2010 State Elections: Ranking the Governors

If the Republican wave is realized this Election Day then the gubernatorial picture will be grim indeed for the Democrats.
by | October 18, 2010

To round out Governing’s handicapping of major state-level elections, we’re initiating a ranking of the 37 gubernatorial seats being contested this year.  It joins our existing efforts to handicap the state legislatures and the state attorney general races

The following list of gubernatorial races works in two ways.

First, it categorizes every seat as safe Republican, likely Republican, lean Republican, tossup, lean Democratic or likely Democratic. (In this Republican wave election, we find no safe Democratic seats.)

Second, it rank-orders each seat by the likelihood of being won by a Republican, with one being most likely to be won by a Republican and 37 being most likely to be won by a Democrat.

If our prognostication is sound, then the day after Election Day, we should be able to draw a line somewhere in the tossup category and find all the seats above that line won by a Republican and all the seats below the line won by a Democrat. (We make no promises, of course.)

All told, by our estimation, 21 governorships lean in the Republican direction, nine lean in the Democratic direction and seven are tossups. If the states currently leaning toward each party were to be won by that party, and if the tossups were to split roughly evenly, the Republicans would be looking at a net seat gain of seven. A very good night could net the Republicans 11 seats, while a disappointing night could result in perhaps a three-to-four-seat switch.

Since the current breakdown is 26 Democrats, 23 Republicans and one Independent (former Republican Charlie Crist of Florida), even a disappointing night for the GOP should net the party a majority of gubernatorial seats. A strong night could leave the GOP with better than two-thirds of the seats.

A big factor in the Democrats’ ability to stave off big GOP gains will be whether the party can seize Republican-held seats such as those in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont. If the wave boosts Republicans running in those states -- all of which are considered either tossups or lean Demo=cratic states on our list – then the gubernatorial picture will be grim indeed for the Democrats.

The rankings are based on discussions with a variety of sources on the national and the state level. The author has previously handicapped the governorships for Roll Call in the 2006 cycle and Stateline.org in the 2008 cycle.

Here is the ranking, along with brief comments on the races.

Safe Republican (10)

Each of the states in this category are considered safe for the Republicans, but the exact ordering below is more subjective than it is for the other states on this list, since polling in these races is sparse or nonexistent.

1. Nebraska (R-held)

2. South Dakota (R-held)

3. Kansas (D-held)

4. Wyoming (D-held)

5. Idaho (R-held)

6. Tennessee (D-held)

7. Oklahoma (D-held)

8. Alabama (R-held)

9. Alaska (R-held)

10. Utah (R-held)

Likely Republican (5)

11. Arizona (R-held). While there may be a modest tightening under way, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s signing of the tough immigration bill earlier this year has made Democrat Terry Goddard’s task of unseating her difficult indeed.

12. Nevada (R-held). Republican Brian Sandoval has a commanding lead over Democrat Rory Reid, son of the unpopular U.S. Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who’s battling for his own political life.

13. Iowa (D-held). Former Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, is a strong favorite to unseat Democrat Chet Culver.

14. Michigan (D-held). In economically hard-hit Michigan, the Democrats seem destined to lose the seat to moderate Republican Rick Snyder.

15. Pennsylvania (D-held). Keeping up the Keystone State’s post-World War II trend of eight years and out for the party in the governor’ mansion, Republican Tom Corbett is the favorite to succeed Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.

Lean Republican (6)

16. Texas (R-held). Democrat Bill White is doing better than most Democrats do in Texas these days. But even though Republican Gov. Rick Perry is not wildly popular, his party affiliation means that he’s the favorite to stay in office.

17. Georgia (R-held). Republican Nathan Deal has taken a lot of flak for personal financial issues, and former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes is a well-known figure. But the polls suggest that in deep red Georgia, the GOP label will win out this year.

