnes’ 2002 re-election defeat was due as much to the environment as to his own standing with voters. While the GOP used his attempt to change the state flag against him, he looks to have remained relatively popular: a R2000 poll conducted in May found that he was not only personally liked but also highly competitive against two Republican front-runners, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and Secretary of State Karen Handel. (Rep. Nathan Deal and at least 3 state legislators are also seeking the GOP nomination.) That said, the Democratic primary is just as crowded as the Republican one: Barnes will have to face AG Thurbert Baker, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter and former SoS David Poythress, all of whom are running and most of whom would make credible general election contenders.
This election was supposed to play out along a straightforward question: What would be stronger, voters’ dislike of Governor Deval Patrick or their reluctance to vote Republican? The answer might very well have been unfavorable to Democrats: Massachusetts might staunchly blue, but voters have been more than willing to buck their traditional allegiance in the Governor’s race and early polls found Patrick trailing against Charlie Baker and Charlie Mihos. If this sounds like an echo of to Jon Corzine’s predicament, consider that, just as in New Jersey, Democratic salvation could come from a third-party candidate.
Treasurer Tim Cahill, who had been elected as a Democrat, announced in September that he would run as an independent and many voters who are looking to get rid of Patrick will jump on the opportunity to do so without having to vote for a Republican. Everyone will have a shot at winning (Cahill could build a coalition of independents and disaffected Democrats, the GOP nominee could prevail as two Democrats split the left-leaning vote) but the bottom-line is that Patrick’s odds are better in a 3-way race than a 2-way contest because Massachusetts is so blue that there’s be a floor below which no Democratic nominee will fall. The latest poll has Patrick receiving less than 40% but leading by double-digits because his opposition splits the anti-incumbent vote.
A safely Republican state in presidential elections, Alabama remains attached to the Democratic party in local races. That’s giving Democrats Rep. Artur Davis and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks confidence that they’ll be able to pull it off; the only poll taken of the race so far backed that up since both men were highly competitive in the general election. Of course, the looming question is what role race will play in the general election: If Davis emerges as the Democratic nominee, it will be a test as to whether an African-American can win a statewide race in the Deep South.
That said, there are many other issues that could stand in Democrats’ way. For one, any enthusiasm gap between the two parties’ base would have dramatic consequences in Southern states, where the electorate is very polarized. Second, the GOP has been increasingly successful at not letting Southern governorships slip away and the party has a number of prominent politicians in the race, starting with Treasurer Kay Ivey and Chancellor Bradley Byrne. The party has to be worried about alienating moderate Republicans if Roy Moore captures its nomination, but it will be tough for the state’s former Chief Justice to gather the 50% he’ll need in the July runoff.
No one doubts Maine is capable of electing Republicans statewide: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are daily reminders of that fact. Democrats start with a slight upper-hand because of the state’s blue lean, but the race should stay unpredictable for months. For one, both parties have very crowded fields, and a September poll found none of these players have much name recognition for now: State Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, former AG Steven Rowe, former Speaker John Richardson and many others are vying for the Democratic nod while Republicans are choosing between state Sen. Peter Mills, former Red Sox owner Les Otten and businessman Matt Jacobson. Second, don’t expect the contest to be a two-way race: Most of Maine’s recent gubernatorial elections have featured strong independent and Green contenders (two contenders totaled 11% in 2002 and 31% in 2006).
Likely retention (5 D, 3 R)
Governor Rick Perry and Senator Kay Hailey Hutchison’s primary showdown is as brutal as it gets. Favored in the early-going, Hutchison is now facing an invigorated conservative base that has upended conventional wisdom; her decision not to resign before the primary, as she initially intended to do, speaks to her loss of confidence. In another unexpected twist, Democrats might be in a position to take advantage of the Republican bloodbath after all: Houston Mayor Bill White is considering announcing that he will run for Governor instead of saving himself for a hypothetical Senate special election. Against Hutchison, White would face an uphill climb but he has a lot of assets (including financial) with which to make a match-up with Perry as competitive as Democrats can hope for: The Governor will have to run as an incumbent, which is tough to do for any incumbent, and he’ll just have spent months branding himself as a far-right politician, which could alienate independents and Hutchison-supporting Republicans.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s unexpected decision not to run for Governor is a huge relief for Pat Quinn, who was elevated Governor after Rod Blagojevich was impeached. His path to the Democratic nomination remains somewhat tricky, however, since he’ll have to face Treasurer Daniel Hynes. The winner will have the upper-hand in the general election given Illinois’s partisan allegiance, but a Democratic victory is not a foregone conclusion: if Republicans cannot be competitive in 2010, they might as well give up on the state. Not only is the national environment favorable, but the Blagojevich fallout could continue to damage for the Democratic brand (his trial might be held as late as September 2010). Furthermore, the GOP’s field is stronger than was expected: former Attorney General Jim Ryan could make a strong general election contender, though he’s facing a number of credible candidates in the primary (former party chair Andy McKenna, a couple of state Senators). Finally, the race has a wild card in Rich Whitney, the Green Party candidate who received 10% in his 2006 campaign.
While Democrats have managed to keep control of the legislature of many Southern states, South Carolina has gone further in embracing the GOP than others and it’s become tough for Democrats to win any statewide race. As such, the Republican nomination is a prize well-worth having, and no less than 5 politicians have a shot at winning the primary runoff in June: LG Andre Bauer, Rep. Greshman Barrett, AG Henry McMaster, state Rep. Nikki Haley and state Sen. Larry Grooms. And yet, Governor Mark Sanford’s scandals might very well have damage the Republican brand and give the Democratic nominee an opening. Superintendent of Education Jim Rex (the state’s only Democratic office-holder) and two state Senators are in the race; depending on the circumstances and on the identity of their opponent, they could keep the general election interesting.
