Having looked at the overall landscape of House and Senate elections recently, it’s probably time for another overview of gubernatorial contests, which will have a bearing not only on state policies but on the upcoming decennial round of redistricting.
There are 37 governorships up for grabs in November, including 19 held by Democrats and 18 by Republicans, which closely reflects the narrow 26-24 Democratic advantage in gubernatorial offices overall. How many of these races are competitive? Well, according to the (subscription-only) Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy, 18 of them, or nearly half, are toss-ups, including eight now held by Democrats and ten by Republicans. Add in eight more that are rated as leaning in one direction or another, and that makes an amazing 26 competitive gubernatorial races, and a range of possible outcomes that’s all over the lot, and won’t necessarily reflect the congressional results. For one thing, even if you concede a Republican “tide” this year, the competitive races are largely in states carried by Barack Obama in 2008: that includes 12 of the 14 currently held by Democrats, and 8 of the 12 currently held by Republicans.
There are races all over the country where late primaries and/or competitive dynamics could change. Fully 21 states with gubernatorial races haven’t yet held primaries (counting Alabama, with a Republican runoff next week), including 18 now rated as competitive. And most states are experiencing deep fiscal problems that cut in all sorts of different directions; it’s not automatically clear in many places whether frightening budget shortfalls will benefit Republicans who are talking about cutting back government or Democrats who are resisting new tax cuts and fighting unpopular teacher layoffs and service reductions. And thanks to term limits, retirements, and primary outcomes, the impact of incumbency is also more limited than you might think: only two of the 12 vulnerable Republican seats (Arizona and Texas), and five of the 14 vulnerable Democratic seats (Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland and Ohio) will have an incumbent on the ballot in November. Making things even more confusing, a significant number of former governors are running as non-incumbents this year, including Democrats Jerry Brown of California, Roy Barnes of Georgia and John Kitzhaber of Oregon, and Republicans Terry Branstad of Iowa and Bobby Ehrlich of Maryland.
I’ll be doing a separate memo focusing on redistricting later on, but it’s worth noting that gubernatorial contests could have a huge impact on that process. For example, there are five states certain to gain congressional seats where Republicans currently control the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Utah. The first four of those states have competitive governor’s races where a Democratic victory could mess up Republican “trifecta” control just in time for redistricting. New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, all of which will lose congressional seats, also have very close partisan balances in the state legislature, and Ohio and Pennsylvania have competitive governor’s races. It’s kind of like three-dimensional chess, and well worth watching as we approach November.
It’s been a quiet week on the polling front. New Rasmussen surveys of the gubernatorial races in Ohio and Pennsylvania show competitive races with GOPers out in front. In Ohio, which has been a very close contest, the poll gives Republican John Kasich a 47-40 lead over incumbent Ted Strickland, his biggest lead in any published poll since a Rasmussen survey in March. In Pennsylvania, however, Rasmussen shows Republican Tom Corbett’s lead over Democrat Dan Onorato dropping from 16 points (49-33) to ten points (49-39) since early June; the 10-point margin is also what PPP reported in its latest Pennsylvania poll.
Meanwhile, in Georgoa, whose primary is on July 20, Insider Advantage has a new poll of the Republican gubernatorial race showing long-time front-runner John Oxendine falling into a tie with Karen Handel at 18 percent, with Nathan Deal at 12 percent. This is a bit counter-intuitive since Oxendine and a fourth candidate, Eric Johnson, have recently been dominating the airwaves with ads, though at Iowa’s Southern Political Report site, John Tures attributes a purported Handel “surge” to her recent endorsement by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, “the next Sarah Palin.” (I have a separate post at FiveThirtyEight examining Brewer’s new national influence.) It’s probably worth noting that shortly before South Carolina’s June 8 primary, Iowa showed Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer headed for a runoff with Nikki Haley; he instead finished a dismal fourth. We’ll see if the firm has got a better “Handel” on Republican sentiment in Georgia.
Ed Kilgore’s PPI Political Memo runs every Tuesday and Friday.