Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
I haven't updated my gubernatorial race ratings for 2009-2010 since December (see here and here). That was so long ago that Rod Blagojevich, Janet Napolitano and Kathleen Sebelius were all still governors. That was so long ago that we didn't even know that Charlie Crist was considering a bid for Senate, but we were pretty sure that Bill Richardson would be in President Obama's Cabinet. In fact, that was so long ago that one election didn't even exist yet. If Jon Huntsman does become ambassador to China, the Utah governorship will be up in a 2010 special election.
My point, of course, is that it's time for some new ratings. And, for these new ratings, I've come up with a new rating scheme. We're a little under 18 months form election day, so it's still too early to say that either party can safely count on victory in any governor's race. However, we're getting closer to that point, so I'm creating a new "very likely" category. Here are the categories and what they mean.
Very Likely: 90% chance of victory.
Likely: 80% chance of victory.
Leans: 70% chance of victory.
Slight Lean: 60% chance of victory.
Toss up: 50% chance of victory, obviously.
Here are ratings and analysis for the first dozen states -- I'll try to post more throughout the week.
Alabama - Leans Republican -- I would take the internal poll that shows Artur Davis as the favorite in the Democratic primary and general election with a spoonful of salt, except I try to watch my sodium intake. Still, Davis, an African-American congressman, has worked hard to position himself for this race. I wouldn't rule him out in this state that tilts Republican.
Alaska - Likely Republican -- Though Sarah Palin isn't quite as popular as she once was, she'd still be a heavy favorite if she seeks a second term. Increasingly, that's a big "if," though. I'm detecting more buzz that she might decide that one term is enough.
Arizona - Slight Lean Republican -- When Janet Napolitano left to head Homeland Security, Arizona Republicans finally had one of their own in charge. The first thing Jan Brewer did? Call for a tax increase. The move may jeopardize her reelection chances, although that will depend in large measure on whether she has a strong primary challenger.
Arkansas - Very Likely Democratic -- Mike Beebe is a popular governor and Arkansas is one of the nation's most Democratic states -- in everything except presidential elections.
California - Slight Lean Democratic -- After experimenting with a moderate Republican governor and generally not liking the result, Californians would seem ready to embrace a generic Democrat. The question, though, is whether any of the likely Democratic candidates are as popular as their party. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is a polarizing figure and Attorney General Jerry Brown is the opposite of a new face. Perhaps Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the answer?
Colorado - Leans Democratic -- As a moderate Democrat, Bill Ritter would seem to be a perfect fit for Colorado. But, the governor's approval ratings say otherwise and Republicans have a real candidate in former congressman Scott McInnis.
Connecticut - Likely Republican -- Republican Jodi Rell is one of the few governors in the country who, if polls are to be believed, hasn't really been hurt by the economic downturn. If she wants another term, she can probably have one in this Democratic state.
Florida - Toss Up -- Let's see: We have a swing state, an open seat and two statewide elected officials likely to face off (Attorney General Bill McCollum for the Republicans, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink for the Democrats). The only surprise will be if the election isn't close.
Georgia - Slight Lean Republican -- Perhaps by the next time I update the rankings we'll actually know who's running for governor of Georgia. The big question mark right now is former governor Roy Barnes, a Democrat. Georgia is still a place where the right Democrat can win.
Hawaii - Likely Democratic (an earlier version of this post mistakenly listed Hawaii as "Likely Republican") -- How strong of a candidate is Lieutenant Governor James Aiona, the likely Republican nominee? It's hard to say for sure because he's only been elected on a ticket with term-limited Gov. Linda Lingle. He'll have to be good to win in this very Democratic state.
Idaho - Likely Republican -- I'd love to see some polling on Butch Otter's approval rating after he feuded with fellow Republicans in the legislature over the gas tax in recent weeks (he wanted to raise it). Alas, polls of Idaho are pretty rare. I wouldn't be surprised if Otter faced serious intra-party competition next year and I also wouldn't be surprised if he decided not to seek reelection.
Illinois - Slight Lean Democratic -- The good news for Gov. Pat Quinn is that Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a fellow Democrat, is sounding less likely to run for governor. Democrats might be worse off with Quinn, however, one more governor who has been forced to push tax increases to try to balance the state budget.
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