18. New Mexico (D-held). Dissatisfaction with the outgoing Democratic administration is high, enabling Republican Susana Martinez to pull away against Democratic Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

19. South Carolina (R-held). Unexpectedly for such a conservative state, Democrat Vincent Sheheen is making a positive impression, while Republican Nikki Haley has encountered turbulence on a couple fronts. But any Democrat in South Carolina faces a steep climb these days.

20. Wisconsin (D-held). The GOP tide this year is especially strong in Wisconsin, boosting Republican Scott Walker into a lead over Democrat Tom Barrett.

21. Ohio (D-held). In economically battered Ohio, Republican John Kasich has been leading, but hasn’t quite pulled away from Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland. Strickland has a shot at holding the seat, but Kasich remains slightly favored.

Tossup (7)

22. Maine (D-held). Republican Paul LePage, who led with a plurality for much of the race, has been hampered by gaffes, and the contest remains wide open due in part to the presence of Independent candidate Eliot Cutler.

23. Illinois (D-held). Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn isn’t beloved, but he’s trying to portray Republican Bill Brady as too conservative for this Democratic-leaning state. The seat is up for grabs.

24. Florida (I-held). Republican Rick Scott, whose conservative edge is too sharp even for some Republicans, has given Democrat Alex Sink an opening in an otherwise GOP-leaning cycle for the Sunshine State. This is one of the nation’s purest gubernatorial tossups.

25. Oregon (D-held). In what has been a tight race, momentum appears to be shifting toward former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber and away from a fresh Republican face, former basketball star Chris Dudley. But the race is still anyone’s to win.

26. Vermont (R-held). In a key pickup opportunity, Democrat Peter Shumlin has an ever-so-slight edge over Republican Brian Dubie.

27. Massachusetts (D-held). A three-way race keeps the Bay State competitive. Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick has led recent polls by a small plurality over Republican Charlie Baker and Independent Tim Cahill, a former Democrat.

28. California (R-held). Democrat Jerry Brown benefits from the state’s partisan lean, but Meg Whitman’s free-spending campaign has the ability to compete in one of the nation’s most expensive states. This one will likely go down to the wire.

Lean Democratic (6)

29. Rhode Island (R-held). Democrat Frank Caprio and Independent Lincoln Chafee are battling it out, with Republican John Robitaille running as well. Caprio is thought to have a small edge in this historically Democratic state, but anything could happen.

30. Minnesota (R-held). Democrat Mark Dayton is to the left of the state, and Republican Tom Emmer is to the right. Will the broad middle choose one of the two major-party candidates, or Independent Tom Horner? Dayton has led in most polls, but the race is not a foregone conclusion.

31. New Hampshire (D-held). At the start of this cycle, Democrat John Lynch seemed safe, but more recently his position eroded. Now he seems to have recovered, and the race once again looks like his to lose.

32. Connecticut (R-held). Democrat Dan Malloy is the favorite to flip the seat, but Republican Tom Foley has the cash and an unusually strong GOP breeze at his back.

33. Hawaii (R-held). In another key pickup opportunity, Democrat Neil Abercrombie leads Republican Duke Aiona. The race should be Abercrombie’s to lose, but in a volatile year, it’s too soon to write off Aiona.

34. Maryland (D-held). Were the candidate anyone other than former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley would have this race in the bag, due to the state’s partisan leanings. It's still competitive, but O’Malley remains the favorite.

Likely Democratic (3)

35. Colorado (D-held). The implosion of Republican nominee Dan Maes and the entry into the race of anti-immigration former Rep. Tom Tancredo as an independent has crippled GOP chances of seizing this seat from the Democrats. Against two strongly conservative candidates, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is poised to keep this seat in Democratic hands. Some polls show a Tancredo boomlet, however; we'll keep an eye on this race should it move to lean Democratic.

36. Arkansas (D-held). Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe is so popular that he’s easily ahead in his reelection bid, despite his state’s strong rightward swerve.

37. New York (D-held). Surprise Republican nominee Carl Paladino squandered his chances of being a serious candidate through a series of gaffes, handing Democrat Andrew Cuomo a strong likelihood of victory.

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