Dems Nibbling Away at GOP Gubernatorial Gains?

Democrats could flip five governorships, helping to potentially hold GOP gains to five or six seats. Plus: concessions in three states and a few races still too close to call.
by | November 3, 2010

As Wednesday dawned, Democrats began to nibble away at GOP gains in the battle for the governorships.

There's a real chance that the Democrats could end up flipping five governorships -- California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota and Vermont. If that happens, and depending on what happens with other Democratic-held contests that are too close to call, the Democrats could hold the GOP to a gubernatorial gain of five or six seats.

That would be enough for the GOP to capture a majority of the governorships, but well short of the 10-to-13 seat gains that the Republicans might feasibly have assembled. It would also be less dramatic than the party's takeover of the U.S. House and the scale of the shifts in the state legislatures.

Here's the rundown of late-breaking races:

In Vermont, a GOP-held seat, Republican Brian Dubie conceded to Democrat Peter Shumlin this morning after a narrow victory.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut (another GOP-held governorship), Democrat Dan Malloy surged ahead for the first time since the polls closed, on the strength of late-arriving ballots from the Democratic stronghold of Bridgeport. Currently, 84 percent of the vote is in and Malloy is ahead by almost 2,000 votes. Reportedly, other Democratic areas remain uncounted.

And in Minnesota, another governorship currently held by the GOP, Democrat Mark Dayton is hanging on to a 9,000-vote lead with 92 percent of the vote counted. A recount may loom.

The GOP can be happy about the outcomes in Maine and Florida, where opponents conceded to Republican candidates this morning. In Maine, Independent Eliot Cutler conceded to Paul LePage; in Florida, Democrat Alex Sink conceded to Rick Scott.

The Florida governorship had been held by a Republican-turned-Independent, Charlie Crist. By the numbers, the GOP essentially traded Florida's Independent governorship with Rhode Island, which went from GOP control to Independent on Election Night.

In Illinois, incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn remained 8,000 votes up with 93 percent counted.

And in Oregon, the race is too close to call. Republican Chris Dudley is up by about 17,000 votes, but significant portions of the vote in Democratic-leaning Multnomah County remain out, giving Democrat John Kitzhaber hope of keeping the seat in Democratic hands.

Going into Election Day, the Democrats controlled 26 governorships, compared to 23 for the GOP and one Independent.

If the Republicans were to run the table on the remaining contests, they would end up with a net 10-seat gain. But if the Democrats were to run the table, they would hold the GOP to five seats. A half-dozen seat gain for the GOP looks likely at this point.

If that scenario plays out, then the 2010 gubernatorial cycle may end up being an anti-incumbent cycle as much as an anti-Democratic cycle. We could easily see the party in power being booted out of office in 18 seats out of 37 contested -- almost half.

That would make this cycle similar to 2002, when voters in slightly more than half of the 37 states with gubernatorial elections threw out the party in power. The anti-incumbent sentiment was widely linked to budget difficulties in many states -- a condition that exists today as well.

It's not too surprising, perhaps, to see such a sentiment in 2010 as well, since this year is the eight-year echo of 2002. Many governors elected in 2002 saw better fiscal times during the rest of the decade and served out two full terms, even in otherwise hostile territory for their party.

These newly open seats form a core of the states that flipped parties this year. They include such GOP states reverting to form as Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming, and such ordinarily Democratic states reverting to form as Hawaii and Vermont.


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