Red Alert: Part 2 – the Governors

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February 21, 2013|7:35 am

A Star Trek fan quibbled (Tribbled?) with our piece last week, noting that the character James T. Kirk was actually an admiral, not a captain, during the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Our response is that Kirk, in a later film, was demoted to captain, and most Trekkies/Trekkers refer to the character as "Captain Kirk." So our referring to him as such was correct, "from a certain point of view" (to borrow a line from another famous sci-fi universe).

Anyway, we digress.

After applying Star Trek's "red alert" designation to several Senate seats last week, we're now looking at the most competitive gubernatorial races. Unlike the Senate races - where at least the seven most competitive seats are all currently held by Democrats - the competitive gubernatorial picture offers a mixed set of races, with a number of Democrats and Republicans listed among the hottest races.

As a reminder, we're dividing these competitive races into three categories: red alert seats are ones in which the incumbent party is, at best, a tiny favorite to hold the seat; orange alert seats are ones that are very competitive but the incumbent party holds a clear edge at this early point of the cycle; and yellow alert seats are ones where the incumbent party should be ready but serious challenges have yet to emerge.

Gubernatorial races don't track as clearly with national politics as Senate races do, and so there are some races listed here that might be surprising at first blush. Could deep Blue Connecticut throw out a Democratic governor? Arkansas has a Democratic governor, and that governor won by 30 points in 2010 – could the state swing so wildly in four years? Maine recently elected its first Republican governor since Jock McKernan left office in 1995; will the state swing back to the Democrats this quickly? And South Carolina - could the bright Red Palmetto State actually defeat an incumbent GOP governor?

The politics of statehouses aren't as clear-cut as the politics of Congress. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) is taking heat on the right and the left for his budget proposals; the same is true of Gov. John Kasich (R) in Ohio. In some states, the crises and belt-tightening that defined budgets in 2011 are yielding to the politics of surpluses today. But figuring out how to spend money can be as difficult as figuring out what to cut - especially since lobbyists and special interest groups will make a grab for any extra dollars like mice scampering for a block of cheese left out overnight. Navigating these interests can be tricky, and state-level politics can produce odd alliances.

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Republicans currently hold 30 of 50 governorships, with Democrats holding 19 and an independent - very vulnerable Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island - holding the final seat. The ex-Republican, President Obama-supporting Chafee doesn't fit anywhere on our chart above, but he's certainly in quite a bit of political trouble (as described later).

Unlike the House and Senate, the overall partisan makeup of the nation's 50 gubernatorial offices isn't particularly significant - holding a majority of the governorships doesn't allow the Republicans to elect a speaker of the statehouses. And even if there was such a speaker, he or she would envy House Speaker John Boehner (R) in at least one way: Unlike Congress, where both parties have mainly ideologically cohesive caucuses, governors from the same party make vastly different policy decisions on many issues. For instance, the Affordable Care Act empowered the states to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income residents. The enticement of federal money is appealing not only to Democrats, but also to many conservative Republicans.

Click here to see a chart of all gubernatorial contests.

Most readers will find their state on this list, because 38 of the 50 states hold gubernatorial races this cycle. Obviously, we are including the two 2013 races in New Jersey and Virginia. A couple of other states - New Hampshire and Vermont - still hold gubernatorial elections every two years.

Note: Bolded candidate names indicate the likely frontrunner for a nomination, if there is one.

