Politics

An Early Look at the Governors

A sneak peek at the 2011 and 2012 gubernatorial campaign landscape.
by | January 2011

Over the next two years, 14 states are expected to hold gubernatorial elections. The “expected to” is necessary because the timing of a gubernatorial contest for former West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin’s replacement is up in the air. Manchin vacated his seat to make a successful run for the U.S. Senate.

West Virginia aside, three contests will be held in 2011 -- in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi -- with 10 more held during the 2012 presidential election year. For the 2011 and 2012 cycles, interviews with a range of state and national analysts suggest that nine races will be in play during the two-year period, with an “in play” race being defined as a tossup or a seat leaning to one party. All of these nine seats are currently held by the Democrats. The five Republican seats up in 2011 and 2012 are not considered in play at this point.

If early analysis is accurate, the Republican party can expect to pick up three seats. That would push the GOP control from 30 Republican governors, 19 Democratic governors and one independent to 33 Republicans, 16 Democrats and one independent.

With extra luck for the GOP, the Republicans could end up with a net gain of six seats; with better luck for the Democrats, the GOP gains could be held to a seat or two.

Inevitably, current perceptions are shaped by the recent midterm elections in which the Republicans rode a national wave. The ratings could well shift in the Democrats’ direction in the coming months if President Barack Obama’s re-election bid improves the Democratic electoral outlook for 2012.

States such as Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota and Utah -- staunchly Republican in most elections these days -- have governorships solidly in the GOP camp. Indiana, which voted for Obama in 2008 but returned to its Republican roots in several key races in 2010, also appears to be leaning strongly to the GOP.

A few solidly Democratic states, such as Delaware and Vermont, are leaning in the Democrats’ direction.

The 2011 and 2012 election cycles could well be shaped by the outcome of five races in which the governorship is currently Democratic, but the state has recently voted for Republicans in federal elections. These five states are North Carolina, Montana, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri.

Democrats will also be tested in two other states. In Washington state, which has generally leaned Democratic, the Republicans have a potentially strong candidate in Attorney General Rob McKenna. In New Hampshire, meanwhile, Democratic Gov. John Lynch was re-elected in a very rough climate in 2010 and now faces new GOP majorities in the state House and Senate.

To learn more about these races and find out how Governing is rating these 14 gubernatorial contests, visit www.governing.com/blogs/politics/governors-ratings.

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