2014 Governors Races: The Year of the Tossup

Unlike four years ago, incumbent governors are most vulnerable this election cycle. We've rated every race.
by | October 21, 2014

As Election 2014 goes down to the wire, the nation's 36 gubernatorial races include a remarkable number of close races.

Half the seats at stake -- 18 -- are considered competitive, not counting one Republican-held seat that is considered likely Democratic.

These races include 10 tossups. That's an increase of two competitive seats and one tossup race since Governing last surveyed the gubernatorial landscape in mid-September.

It's also on par with the 18 seats rated competitive on the eve of the election four years ago -- an election when there were many more open gubernatorial seats. This year, by contrast, it's incumbents who tend to be vulnerable -- eight Republicans and five Democrats in all.

Overall, the distribution of competitive seats remains pretty even -- 10 are held by the Democrats and nine are held by the Republicans. But among tossup seats, the GOP needs to defend more. The GOP holds seven tossup seats, compared to just four by the Democrats.

Since the last handicapping a few weeks ago, 12 races have moved in one direction or the other.

Seven races have moved in the GOP's direction -- Arkansas, Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon and South Carolina. Five seats have moved toward the Democrats -- Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois and Minnesota.

Currently, the Republicans hold the lead in governorships: 29 seats to the Democrats' 21. But there are so many tossup races that predicting the net change in governorships after Election Day is tough.

A near-perfect run for the Republicans would net the party four seats, giving them control of 33 seats. A similar run for the Democrats would net 8 seats, giving the party 29.

More likely, it seems for now, is the lack of a strong partisan move in either direction. That could end up boosting the number of Democratic governorships by three or four -- leaving the party right around parity with the GOP. That middle course is in line with previous estimates.

Ratings are based on interviews with political observers and a review of recent polling data. In addition to rating each race as safe Republican, likely Republican, lean Republican, tossup, lean Democratic, likely Democratic or safe Democratic. In general, the higher a state is on the list, the more likely a gubernatorial seat is to be won by the Republicans. The lower it is on the list, the more likely it is to be won by the Democrats. For a map of the ratings plus a rundown of every 2014 gubernatorial candidate,  click here.

Safe Republican

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R)

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R)

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) 

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R)

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) 

Texas: Open seat; held by Gov. Rick Perry (R) 

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R)

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R)

The Oct. 20 indictment of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, the architect of the GOP takeover of the Legislature, throws a wild card into the race, but it's not yet clear that it will hamper Bentley's re-election chances in this solidly red state.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R)

Likely Republican

Nebraska: Open seat; held by Gov. Dave Heineman (R)

The GOP base has solidified; Republican Pete Ricketts has opened up a 20-point lead over Democrat Chuck Hassebrook.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R)

Martinez looks as strong as ever to win a second term in this Democratic-leaning state.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R). Shift from lean Republican

Highly touted Democratic challenger Vincent Sheheen has struggled to break one-third of the vote in recent polls.

Lean Republican

Arkansas: Open seat; held by Gov. Mike Beebe (D). Shift from tossup

This race between Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson remains close, but Ross has only led in one poll since April. Hutchinson has the clear edge in this GOP-trending state. (Read more on this race here.)

Arizona: Open seat, held by Gov. Jan Brewer (R). Shift from tossup

Republican state Treasurer Doug Ducey has opened up a lead over Democratic former Arizona Board of Regents President Fred DuVal. While polling is sufficiently sparse to suggest some uncertainty about the size of Ducey's edge, the state's GOP lean, especially in a midterm election, prompts us to move this contest to lean Republican.

Tossup

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R)

Snyder is in better shape than other Republican gubernatorial incumbents in purple states, but not by much. Democratic former Rep. Mark Schauer remains competitive. (Read more on this race here.)