Alabama: Gov. Robert Bentley (R) and other top Yellowhammer State Republicans were dealt a somewhat embarrassing defeat a couple weeks back when their preferred candidate was defeated for the state party chairmanship by the incumbent chairman, who was backed by the state's recently resuscitated Supreme Court chief justice, Roy Moore (R). There could be some drama on the GOP side but chances are that Bentley wins reelection - that is, if he wants a second term. Democrats shouldn't be much of a factor. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Alaska: All indications are that Gov. Sean Parnell (R) will seek reelection as opposed to challenging Sen. Mark Begich (D). Call us crazy, but we don't see a ton of upside in trading an easy run for another four years in the governor's mansion for a toss-up race against Begich that, in victory, would give him the "privilege" of frequent, 8,500-mile roundtrip flights to Washington, perhaps in the company of longtime Rep. Don Young (R), who dubbed Parnell "Captain Zero" while defeating him in a narrow 2008 primary. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Arizona: It turns out that Gov. Jan Brewer (R) might not be so Tea Party after all - she recently announced her support for expanding Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. She's hardly the only one, though: Govs. Rick Scott (R-FL), Rick Snyder (R-MI) and John Kasich (R-OH), among others, also support the expansion, which is funded in a way to be enticing to governors of both parties. Brewer, given her office thanks to President Obama's appointment of former Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) as secretary of Homeland Security, won't be able to run for a second full term due to Arizona's term limits. (Brewer is questioning her ineligibility, but nobody we've talked to thinks she has a case.) The Republican side, led by Secretary of State Ken Bennett, is likely to feature a competitive primary; there are a number of Democrats mulling runs, too, but a field-clearer might be former Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D), who lost a competitive contest to Sen. Jeff Flake (R) last year. Carmona showed some crossover appeal by running about a point and a half ahead of Obama, although the Grand Canyon State remains considerably more Republican than some of its neighbors, such as Colorado and New Mexico, mostly because its white voters are much more Republican than the whites in those states. LEANS REPUBLICAN

Arkansas: The Democrats' chances of holding one of their last redoubts in Dixie suffered a blow when Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D) left the race thanks to an affair. (McDaniel is hardly the first statewide Razorback to make a mockery of his marital vows.) Former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R), who lost the 2006 gubernatorial race to the term-limited Gov. Mike Beebe (D), is consolidating support on the Republican side, and it appears that the state's all-Republican congressional delegation is taking a pass on the contest. There are rumors that ex-Rep. Mike Ross (D) is once again thinking about a run; when he retired before the 2012 election it was assumed he would be a candidate, but then he withdrew before reportedly reconsidering after McDaniel's implosion. Ross would make this a real race; another Democrat, such as liberal ex-Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D), probably wouldn't. While we wait for Ross to make up his mind, Arkansas LEANS REPUBLICAN for now.

California: Democrats should waltz to another victory here, even if Gov. Jerry Brown (D) retires (he looks like he's running for another term). Republicans fret that a too-conservative, no-name challenger - such as Assemblyman Tim Donnelly - would not only lose big to Brown, but also would decimate their down-ballot prospects. That doomsday scenario could have implications for the state's U.S. House delegation, where Democrats made big advances last cycle and continue to have a handful of ripe targets. Democrats already have a super-majority in both houses of the state legislature. The decline-into-irrelevance of the once-dominant California GOP is a modern parable for Republicans. The party's hard-right positions on social issues and its lack of backing from minorities have condemned it to Whig-like status in the Golden State. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

Colorado: Boasting mile high - get it? - approval ratings, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) appears well on his way to a second term and a possible outsider run at the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. Any credible Republican challenger would probably prefer to mount a slightly less uphill battle against Sen. Mark Udall (D) as opposed to Hickenlooper. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

Connecticut: The Nutmeg State's largest newspaper, The Hartford Courant, gave a qualified thumbs-up to Gov. Dannel Malloy's (D) recently proposed budget, which boosts state aid to some educational priorities while forcing belt-tightening for the state's municipalities, hospitals and services for the poor. Republicans in the legislature, such as State House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero and State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, unsurprisingly poked holes in the plan; both are considering challenges to Malloy, and 2010 nominee Tom Foley (R) is already seeking to avenge his narrow loss to Malloy. Malloy, who is not an effective public speaker, has seen an uptick in his generally poor approval ratings in recent months, perhaps owing to a rally-round-the-flag effect from two disasters, one natural (Hurricane Sandy) and one man-made (the Sandy Hook mass shooting). We'll call this race LEANS DEMOCRATIC for now, owing to the power of incumbency and Connecticut's Democratic leanings, but Malloy should have a real race.

