Races to Watch

As Josh says, we'll be blogging and offering election coverage well into the night tomorrow. If you want to know whether Democrats are really going ...
by | November 6, 2006

Election2006_1 As Josh says, we'll be blogging and offering election coverage well into the night tomorrow. If you want to know whether Democrats are really going to enjoy a historic sweep, of whether Republicans can stem the tide, what are some of the races to watch?

Here I'm thinking about state races. You can look elsewhere for congressional coverage. But as polls start to close, some trends may reveal themselves early.

The key race in the Eastern time zone, or mainly in that time zone, will be Florida. State Attorney General Charlie Crist's 15-point lead has all but evaporated as U.S. Rep. Jim Davis finally spent his more limited set of funds on advertising. Crist is refusing to appear with President Bush at a Florida political event today, which tells you much of what you need to know about this cycle.

Democrats are hoping for great things in the Northeast. Eliot Spitzer will become the first Democrat governor of New York in 12 years. Deval Patrick looks certain to end an even longer dry spell for his party in Massachusetts. But Democrats should still be nervous about John Baldacci in Maine, where the economy has struggled and there's a tax limitation amendment on the ballot.

The big question mark for both parties is Maryland. Four years ago, Bob Ehrlich became the first Republican governor of the otherwise Democratic state since 1966. He should be in trouble in a Democratic year, but to a large extent he has successfully turned the election into a referendum on Baltimore, which has continued to struggle under Mayor Martin O'Malley's leadership.

The Midwest looked at the start of the year like fertile ground for Republican pickups. Michigan's Jennifer Granholm was left vulnerable by the continuing collapse of the automobile industry, while Wisconsin's Jim Doyle had vetoed several popular pieces of legislation sent him by the GOP-controlled legislature. In closely-divided Iowa, Tom Vilsack was the only Democratic governor in the country to step down this year.

But Granholm has simply out-campaigned her freespending opponent, Dick Devos. Doyle appears to be holding on as well, while Chet Culver of Iowa at this point has a slight but remarkably steady lead over Republican Jim Nussle, who has the bad fortune of running as a U.S. House committee chairman in the wrong year.

If Democrats are doing well in all these races, they will end the night with a majority of governorships for the first time since 1994. If they slip, Republicans will be having a better night than anyone is predicting and you can believe all the recent talk about GOP superiority in turnout operations and other structural advantages.

Democrats can count on winning the Ohio governorship, based on the state of that state's economy -- and, of course, the myriad GOP scandals in Columbus. There's some buzz that Democrats might take the Senate, too -- another good indicator of what kind of night the party will be having overall.

The remaining question mark in the Midwest is whether Tim Pawlenty can survive. Pawlenty has complained all year about how tough it is to run as a Republican this cycle, but Democratic Attorney General Mike Hatch has never put this one away. Democrats could win the state House to match their state Senate majority.

By the time all these races are called, it will be clear either that Democrats are free to douse each other with champagne, or that the donkeys have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

If they're on a streak, stay up to find out who wins the surprisingly close race in Idaho. Most of us will wait until Wednesday morning to find out if former Democratic Governor Tony Knowles has successfully staged a comeback in Alaska.