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R). Shift from lean Republican

In one of the most surprising gubernatorial contests of 2014, Deal, a Republican in a strongly Republican state, has only managed to tie Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, in three recent polls. (Libertarian Andrew Hunt is also drawing a few percentage points.) The continuing strong prospects of Democrat Michelle Nunn in the Senate race is only helping the Democrats' cause, though if Carter fails to reach 50 percent, he'll have to survive a runoff without Hunt.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R). Shift from likely Republican

Parnell has lost his status as the favorite for re-election since the emergence of an unusual fusion ticket between Republican-turned-Independent Bill Walker, the former mayor of Valdez, and Democrat Byron Mallott, the former mayor of Juneau. Though polling in Alaska should be taken with a grain of salt, Walker has led in five of six polls since mid-September. Despite Alaska's solid Republican leanings, this race is up for grabs.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R)

The re-election bid of the polarizing Walker will rely heavily on base turnout. The race remains a high-stakes barnburner. (Read more on this race here.)

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R)

Brownback has gained back a little bit of ground against Democrat Paul Davis, but the backlash against the incumbent's strongly conservative tenure is not going away. His chances of winning another term are no better than even. (Read more on this race here.)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D)

Colorado voters appear restless, not just with Hickenlooper but with the once-solid Democratic U.S. Senate incumbent Mark Udall. If Hickenlooper wins a second term, it won't be by much. (Read more on this race here.)

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) 

Recent polling has been all over the map, but Malloy remains endangered, as he has been all cycle. His hope for re-election is that Democrats in this generally blue state come home. (Read more on this race here.)

Massachusetts: Open seat; held by Gov. Deval Patrick (D). Shift from lean Democratic

Attorney General Martha Coakley is engaged in a tougher-than-expected battle against Charlie Baker, the pragmatic 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee. As in Connecticut, she's hoping for the state's blue lean to carry her over the finish line, but it's no slam dunk. (Read more on this race here.)

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D). Shift from lean Republican

Quinn remains vulnerable, as he has been for the entire 2014 cycle, but he's recently gained ground against deep-pocketed Republican challenger Bruce Rauner - enough to convince us to shift the race from lean Republican to tossup.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R)

"Fan-gate" - Scott's late appearance at an October debate to protest Democratic challenger Charlie Crist's use of a small fan at the podium - wasn't a good development for the incumbent, but he was already seeing some erosion of support before prior to that. This has been one of the nation's most nip-and-tuck gubernatorial contests this year, and it remains so, with a very slight edge for Crist, at least for now.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R)

The three-way contest between the outspokenly conservative incumbent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, and Independent Eliot Cutler continues to be a fluid affair, but Michaud maintains a slight edge. (Read more on this race here.)

Lean Democratic

Rhode Island: Open seat, held by Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D)

State Treasurer Gina Raimondo isn't running away with the race in this solidly blue state -- Cranston Mayor Alan Fung, a Republican remains competitive - but Raimondo's lead is consistent, if modest.

Hawaii: open seat, Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) defeated in primary. Shift from tossup

After a topsy-turvy cycle, Hawaii's gubernatorial race has finally settled down somewhat. Democratic state Sen. David Ige -- who ousted the incumbent Abercrombie -- has opened up a small but consistent lead against former Republican lieutenant governor James "Duke" Aiona and, running as an Independent, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanemann.

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D). Shift from likely Democratic

This race has tightened as Election Day nears, but Hassan still has an edge.

Maryland: Open seat; held by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). Shift from safe Democratic

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown is in a tougher-than-expected contest against Republican Larry Hogan. Hogan still has an uphill climb in this solidly blue state, but the fact that he's even somewhat competitive is a surprise.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D). Shift from likely Democratic

Kitzhaber was already grappling with a deeply troubled health-insurance marketplace assembled on his watch when he was hit by surprise revelations about his fiancee's past. This has given state Rep. Dennis Richardson an opening, but it's a narrow one given Oregon's blue leanings.

Likely Democratic

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D). Shift from lean Democratic

Dayton continues to look more secure in a state that doesn't seem to be affected by Republican headwinds.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R)

Some recent polls have shown Corbett pulling within single digits, but after months of trailing Democrat Tom Wolf by massive margins, it's a little late for a comeback.

Safe Democratic

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) (Read more on this race here.)

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D)

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D)