Florida: If he can find a winning message, Gov. Rick Scott (R) will have no problem spreading it; the wealthy health care executive-turned-governor of the nation's fourth-most populous state is reportedly planning a $100 million campaign; that's after he invested $73 million of his own money into his 2010 victory. The trouble is that finding a winning message is a big "if;" polls have repeatedly found Scott to be among the most unpopular governors in the country, which helps explain why he hardly played any role in the Sunshine State's competitive Republican presidential primary and general election contest last year. Obama's surprising victory in Florida might be seen by some as a reflection of Scott's unpopularity, although political science research has not found a compelling link between presidential results and the popularity of down-ballot officeholders. Another major "if" is whether ex-Gov. Charlie Crist (officially a "D" since December) actually decides to run for his old office, which he was elected to as a Republican in 2006. Crist recently denied rumors that he was also weighing whether to take a federal appointment from President Obama. 2010 Democratic nominee and former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) is weighing a run, although she's leaning against it at the moment as she copes with the unexpected death of her husband and political partner in December. The only significant declared challenger is ex-state Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich (D), and others, such as former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz (D), are also considering candidacies. The bottom line is this: Crist or Sink would likely get plenty of support from national Democrats, but other potential nominees might be less compelling. Depending on the opponent, this is probably the top gubernatorial race in the country, given Florida's size and swing-state status. It's worth noting that Florida's electorate was 67% white in the 2012 election, but 74% white in the 2010 midterm (when Scott beat Sink by just a point). A slightly less-white electorate probably would have elected Sink, although Scott actually won Hispanics - by two points - in 2010. (Scott won whites by 15 points.) Obama captured Hispanics by 21 points in 2012. Scott probably won't repeat his 2010 Latino feat, which ensures that this is a TOSS-UP, at best, for the disliked incumbent.

Georgia: The retirement of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) is good news for Gov. Nathan Deal (R) because it likely confines the major action - both in the primary and general election - to the Senate race in this cycle. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Hawaii: After Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) passed her over for the appointment to the late Daniel Inouye's (D) open Senate seat, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D) is reportedly considering a primary against Abercrombie. She might be able to get some traction; despite being a Democrat in a Democratic state, Abercrombie's approval has been very weak; the Honolulu Star-Advertiser found a few days before the 2012 election that only 41% of voters approved of his performance to 48% who disapproved. His approval with voters who usually vote Democratic was only 51%. Could Republicans capitalize? Perhaps; as mentioned in our Senate update last week, ex-Rep. Charles Djou (R) is a potentially good candidate for either the gubernatorial or Senate race, and ex-Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (R) is also sometimes mentioned, although Abercrombie drubbed Aiona by 17 points in 2010's gubernatorial race. There's a lot of uncertainty here, which is why we're calling the race LEANS DEMOCRATIC for now. In the age of Hawaiian Obama, even weak Democrats can be tough to wave bye-aloha to.

Idaho: Rep. Raúl Labrador (R) invited charges of meddling a few weeks ago when he met with some members of the Idaho legislature to voice his displeasure with Gov. Butch Otter's (R) plan to set up a state-based health insurance exchange as provided by the Affordable Care Act. Otter and his allies say that they oppose "Obamacare," but they want to set up the exchange in order to preserve local control. Labrador argues that the state should not cooperate with the act by setting up the exchange. The unusual spectacle of a sitting member of the U.S. House involving himself in state legislative matters only fueled rumors that Labrador is planning to primary Otter in 2014. Whatever happens, Democrats won't be a factor.
SAFE REPUBLICAN

Illinois: Were she to become governor, the prospect of Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) and her father, long-time state House Speaker Michael Madigan (D), holding arguably the top two positions in state government is unappealing to many, although ethical concerns have stopped few from advancing in Illinois politics. (Voters don't seem to care all that much, although juries sometimes do.) In any event, we're still waiting for the gubernatorial campaign to take shape in the Land of Lincoln. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) remains deeply unpopular, and Madigan would be favored to defeat him in a primary. Ex-White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, brother and son of the former Chicago mayors, is also potentially in the picture. On the Republican side, Treasurer Dan Rutherford is clearing the way to run, and Rep. Aaron Schock might not be too far behind. If Sen. Dick Durbin (D) retires, his decision could affect the lineup of candidates in the gubernatorial contest. Quinn nearly lost in 2010 to a Republican, but that was a product of an unusually Republican year and his particular weaknesses. If Quinn somehow becomes the party nominee again, he'd be vulnerable in November. Another Democrat would be favored, given the strong party leanings of the once-Republican Land of Lincoln. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

