With only two weeks left to go before Election Day, I considered the other day the relative lack of attention that governors' races are getting this cycle. This is hardly a new phenomenon for the relatively few gubernatorial elections that take place in sync with the presidency, but it is an unfortunate one. Governors, along with state legislatures (whose electoral prospects are fascinating but, alas, I will not have time to address before November 6), affect people's day-to-day lives in the states in question arguably more than the Senate and president will. Accordingly, I wanted to devote some more space on my little corner of the internet to assessing the 11 gubernatorial races of 2012.
At the top of the page, you'll see a new tab, "Gubernatorial Rankings," added to the menu. Click through to see my race rankings for the 11 campaigns in the same chart form as my Senate rankings. The scale is also the same—Solid/Likely/Leans for each party, explained in detail here.
Because of the relatively few number of gubernatorial races, however, I figured I could devote a little bit of time to a qualitative analysis of each one as well. In alphabetical order:
Delaware (Solid Democrat)
Sometimes, less is more. Democratic Governor Jack Markell is a popular governor in a blue state in a presidential year. His Republican opponent is not a big name. Easy hold.
Indiana (Likely Republican)
This could just as easily be Solid Republican, since there's no polling evidence that Democrat John Gregg is competitive against Republican Congressman Mike Pence. However, Gregg is a solid candidate who has been able to get active on the airwaves and has achieved some fame for his crazy moustache. With the competitive Senate race in Indiana, this at least could be closer than the GOP blowout it otherwise would be.
Missouri (Likely Democrat)
Governor Jay Nixon has proven to be a very strong candidate for the Democrats, winning over solid crossover support despite a rocky beginning to the cycle. Furthermore, whether hurt by association with Todd Akin or just falling flat of his own accord, Republican Dave Spence—oddly, in my opinion—hasn't been able to tap into Missouri's growing GOP base of support.
Sparse polling hasn't given us many clues about who's favored in this race. Montana is a reliably red state in the presidential race, but a close race for Senate and its love for outgoing Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer has made it swingier this cycle. Schweitzer afterglow would probably be responsible if Republican Rick Hill loses this one to Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock.
New Hampshire (Tossup)
A true swing state on every level (president, Senate, both House seats, and governor in 2012), New Hampshire has a popular Democratic governor who is retiring. I would have thought that that fact, plus a weak (in my opinion) Republican candidate in Ovide Lamontagne (he was Kelly Ayotte's Tea Party nemesis in 2010), would create an advantage for Democrat Maggie Hassan, but polling so far has been tight—with the two candidates seemingly playing hot potato with the lead with every poll that's released.
North Carolina (Likely Republican)
North Carolina may end up the only state where the corner office changes party control in 2010. Republican Pat McCrory is well positioned to win thanks to an unpopular Democratic incumbent, up by double digits in most polls. Ironically, though, Democrat Walter Dalton's status as lieutenant governor—meaning he's won statewide before—is the only thing preventing me from ranking this as Solid Republican. Wild card: will Romney's withdrawal from North Carolina hurt McCrory?
North Dakota (Solid Republican)
Call it Delaware in reverse: Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple is very popular, and an unknown Democrat is just not going to overcome him and Mitt Romney.
Utah (Solid Republican)
One of the reddest states in the country electing its governors in presidential years? No wonder Utah hasn't elected a Democratic governor since 1980. Republican Governor Gary Herbert is safe.
Vermont (Solid Democrat)
Vermont, along with New Hampshire, elects its governors every two years. While Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin won office in a squeaker in 2010, this year will be much friendlier to Democrats. That's been borne out by polling showing Shumlin clearly in the lead over Republican Randy Brock.
Washington (Leans Democrat)
This is the heavyweight battle of 2012—Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee in a blue state against moderate Republican and sitting Attorney General Rob McKenna. Washington hasn't elected a Republican governor since 1980, but if anyone is going to do it, it'll be the extremely strong and likeable McKenna. He led in pollsfor much of the spring and summer, but as voters have been reminded of the presidential race and their preference for national Democrats, Inslee has taken a slight lead. While most of his leads remain in the margin of error, various pollsters have all been consistent about saying Inslee is the one with the edge lately, so I will too.
West Virginia (Likely Democrat)
This seems like it should be safe for Democrats, as current Governor Earl Ray Tomblin was able to win a special election in 2011 when the national mood was still very anti-Democrat. However, there has been no polling in the race, leaving it a bit of a dark horse. West Virginia has identified with the Democratic Party for decades, remaining faithful to it on the state level even while voting consistently for Republican presidential candidates. Tomblin is the right kind of pro-coal Democrat whom Romney voters won't hesitate to support, but Republican Bill Maloney should have to only subtly shift Tomblin's public image to make him look much more like one of those hated "Washington liberals." If that happens, you could see a 20% shift of voters from Tomblin to Maloney en masse. Right now I see Tomblin winning this race by about 10 points, but the tables could suddenly turn. One sure prediction: in this presidential year, it won't be a close one; the most Democratic Romney-compatible candidate should be able to dominate.