Rating the Governor's Races, Alabama-Minnesota

For Republicans still smarting from November's elections, I've got some good news: My projections indicate that after the 2010 elections the G.O.P ...
by | December 22, 2008

For Republicans still smarting from November's elections, I've got some good news: My projections indicate that after the 2010 elections the G.O.P will control 23.85 of the nation's governorships, up from 22 today.

When Jay Nixon is sworn in as Missouri governor on January 12, Democrats will be up to 29 governorships. If Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano is confirmed as Secretary of Homeland Security, Republican Jan Brewer takes over, dropping Democrats down to 28. And, by my estimate, Republicans will gain 1.85 over the next two years.

I've come to that conclusion by rating each of the 38 governor's races to be contested in 2009 and 2010 as Likely Democratic, Leans Democratic, Toss Up, Leans Republican or Likely Republican. I'm not rating any of the races as safe because, almost two years before the 2010 elections, no one is completely safe.

I've assigned rather arbitrary percentages to the different ratings. If a race is Likely, the favored party has an 80% chance of winning. If it's Leans, the party has a 65% chance of winning. Toss Up means it a 50-50 race. So, using that system, I have Republicans getting up to 23.85 governorships.

What does .85 of a governor look like? I have no idea.

Below are my ratings, and a sentence or two of analysis, for every governor's race from Alabama to Minnesota, going alphabetically. Tomorrow, I'll do the rest.

Alabama - Leans Republican -- Both parties have solid benches, with plenty of current or former statewide elected officials (and other strong aspirants) considering the contest, but the recent Republican successes in Alabama give the G.O.P. an initial advantage.

Alaska - Likely Republican -- Gov. Sarah Palin's popularity in Alaska fell from stratospheric to merely quite high as the presidential campaign unfolded, but she's still a heavy favorite for reelection.

Arizona - Toss up -- The Republicans will soon have an incumbent governor in Jan Brewer, but don't expect her honeymoon to last long. There's talk that other Republicans, such as state Treasurer Dean Martin or U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters could challenge the new incumbent in a primary. Plus, Democrats have a strong candidate in Attorney General Terry Goddard who is almost certain to be their nominee.

Arkansas - Likely Democratic -- Mike Beebe is probably the most popular Democratic governor in the country (or second to New Hampshire's John Lynch), so he should breeze to reelection.

California - Toss Up -- Outgoing Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger is unpopular, so this Democratic state ought to lean toward the Democrats. But, the Democratic contenders -- Jerry Brown, Antonio Villaraigosa and Gavin Newsom to name three -- all seem flawed in one way or another. That will give the Republican nominee, whether it's Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner or former E-Bay executive Meg Whitman, a good chance.

Colorado - Likely Democratic -- Gov. Bill Ritter is fairly popular, he'll have the advantage of incumbency and Republicans suddenly a have short bench in the state after a series of setbacks. The G.O.P. may focus more on the U.S. Senate race.

Connecticut - Leans Republican -- This rating is a bit of a hedge. Jodi Rell won reelection easily in 2006 and, while she might not be quite as popular as she was then, she'd be a heavy favorite for reelection again in 2010. However, she's talked a bit about calling it quits. If she does, this race instantly leans toward the Democrats.

Florida - Likely Republican -- Gov. Charlie Crist is truly a Teflon politician, with the state's major economic problems hardly putting a dent in his approval ratings. Ambitious Democrats will have more interest in the U.S. Senate race.

Georgia - Leans Republican -- Barack Obama's respectable showing in the state not withstanding, Georgia has really trended Republican the last few years. For that reason, the G.O.P. starts with an edge in this wide-open race.

Hawaii - Leans Democratic -- With Gov. Linda Lingle retiring, Republicans seem likely to turn to Lt. Gov. James Aiona Jr., who has never been elected statewide except on a ticket with Lingle. Democrats have a bunch of potentially strong candidates in this very Democratic state.

Idaho - Likely Republican -- Gov. Butch Otter is a tad quirky, but Idaho voters seem to like him. Given the state's Republican bent, he should have little trouble winning a second term.

Illinois - Leans Democratic -- To be sure, the Blagojevich scandal has handed Illinois' beleaguered G.O.P. an opportunity, but the mentioned Republican nominees (including outgoing U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Steve Preston and state Chamber of Commerce President Doug Whitley) are unproven candidates. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is likely to be an incumbent seeking reelection by 2010, although he's still pretty likely to have competition from within his own party.

Iowa - Likely Democratic -- Chet Culver is reasonably popular and that's almost always enough for an incumbent governor to win reelection. Republicans are hoping state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey will run.

Kansas - Leans Republican -- Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is term-limited, making this a difficult hold for Democrats. If Sen. Sam Brownback runs, Republicans will have a clear advantage. Lt. Gov. Mike Parkinson, a former Republican, appears to be the most likely Democratic nominee.

Maine - Leans Democratic -- Gov. John Baldacci is term-limited, which actually may be good news for Democrats because Baldacci's numbers have really suffered. Without Baldacci, the Democratic nature of the state gives the party a small starting edge.  Outgoing state Attorney General Steven Rowe is one possibility for the Democrats.

Maryland - Leans Democratic -- Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley isn't especially popular, thanks to a rocky first couple of years. Still, it's not clear who could beat him other than perhaps Bob Ehrlich, the man O'Malley replaced as governor.

Massachusetts - Likely Democratic -- Deval Patrick is fortunate to be the Democratic governor of Massachusetts because in a less hospitable state his troubles working with the legislature might have been more costly. As it stands, Republicans have no proven vote-getter to challenge him.

Michigan - Toss Up -- Michigan is becoming more Democratic, but the Republicans have the deeper field, highlighted by Attorney General Mike Cox and Congresswoman Candace Miller, who served two terms as Michigan's secretary of state. With term-limited Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm unpopular, the question is whether Lt. Gov. John Cherry, the most likely Democratic nominee, can separate himself from the Granholm administration.

Minnesota - Leans Republican -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty is a rising star in the Republican Party, despite never even mustering 47% in his two runs for governor. He's pretty well entrenched now and probably would me a strong favorite for a third term, but it's not certain he'll run again.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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