Iowa: The Hawkeye State is another place where a competitive Senate race might take the luster off the gubernatorial contest. With his top potential challenger now running for the Senate - Rep. Bruce Braley (D) - Gov. Terry Branstad (R) is a favorite to add to his record as the nation's longest-serving governor. How much of a favorite depends on who his opponent is. Former governor and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (D) looks unlikely to return, although his wife, unsuccessful congressional candidate Christie Vilsack (D), could potentially mount a strong run statewide (she previously ruled out a Senate bid, an aide said, "because she is looking into another exciting opportunity," whatever that means). Ex-Gov. Chet Culver (D) remains unpopular, and Branstad lapped him and other potential candidates in a recent Public Policy Polling survey. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

Kansas: Gov. Sam Brownback (R) and the Kansas legislature have moved hard to the right after winning a battle with party moderates in last year's primary season, and they are now seeking to phase out the state's income tax. Democrats oppose Brownback's policies, but barring the emergence of a strong challenger or a dramatic turn in public opinion, they'll have little power to stop him. This isn't the state of Bob Dole anymore. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Maine: Gov. Paul LePage (R) is running for reelection, and independent Eliot Cutler is taking another crack at the governor's office after falling just short in a three-way race in 2010. So what do the Democrats do? Should one of their top contenders, such as Reps. Chellie Pingree or Mike Michaud or ex-Gov. John Baldacci, jump in the race? Or should they essentially just step aside for Cutler and nominate a token challenger, much like they did in the 2012 Senate race, when independent, now-Sen. Angus King was the de facto Democratic nominee? For what it's worth, Cutler did cut his teeth in politics as an aide to former Sen. Ed Muskie (D). A jumbled field is nothing new in a Maine gubernatorial race: Remarkably, a third-party candidate has won at least 9.3% of the vote in every gubernatorial election dating back to 1986. TOSS-UP

Maryland: As Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) looks ahead to a 2016 presidential run, he wouldn't want the embarrassment of seeing his office fall into Republican hands (even though the only ones likely to care are political hacks and flacks). Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) is his chosen successor, although it's interesting that none of the Old Line State's lieutenant governors have ever been elected governor. OK, it's a relatively new position, and only seven people have held it since its modern creation in 1970. Attorney General Doug Gansler (D) will be a formidable foe for Brown, and state Delegate Heather Mizeur (D) and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D) are also possibilities; state Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) decided against a run. A Republican upset is "doable, but difficult," in the words of outgoing party Chairman Alex Mooney, and there are several potential candidates eying the race. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

Massachusetts: Republicans disappointed by ex-Sen. Scott Brown's (R) decision not to run in a special Senate election are holding out hope that Brown might instead run for governor; if he did, he would be a solid contender, as he retains strong personal favorability numbers in the Democratic Bay State, which actually has been governed by Republicans more often than Democrats over the past half-century; Republicans have held the governor's office for 26 of those 50 years. Charlie Baker, the 2010 GOP nominee, is also considering another run. On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray's (D) decision not to run probably makes state Treasurer Steve Grossman (D) the favorite, but Rep. Mike Capuano (D) has floated the idea of a candidacy, as has Donald Berwick, a former Obama administration health care official. This is a TOSS-UP, but the race would probably favor a Democrat in the event that Brown - who recently signed on to Fox News as a contributor - decides not to enter the contest. Gov. Deval Patrick (D) is allowed to run for a third term, but he says he will leave office after two.

