Five Key Governor's Races for Congressional Redistricting

Out of one decision, we get two great elections. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist opted to run for U.S. Senate just a few days ago ...
by | May 14, 2009

Out of one decision, we get two great elections. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist opted to run for U.S. Senate just a few days ago and already his primary with Marco Rubio is turning into a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. The decision sets up a splendid race for the governorship Crist left behind.

Besides being wide open, the 2010 Florida governor's race now should draw disproportionate national interest. Why? For the same reason that any state election typically draws national interest: redistricting.

In every populous state, Washington will closely watch the 2010 elections because of their significance for congressional redistricting. In only a few, however, will the attention be squarely on the race for governor. In Texas, for example, the governor's race is important, but most of the attention will be on the state House of Representatives, where Republicans are clinging to a 76-74 advantage.

In contrast, in the Sunshine State Republicans have lopsided edges in both houses of the legislature, making the governor's race the only realistic chance that Democrats have to influence the redistricting process. Here's my list of the five governor's races that will affect congressional redistricting the most, with Florida coming in at #2.

#1 California: In 2001, Democrats in California controlled redistricting, but chose to draw a map that mostly protected incumbents -- they doubted they could wring more seats out of the Golden State, without spreading the party's voters too thin. Coming off Barack Obama's 24-point romp in California, don't expect a repeat.

Democrats see as many as eight California Republican House members as vulnerable. If the Democrats can't win those seats in 2010, they're likely to try to win some of them by drawing a more aggressive map. They may also want to protect the party's most vulnerable incumbent in the state, James McNerney.

The state legislature is out of reach for the G.O.P., but the good news for Republicans is that they have a real shot at preserving some influence over redistricting by winning the governor's race. State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former eBay executive Meg Whitman both have tons of self-funding potential (former congressman Tom Campbell is also in the race). Democrats have three imperfect candidates in Attorney General (and former governor) Jerry Brown, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

#2 Florida: Control of redistricting in Florida is an even bigger prize than you might expect because of the large number of potentially vulnerable congressman in the state. Democrats have three junior incumbents in marginal districts in Suzanne Kosmas, Alan Grayson and Ron Klein. Republicans have to worry that the Democrats will make another run at their three Cuban-American congressmen in South Florida, as they did in 2008, or will target Vern Buchanan or Tom Rooney. With a retirement, either the seats of Republican Bill Young or Democrat Allen Boyd would be top targets for the opposing party.

The governor's race looks like an absolute toss up, with Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink the top candidate for the Democrats and Attorney General Bill McCollum the early frontrunner for Republicans.

#3 Illinois: Democrats have a safe hold on the Illinois legislature, but it's less clear whether the governorship is safe. Gov. Pat Quinn, who took over for Rod Blagojevich, plans to seek a full term. Republicans will have a couple of openings against Quinn, both because of his ties to Blagojevich and because of the large tax increase he's currently advocating. Quinn could also face intra-party opposition from Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

That said, Republicans lack a top-tier candidate. None of their mentioned contenders have won statewide in this Democratic-tilting state. If the Democrats do control redistricting, they'll be interested in further endangering Republicans Mark Kirk and Peter Roskam or perhaps strengthening their own vulnerable incumbents in the state, who include Debbie Halvorson, Bill Foster and Melissa Bean.

#4 Georgia: A decade is a long time in politics and the Georgia political scene is proof of that. In 2001, Democrats controlled Georgia state government, but today Republicans have the governorship and seemingly impenetrable edges in both houses of the legislature. With Gov. Sonny Perdue term-limited next year, however, Democrats have hopes for a comeback.

The Republican field for governor is truly wide open, especially since. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle pulled out, citing health problems. The Democrats' strongest candidate would probable be former governor Roy Barnes, who hasn't decided whether he's running. The party also has other candidates, including Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who aren't slouches either.

The importance: Two perennially targeted Democratic incumbents, Jim Marshall and John Barrow, could find themselves in even more difficult districts if Republicans have complete control of redistricting.

#5 Minnesota: The big question is whether Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will decide to seek a third term. Democrats have built sizable edges in both houses of the legislature over the last two election cycles, but Pawlenty, a Republican, has remained fairly popular.

While he gives Republicans their best shot, Pawlenty won't necessarily be safe if he runs. He barely squeaked out a victory in 2006. Pawlenty's big advantage right now is the Democratic field. A couple of state legislators have announced so far and a large crop of second-tier candidates are considering the race.

Control of redistricting in Minnesota is especially important because the state is expected to lose a district in reapportionment. Democrats would love to draw Michele Bachmann's district out of existence and may also target freshman Republican Erik Paulsen or choose to strengthen Democrat Tim Walz.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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