A great majority of states choose to have their governors elected in the Presidential midterm. This year there are 37 gubernatorial elections, which is apparently a record. Not that anyone planned it, but this year's intersection of large numbers of statehouse elections, the parlous state of many of the Midwestern and Southwestern state economies, and the upcoming political battles for Congressional redistricting coming out of the 2010 Census (see preview, Pt. 4),* makes this not such good timing for the Democrats, and this category will be an area of meaningful defeats for them this year. However, as we will see, there is also the possibility of some real bright spots, too.
(likely change in number of Congressional districts in parentheses):
Florida (+2) Apart from Congressional re-districting, control of the statehouse can have a determinative effect, if only on the margin, in the Big Ticket itself, the Presidential contest for electoral votes. Just remember Jeb Bush in Florida in 2000--a Democratic governor in Florida then might well have allowed Al Gore to win the national election. Florida looks, once again, to be a critical swing state in 2012, but now with two more electoral votes.
The contest for control of Tallahassee has got to be the most important governor's race this year in all regards. There's the redistricting, the implications for 2012, but also there's a very close and very hot race. If she wins, Democratic nominee Alex Sink will be one of the brightest new lights in what could be a very dark evening. Her opponent, Rick Scott, is one of the most odious major candidates in a year filled with them: another of these super-rich, self-financed vampires, Scott made his bucks with his scumsucking Columbia/HCA company, which he split just before the company took a billion-plus dollar hit on fines for fraudulent medical insurance practices.
Sink currently has a small lead and apparently did well in a major televised debate last night. The money involved in this campaign is unreal, so don't get involved unless you're megabuckistically endowed, but if you've got a valid Florida voter registration, please show up for Sink!
Ohio (-2) When you're talking swing state, Ohio must come up. And please note, loss of Congressional seats is just as important for redistricting concerns as additional seats. Incumbent Democratic Governor Ted Strickland used to be very popular; with the economy and the state's budget problems, today that's true not so much. His opponent, former Rep. John Kasich, is smart, ambitious, and both fairly hard-right and a Bushite. In other words, the passing electoral fad. All I can say is, Ohioans, if you elect Kasich you'll be sorry, and you'll make us feel that way, too--once again. Strickland was pretty far behind, but has apparently closed the gap. There are several House races down-ticket who are hoping Strickland's resurgence will continue.
Texas (+4) Re-districting is a big war in which Texans engage, with gusto, every ten years,** and this time around should be no exception. 10-year incumbent Rick Perry is leading the charge for the forces of reaction (to what, you have to wonder) once again. The good news is that the Democrats have a real opponent for Perry in Mayor Bill White of Houston; he's run a great race against the odds and will at least keep it close. I see Perry winning one last time, and White perhaps getting another shot and winning in four years. Despite the perceived huge advantage of Republicans in the state, the legislature is very closely balanced (a lot of Blue Dogs), so the contest over the four additional seats will not actually be one-sided.
Illinois (-1) This normally reliable blue state has been put into political play this year by the excesses of disgraced ex-Gov. Blagojevich. Both the Senate and Governor's races have been tough ones for the Democratic candidates. Democrat Pat Quinn (promoted from Lt. Gov. on Blago's resignation) is nominally the incumbent but has none of the normal advantages; he trailed but has closed the gap.
Pennsylvania (-1) According to Nate Silver and 538.com, this is pretty much a safe takeover for Republican Tom Corbett--apparently, the Democratic candidate Dan Onorato had low statewide name recognition and has not broken through that barrier. Still, with the close race in the Senate (Sestak vs. Toomey) and the many close House races in the state, closing the gap in the top-of-ticket race will be very important strategically for the Democrats.
Georgia, South Carolina (each + 1) These are major uphill battles for the Democrats, with party registration working against them big-time. To their credit, the Democrats have nominated good candidates in each state, while South Carolina's Tea Party fave Niki Haley has run into problems with alleged extramarital affairs (not permitted in S.C., especially after the debacle with their current Gov. Sanford). Still, look for Republicans to get narrow wins and use legislative majorities to grab tightly onto the states' new seats.
Massachusetts (-1) Democratic control of the state was challenged in the Scott Brown Senate by-election. Gov. Deval Patrick was a big favorite to hold the job for the Dems, due to an independent candidacy splitting Republican leaners, but then that candidate (Tim Cahill) pulled out, and the race has closed--Patrick still favored.