Michigan: Gov. Rick Snyder (R) - whose Twitter handle is @onetoughnerd - has worked hard to exude a wonky, post-partisan image, but he threw all that out the window after signing a bill making Michigan a right to work state after the Republican-run legislature forced the bill through in last year's lame duck session. The idea of Michigan, the one state probably most associated with unions, as a right to work state is jarring, no matter what one thinks of the merits of the policy, and the move really poisoned the well with Democrats, even if Snyder later extended an olive branch by coming out in support of Medicaid expansion in Michigan and by vetoing a concealed carry expansion that reached his desk in the wake of the Newtown shooting. That said, Democrats don't seem to have a top-tier challenger; Rep. Gary Peters (D) seems likelier to run for Senate if Sen. Carl Levin (D) retires, and state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) decided against running. Still, the fireworks over right to work ensures that the eventual Democratic nominee will have strong labor support, both locally and nationally. Whether that makes a difference is anyone's guess. One positive for Snyder from the right to work battle is that he probably won't face a primary challenge. LEANS REPUBLICAN

Minnesota: A dangerous opponent for Gov. Mark Dayton (D) has not yet emerged, which puts him and Sen. Al Franken (D) in the same boat: potentially vulnerable but looking good. Ex-Sen. Norm Coleman (R), while ruling out a bid to reclaim his old Senate seat, could still challenge Dayton, although Dayton leads him in some early trial heats and sports a robust 53% approval rating. If Coleman doesn't run, Dayton will probably have a pretty easy go of it. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

Nebraska: For a state that is so one-sided politically, Cornhusker Country sure has seen a lot of political turmoil lately. Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy (R) was term-limited Gov. Dave Heineman's (R) hand-picked successor, until Sheehy was forced from the race and from his office after the revelation that he made thousands of phone calls to women on his state-issued phone. That was after another possible gubernatorial contender, Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood (R), pulled out of the race after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Heineman appointed University of Nebraska Regent Lavon Heidemann as his new LG, and he has pledged not to run for governor. State Sen. Charlie Janssen (R) announced a run on Monday, and we suspect others will follow, including possibly state Treasurer Don Stenberg (R), who readers might remember from several failed Senate bids. Complicating matters further was the bombshell retirement announcement from Sen. Mike Johanns (R) earlier this week, which also opens that race up to potential Republican candidates. We'll have to wait and see how this all shakes out, but the Republicans went from having a deep bench of candidates and officeholders to having a bench full of questions. However, there's not any indication at this point that the Democrats have much of a shot to capture either the Senate seat or the governor's office. For now, we're calling this race LIKELY REPUBLICAN, and in the wake of Johanns' retirement we're applying the same rating to the Senate race.

Nevada: Despite Nevada's recent lean toward Democrats at the federal level, Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is well-positioned to win reelection. PPP's first look at 2014 governor's races in November 2012 found Sandoval leading a generic Democrat 55-32, underscoring his strength in the Silver State. Sandoval is also popular with the national Republican establishment: Party officials have turned to Sandoval and his fellow Hispanic colleague Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico to improve the GOP's minority candidate recruitment as heads of the Future Majority Caucus. It remains to be seen what Nevada Democrat opts to take on Sandoval. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) is term-limited in 2014, which might push her into taking a shot at Sandoval. Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) could be enticed by a gubernatorial run but it's also possible he wants to take over for Masto as AG. Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D) has also been mentioned as a possibility; one of Sisolak's fellow commissioners, Tom Collins (D), is running for lieutenant governor, and part of his argument is that if he were lieutenant governor, a reelected Sandoval couldn't run for Senate against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) in 2016 because a Democrat would take over the governorship if Sandoval were successful. There's one Democrat who doesn't think Sandoval will lose! LIKELY REPUBLICAN

New Hampshire: Republicans don't seem likely to make a major challenge in the Granite State, as it's historically difficult to unseat a governor after just one, two-year term. About the only plausible second-tier challenger to Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) at this point is Kevin Smith (R), a conservative activist who lost the gubernatorial primary last cycle. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

