While competition and turnover have just about disappeared at the state legislative level, they remain a fact of life for governors. Over the past three years, 30 states have elected new governors, and all but four represented a switch in party control. This year, there are only 11 contests for governor around the country, but term limits, retirement and the defeat of one incumbent for renomination (Missouri's Bob Holden) guarantee at least five new faces in 2005. Several states seem especially ripe for partisan change.
In Missouri, Democrats are struggling to maintain their control following Holden's primary loss to state Auditor Claire McCaskill, who now will defend the seat against Republican Matt Blunt, Missouri's 33- year-old secretary of state. The GOP quickly closed ranks behind the relatively inexperienced Blunt, whose father is the third-ranking U.S. House Republican, but may have trouble getting him elected. McCaskill doesn't carry the same negatives Holden did and, like Blunt, promises not to raise taxes. "It's a tougher race for Matt Blunt than he had expected," says David Webber, a University of Missouri political scientist. "He preferred that Holden win the primary, but Republican legislators beat up Holden so bad that he didn't survive the primary and now they've got a tougher fight."
In Montana, Democrat Brian Schweitzer, who nearly won a U.S. Senate seat in 2002, has been running for governor ever since, watching while Republicans fought a contentious primary to succeed the unpopular Republican incumbent, Judy Martz. Aside from his head start, Schweitzer is a more natural politician than GOP nominee Bob Brown, and Republicans have not been able to win more than 52 percent of the gubernatorial vote in an open race in Montana since 1960. Schweitzer's fundraising advantage, relative polish and savvy give Democrats a real shot.
Republicans stand a good chance for a pickup in Indiana, where Mitch Daniels, President Bush's former budget director, has made all the right moves in his well-funded challenge. The loss of manufacturing jobs and a pair of mini-scandals surrounding the DMV and state pensions have helped Daniels' claim that it's time for a change after 16 years of Democratic statehouse rule. The current governor, Joe Kernan, assumed office last year following the death of his predecessor, and overcame his own initial reluctance to run for a full term. Kernan remains personally popular and could benefit from an uptick in the state's economy, but Indiana will certainly vote for Bush and may promote his former aide Daniels to power in Indianapolis as well.
Democrats could also be in trouble in Washington State, where Gary Locke, the two-term Democratic governor, is stepping down. Republicans have had difficulty in Washington recently because they nominated candidates perceived as far to the right of the state's electorate. They avoided that error this time, picking Dino Rossi, a more moderate former state senator, although Democrats are trying to paint him as yet another "archconservative." Rossi may face an uphill battle regardless. Christine Gregoire, the state attorney general, has raised a lot of money, in part through the help of national women's groups and organizations that give her a lot of credit for her leading role in the nationwide legal settlement with tobacco companies.