States of Anger
These states are all trending heavily Republican this year:
Michigan (-1)This state is looking disastrous for Democrats, with incumbent Gov. Granholm term limited and unable to run again. Not only are they way behind this year, unless there's a sharp turnaround, the chances the Democrats can hold this state in 2012's Presidential election look grim. The good news is that the combination of plentiful fresh water, a favorable climate, and ample vacant real estate make Detroit a likely winner if/when global warming hits.
Arizona (+1) Janet Napolitano's going to the Department of Homeland Security keeps having negative repercussions for Democrats. Republican Lt. Gov. Jan Brewer ascended to the governor's office, where she was pretty much a non-entity until she endorsed the anti-immigrant bill; now she is cruising to election and carrying other Republicans with her (lots of close House races may be going against incumbent Democrats). The clear lesson of this is not to bring Democratic governors into the Cabinet if the Lt. Gov. is from the other side.
Nevada (+1) Given how unpopular Sen. Harry Reid has become in Nevada, and how bad the economy, it probably wasn't such a good idea for the Democrats to nominate his son for governor.
Utah (+1) I'm not sure what Utahans have to be angry about, but I'm sure they are (note the Republican primary voters knocking out incumbent Sen. Bennett for a Teabagger because Bennett was insufficiently a right-winger). At least the Democrats nominated someone.
States Somewhat Outlying
New York (-2) The antics of Carl Paladino have gotten all the attention, but Paladino is an also-ran candidate who never had more than a ghost of a chance, and that has disappeared. It will be good to get a Cuomo back as governor after Pataki and the Spitzer/Patterson debacle. Not that Albany--the state legislature--will be moved by any change in the occupant of the governor's office.
Arkansas (0) This is actually a red state with a Democratic incumbent who's winning big. At the same time, in the state's Senate race, Blanche Lincoln is heading for the biggest wipeout loss of any Democratic incumbent. I can only conclude Gov. Beebe must be doing something right--perhaps carrying firearms in public?
Iowa (-1) This is a race where the Democratic incumbent is losing big. What's unusual is that the person who's beating him is Terry Branstad, who was previously a four-term governor. So much for getting rid of the career politicians.
California (0) It seems amazing that, having so many Congressional districts (47), California is neither projected to gain or lose a seat, but that's the initial indication. Our most populous state is an outlier because it appears now that it may be a Democratic pickup--there are not going to be many (but see below for a couple other possibilities).
I was not expecting former Gov. Jerry Brown to win this race against multi-millionaire Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, but Brown has outperformed expectations even more times than he has been counted out, and he seems to be doing it again. Brown had about caught Whitman (despite the faux pas of calling Whitman a "whore" when he meant a "sell-out"), when the scandal hit Whitman. She has been a frequent denouncer of illegal immigration and policies that encourage it, but then it emerged that she had (probably knowingly) employed an illegal as a live-in housekeeper. Brown has now pulled noticeably ahead--though the Times' official rating is "toss-up", their blogger Nate Silver has Brown with a 82% probability of winning.
Worth Noting, Briefly
None of these states have changes projected for their Congressional delegations, but as blue (or blu-ish) states with close governor's races, they illustrate both the difficulties of Democrats this year and the variances between the national and local party orientations. The Times has an incredible 13 state governors' races officially still rated as tossups; Silver and 538.com are much more ready to push the balance toward one side or theother, but these are among the closest races in his ratings. (Silver's % probability of Democratic win in parentheses below)
Oregon (67%) Republican Chris Dudley is tall (6'-11"), handsome, a Yale graduate and former NBA player. He had a lead early on, but his positions are a little too plain-vanilla right-wing Republican for Oregon. And, as for basketball, I challenge him to a free-throw shooting contest, anywhere, anytime!
Vermont (54%) According to Silver, this is the closest to a 50-50 race of all the governors' races. Given the easy win here for Obama and being the state of former Gov. Howard Dean, one might be surprised to know that Vermont has had a Republican governor the last eight years (Vermont has elections every two years, so that's four elections retiring Gov. Douglas won).