New Jersey (2013): Gov. Chris Christie's (R) sky-high approval ratings have dissuaded all of his potential top challengers: Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) is running for the Senate, and ex-Gov. Richard Codey (D) and the leaders of the state House and Senate have all taken a pass. The challenge of staring down Christie has apparently fallen to state Sen. Barbara Buono (D), who some activists fear will be beaten so badly that her loss will harm down-ticket Democrats. As the campaign gets going, though, New Jersey's Democratic character will probably establish a decent floor for Buono, and despite sporting approval ratings in the 70s, it's highly unlikely that Christie's share of the vote will match them. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

New Mexico: Like Sandoval in Nevada, Gov. Susana Martinez (R) of New Mexico is a Hispanic Republican governor in a state that Barack Obama won in both 2008 and 2012. But over the last few years, the Land of Enchantment has moved more sharply in a Democratic direction (though it did elect Martinez in the 2010 national Republican wave), making it less safe for a Republican incumbent at the statewide level than swingier Nevada. Perhaps in recognition of this fact, Martinez recently came out in favor of a Democrat-sponsored bill that requires background checks at gun shows in New Mexico, winning plaudits from progressives in the state. It appears that Attorney General Gary King (D), the son of former New Mexico Gov. Bruce King (D), will probably challenge Martinez in 2014. He may or may not get a clear shot at the Democratic nomination. While New Mexico has become bluer, Martinez is still a relatively popular incumbent, so this race is LIKELY REPUBLICAN.

New York: We'll save a dissection of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) time in office for 2016 presidential analysis. He's secure for a second term. SAFE DEMOCRATIC
Ohio: In proposing massive changes to the way Ohio taxes its citizens, Gov. John Kasich (R) showed his willingness to go big on policy, proving once again why his 2010 election showdown with former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) was truly a study in contrasts. Kasich proposes cuts to the state's income tax, and a lowering but broadening of the state's sales tax - extending it to apply to many services that have not previously been taxed. He's managed to upset both parties, not to mention the lobbyists of many powerful industries, whose services would also be subject to sales taxes for the first time. Democrats argue that the tax cuts disproportionately benefit the wealthy, while some Republicans bristle not only at new taxes on energy companies seeking to exploit Ohio's natural resources but also at Kasich's support of Medicaid expansion. Youthful state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), whom readers will remember from his disastrous 2012 Senate candidacy, is among the Medicaid critics, a betrayal that Kasich's veteran political operation will long keep in mind. It's unclear what will be the fate of Kasich's far-reaching proposals. Republicans control supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature, but Democrats might have a role to play in the negotiations as Kasich tries to cobble together majorities to pass his plans. With Strickland ruling out a run, the Democratic primary race probably comes down to two candidates. One is Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) Executive Ed FitzGerald (D), who has hired a member of Strickland's old campaign team; and the other is Richard Cordray*, a former state treasurer and attorney general who now serves as director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray's recess appointment runs out at the end of the year, and Republicans are blocking his confirmation for a full term, at least at the moment. At this point, FitzGerald is the likelier nominee, but Cordray remains an X-factor who has made no public pronouncements about his intentions; ex-Rep. Betty Sutton (D) is also a possibility, but don't expect her to run against FitzGerald or Cordray in a primary. We seriously doubt that another name often mentioned, Rep. Tim Ryan (D), will ultimately take the plunge. Call this race LEANS REPUBLICAN at the moment. Historically, Republicans have held the Ohio governor's mansion for 34 of the past 50 years. As of a month ago, the Democratic nomination didn't look like it was worth having; it still might not be, but the budget battle could give the eventual nominee some ammunition against Kasich, who has generally been on his best behavior since a rocky 2011 but is always just one reporter's question away from a self-inflicted
pinprick.

Oklahoma: Gov. Mary Fallin (R) appears to be a lock for reelection in the deeply Red Sooner State. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Oregon: Should Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) choose to run again, he would be heavily favored to win a fourth term in office (he first served from 1995 to 2003 before running again in 2010). The man Kitzhaber narrowly beat in 2010, former NBA player Chris Dudley (R), has moved to California and ruled out another run. As is also the case in the state's U.S. Senate race, the lack of depth on the Republican bench may make it hard to challenge a sitting Democrat in the Beaver State. The entire West Coast (save Alaska) has become a GOP wasteland. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