What looked like it would be one of the cycle’s most competitive races has not lived up to expectations as the two party’s recruitment has been as unbalanced as can be. Former Governor John Kitzhaber might not be the most popular of politicians, but Oregon’s blue hue combined with his formidable stature and to his healthy leads in a summer poll made him the clear front-runner as soon as he announced he wanted his old job back. In fact, he has more to fear against former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury in the Democratic primary than he does in the general election, as it’s unlikely the GOP can manage a top campaign now that Rep. Greg Walden has ruled out the race. Businessman Allen Alley could have a shot to win, however: He lost the 2008 Treasurer race by 6%, substantially outperforming John McCain.
Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish has the inside track to win the Democratic nomination, and it remains to be seen whether Republicans will be able to make this open seat race competitive. Former Rep. Heather Wilson, former Rep. Steve Pearce and the party’s only statewide official, Land Commissioner Pat Lyons, have ruled out a bid. While the GOP is high on Dona Ana County DA Susana Martinez and state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones (both of whom have declared run), but New Mexico took enough of a leftward turn in 2008 that Denish starts with a clear edge.
If Andrew Cuomo passes on the race, Democrats will be in trouble: Despite an ad blitz aimed at improving his image, Governor David Paterson remains stuck at abysmal depths of unpopularity politicians rarely reach. Whatever sparked his collapse, it’s hard to see how Paterson could win the general election; even though Rudy Giuliani has reportedly decided not to run, polls now find former Rep. Rick Lazio narrowly beating Paterson, which is telling given their name recognition differential. That explains why the White House took the extraordinary step of asking Paterson to retire, but whether he does should ultimately matter little: Cuomo looks set on running (not only is he mounting a top-notch campaign infrastructure, but he is reportedly thinking about his choice of a running-mate), and all polls show him crushing Paterson by more than 50% - not to mention easily winning the general election. The incumbent is all but certain not to win re-election, but the seat is likely to stay in Democratic hands.
Former Governor Bob Ehrlich has yet to rule out a political comeback, but the buzz of a potential gubernatorial candidacy has been dying down. In a state this blue, Republicans can hardly have hope to defeat an incumbent without a high-profile contender like Ehrlich (even then, Ehrlich would be hard-pressed to reproduce his 2002 perfect storm) and the list of their other potential challengers is decidedly lackluster. As such, O’Malley has the clear upper-hand heading into his re-election race.
In a red state that often votes Democratic, an open seat race is enough to keep any election on our radar screen. Yet, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin’s decision not to run was a huge blow to Democratic hopes. State Senate Minority Leader Scott Heidepriem should at least keep the general election interesting, but the GOP is now overwhelmingly favored to defend this open seat; they have a slate of top-tier contenders already in the race, including Senator Dave Knudson, Lieutenant Governor Dennis Daugaard and Brookings Mayor Scott Munsterman.
We will not enjoy the spectacle of Sarah Palin’s re-election race. Her incomprehensible resignation elevated Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, who can now run for re-election as an incumbent. Former state Rep. Ethan Berkowitz and former Commissioner of Administration Bob Poe are running for the Democratic nomination. While they are both credible candidates, the past three cycles (Murkowski against Knowles, Palin versus Knowles, Stevens versus Begich, Young versus Berkowitz) demonstrated that Alaska is one of the country’s most reliably Republican states. Democrats will have even less of an opening against Parnell than they did against the ethically challenged Young and Stevens.
Safe (3 R, 2 D)
When Obama appointed Jon Huntsman to be Ambassador to China, he elevated Gary Herbert Governor and triggered a special election in November 2010 to fill the rest of Huntsman’s four-year term. Utah is such a conservative state that Democrats will be heavy underdogs no matter what Republicans do, and to some degree no matter who Democrats manage to recruit. (Their strongest potential recruit, Rep. Jim Matheson, has ruled out a run, though they do have some politicians like Ralph Becker who could make things interesting.) That doesn’t mean Herbert is sure to win re-election: In 2003, Olene Smith Walker became Governor in similar circumstances but she performed so poorly at the party’s 2004 convention that she didn’t even make it to the primary ballot.
In a state that elects its Governors every two years, Lynch triumphed with more than 70% in 2008. That tells you all you need to know about his (lack of) vulnerability. The only names that are circulating as potential Republican contenders have a low profile, for instance businessman Jack Kimball, who is now a declared candidate. This race would only get competitive if Lynch announces he will retire, which seems unlikely but plausible: Not only has he not announced his plans, but we have not heard much since he declared “I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 2010″ back this spring.
In one of the country’s most Republican states, Governor Butch Odder is unlikely to break a sweat. He might have faced an unexpectedly competitive race in 2006, but he was then running for an open seat in a environment that was very favorable to Democrats.
Not only does the GOP have a thin bench in a state in which Democrats control all statewide offices and supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature, but it is also throwing all the potential statewide candidates it has at Senator Blanche Lincoln. That will allow Governor Mike Beebe to coast through his re-election race.
When he was elevated to the Governor’s mansion when Gov. Johanns left the position in 2004, Dave Heineman was meant to be a short-term Governor. But he unexpectedly prevailed in a difficult primary in 2006 to win a renomination, demonstrating his appeal to Nebraska’s conservative voters. He is unlikely to face serious opposition in 2010. One Democrat I had mentioned as a potential contender back in March was state Senator Tom White, who has since announced he will challenge Rep. Lee Terry in NE-02; that’s a wise decision, since it’s a far more winnable race than the gubernatorial contest.