Rhode Island (56%) Little Rhody's governor has been a Republican for 16 years! This year, though, the race's leader is a Democrat, closely followed by Lincoln Chaffee, a moderate who's left the Republican party and is running as an independent--the Republican candidate is running a distant third.
Colorado (81%) - Like Rhode Island, the Republican nominee has been displaced in the contest, but in this case it is right-wing extremist Tom Tancredo (you may remember his extremist unsuccessful run in the Republican primaries in 2008) who has marginalized a mainstream candidate (who had little name recognition). Denver Mayor Tom Hickenlooper, the Democratic nominee, had a large lead but Tancredo has closed and could pull off a huge state-depressing upset (he would do some borderline racist act like Ariz. Gov. Brewer did to make the state a pariah). There are some closely contested Colorado House races that may depend partially on Hickenlooper's success in holding onto this governorship.
Maryland (81%) This is a rematch of four years ago, when Democrat Martin O'Malley challenged the Republican incumbent, Robert Ehrlich. The race was extremely close, but in recent weeks O'Malley has pulled a few points ahead. Maryland, of course, is one of the most reliably Democratic states in national elections.
Maine (28%) This is a very confusing race, with four candidates drawing significant support. Both the Democratic and Republican candidates' projected vote percentages have been dropping in recent weeks and the percentage undecided increasing. The Republican candidate, the slight leader, has a fairly standard-issue right-wing Republican platform. This race may be a preview of the chaos quite likely to ensue in the next two election cycles if the two moderate Republican women Senators decide to run: they are likely to be challenged from the right and the left.
New Mexico (8%) And, finally, we get to my home state's race. Compared to some of the states above, its significance is hardly cosmic--no Senate race, no Congressional redistricting likely, all the House races settling into clearly likely outcomes (one very red seat to be lost), but there are a few important points to note.
First, along the lines of Arizona's race (see above), there are unintended consequences arising from President Obama's Cabinet decisions. When Gov. Bill Richardson's nomination for Commerce Secretary was scuttled in the midst of an investigation of a possible pay-for-play violation in his New Mexico administration (no one was charged, though the result was a less-than-total vindication), it meant that Lt. Gov. Diane Denish's ascension to the top job was cancelled. This has certainly made her campaign to win the office more difficult, as has Richardson's declining level of support and a general feeling of disappointment in the accomplishments of his eight-year tenure.
Second, kudos to the Republicans for coming up with a viable Hispanic woman candidate, District Attorney Susana Martinez, to run against Denish, thus cutting deeply into Denish's two most promising sources of majority support (women and Hispanics, the latter being some 40% of voters, by far the highest Hispanic percentage of any state). Martinez' candidacy has created a serious schism in the local Hispanic community, and we are seeing who is motivated by progressive issues or party loyalty (for example, our Hispanic Representative, Ben Ray Lujan, who is winning in a virtual walkover), who by familial and client relationships, and who by identity politics.
Denish is a good person, but has zero charisma and has found that the Lieutenant Governor position, second fiddle to a high-profile governor, is not such a good springboard to the governor's job, after all.
Martinez has a basic right-wing Republican agenda, and the only charge that has really stuck to her is that she is a transplanted Texan (ineffective down South but potent up here) and a tool of big-money Texan interests who have given heavily to her campaign. She is officially endorsed by Tea Party arbitress Sarah Palin, but has moved fairly successfully toward the middle in the general election campaign, among other things backing away from her primary-race support for education vouchers.
Denish led early, but Martinez caught her in mid-summer, and has moved to a ten-point lead. Martinez will win big in the South, may be edged in the Albuquerque area, and her expected loss margin in this district may be reduced by low turnout. A typical 2010 result.
Finally, for completeness sake, I list these states with projected changes in number of Congressional districts which do not have governor's races this year: Washington (+1), Louisiana (-1), Missouri (-1), and New Jersey (-1).
*For all references to projected changes in number of Congressional districts for states coming out of the 2010 Census, my source is an analysis by ESRI, a government contractor expert on geographical distributions of population, as reported in USA Today a few weeks ago. These are based on preliminary population estimates; the official Census reports and the resulting Congressional district numbers are expected in December.
**In the latter stages of the 2000 edition of these wars, several Texas Democratic legislators hid out here in New Mexico for months to deny their legislature a quorum, in an unusual approach to filibuster last decade's unjust redistricting scheme. I kid you not.