Pennsylvania: A recent Franklin & Marshall College poll summed up Gov. Tom Corbett's (R) troubles in the Keystone State: With only 26% of voters saying that Corbett is doing an "excellent" or "good" job, "Corbett's job performance ratings are the lowest for a sitting governor in the [18-year] history" of the poll. Piling on, Quinnipiac recently found that only 49% of Republicans in Pennsylvania thought Corbett deserved to be reelected. Corbett's troubles may open the door for Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor (R) to take on the incumbent in the GOP primary. As for the Democratic side of the aisle, numerous names have been bandied about but so far the biggest ones have yet to get into the contest. However, it looks like at least one of those major names, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D), will soon announce a run. Other Democratic possibilities include state Treasurer Rob McCord and ex-Reps. Joe Sestak and Kathy Dahlkemper. Interestingly, since the 1940s the two major parties have consistently switched control of the governorship every eight years. While Corbett has major problems, history may be on his side since he was just elected in 2010. But these "rules" of politics get broken sooner or later, and Corbett is sorely testing this rule. TOSS-UP.

Rhode Island: The nation's lone independent governor, Lincoln Chafee, is in a precarious position due to a poor approval rating. While it appears that he will run for reelection, Chafee may have to hope for another three-way race where he ekes out a plurality like in 2010. It's becoming apparent that the name to watch in the Ocean State is state Treasurer Gina Raimondo (D). So far, Raimondo has proven herself an able fundraiser, having outdistanced possible Democratic primary opponents Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and former state Auditor General Ernest Almonte. On the Republican side, Cranston Mayor Alan Fund and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian may both throw their hats in the ring, and 2012 RI-1 nominee Brendan Doherty hasn't ruled out a run either. With another possible three-way race (not to mention a credible fourth candidate, Moderate Party founder Ken Block, possibly running again), there's far too much uncertainty for this contest to be anything but a TOSS-UP. One other wrinkle here is that the state's entire, all-Democratic congressional delegation is hosting a fundraiser for Chafee. Might he be the de facto Democratic nominee or even run for the Democratic nomination this time around?

South Carolina: Despite the strong Republican lean of the Palmetto State, Democrats may actually have a shot of picking off a Republican incumbent here in 2014. Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has an approval rating stuck in the high 30s/low 40s, leaving her vulnerable; polling shows her 2010 opponent, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D), could potentially defeat her in a rematch. While it doesn't appear that she'll be challenged in the Republican primary, part of Haley's trouble lies in divisions among state Republicans, many of whom dislike the incumbent intensely. Moreover, her public record as governor hasn't been sterling. Most notably, she had to take the blame for a cyber-attack that stole the private data of millions of South Carolinians. Given Haley's troubles, but in light of the state's GOP cast, this race is rated LEANS REPUBLICAN.

South Dakota: Unlike the Senate clash in the Mount Rushmore State, the gubernatorial race should be no contest: freshman Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) is in good shape. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Tennessee: Potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D) said that he doesn't think Gov. Bill Haslam (R) "is going to lose any sleep over me." He's right. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Texas: Remarkably, Rick Perry (R) has governed Texas since late 2000, when he was promoted from lieutenant governor to replace then-President-elect George W. Bush. The longest-serving governor in Texas history, Perry might forgo the 2014 race to hold onto the mansion in order to focus on yet another presidential bid - having remembered that third thing he wanted to tell us. Yet some Austin insiders have a hard time seeing Perry give up voluntarily the job he plainly relishes, so he may well run in his fourth gubernatorial election. However, recent polling shows that a majority of Texas voters disapprove of Perry's performance, which may open the door to another Republican. That man would probably be Attorney General Greg Abbott (R), who has an enormous war chest saved up and, according to some reports, has already decided to run. Meanwhile, the incumbent recently said that Abbott agreed not to run against him, but that might just be wishful thinking on Perry's part. Should Perry and Abbott face off in a Republican primary, early polling indicates that the race would be very tight. Given how the Ted Cruz-David Dewhurst Republican Senate primary worked out in 2012, one might rather be Abbott than Perry. But however things shake out, the race is still going to be SAFE REPUBLICAN, even if the Republican primary is a TOSS-UP.
Vermont: Like neighboring New Hampshire, Vermont elects its governor every two years. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) narrowly triumphed in 2010 (he actually had to be appointed by the state legislature because he failed to win 50%+1 of the vote) but won by more than 20 percentage points in 2012. Among the most Democratic states in the country in recent times, it's hard to see Shumlin losing barring some kind of scandal or major governmental foul-up between now and November 2014. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

Virginia (2013): The marquee gubernatorial race of the 2013 cycle is in the Old Dominion. But there won't be any primary drama here: Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) will be unopposed at the GOP state convention and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe (D) has no opponent in the Democratic primary. The real drama in this race at the moment concerns Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R). When the state GOP decided to determine the 2013 ballot slate at a convention rather than through a primary (essentially handing Cuccinelli the nomination), Bolling ended his bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. However, dissatisfaction among business Republicans and political moderates with candidates who can be easily pigeonholed as the "ideologue" (Cuccinelli) and the "party hack" (McAuliffe) has opened the door to a possible third-party run by Bolling. With Virginia's loose campaign finance rules (no contribution limits), it might only take a few financial "angels" to commit the kind of dough Bolling will need to make a credible run. Bolling is expected to announce his intentions on March 14. Historically, Virginia has not been especially kind to third-party candidates, with some notable exceptions 40 years ago, such as Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr., who was elected twice as an independent in 1970 and 1976. The last time a pure third-party candidate won more than 10% of the vote in a Virginia gubernatorial election was in 1965, when Conservative Party candidate William Story received 13%, finishing third behind Linwood Holton (R) and winner Mills Godwin (D). An independent, liberal Henry Howell, came close to being governor in 1973 as the de facto Democratic nominee, losing by just 15,000 votes out of over a million cast - but that was a very strange election held in the midst of Watergate and party realignment. More recently, the 1994 U.S. Senate race in the Old Dominion saw independent ex-Republican J. Marshall Coleman win 11% of the vote, helping incumbent Sen. Charles Robb (D) survive a challenge from controversial fire-breather Oliver North (R). Could a Bolling candidacy track more closely to Byrd and Howell than Story and Coleman? That remains to be seen. In early January, PPP found Bolling at 15% while the latest Quinnipiac poll has him at only 13%. Neither of these figures bodes well for Bolling - at least initially. But Cuccinelli and McAuliffe may be sufficiently unpalatable to large segments of the Virginia electorate to give Bolling a fighting chance. It's also unclear which party nominee Bolling's candidacy would hurt more. At first blush, one would expect a long-time Republican elected official like Bolling to damage Cuccinelli, but it's also possible that Bolling - who has been taking very moderate stands on major controversies - would siphon off lots of suburban swing voters from McAuliffe. Particularly if Bolling runs, this contest will have something for everybody, but at the moment the only rational rating is TOSS-UP.

Wisconsin: Could all be quiet on the Wisconsin front? From 2010 to 2012, the Badger State was in a constant state of political warfare - protests that occupied the state capitol, multiple state legislative recall elections, a gubernatorial recall attempt, a closely fought Senate contest and, of course, the presidential election. First elected in 2010, Gov. Scott Walker (R) survived the 2012 recall and appears to be well-positioned to win a second term in 2014. Back in November 2012, PPP found Walker leading a generic Democrat 50%-43%, and the Democrats do not yet have a candidate. A big name like former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) is unlikely to run, leaving Democrats grasping for a field marshal to lead the troops. All in all, Walker has to feel good about his chances at this point. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

Wyoming: The Republican primary in the Cowboy State will be contested because of a grudge. On Jan. 29, Gov. Matt Mead (R) signed legislation stripping the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Cindy Hill (R), of her powers as the state's chief education executive. A Tea Party favorite, Hill almost immediately turned around and announced a gubernatorial run to challenge Mead while also suing to regain her place. The early view is that Mead is not in any political danger but we're still a long way from 2014. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Larry Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley are analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. You can read more of their reviews of political races at www.centerforpolitics.org.
 

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