2010 Governors' Races: Advantage GOP

Count on Republicans controlling a clear majority of the states after the November elections.

Big GOP gains this election year will extend well beyond Congress --and include the state officeholders with a much more direct influence on most voters. While the national parties duke it out for control of Congress and President Obama braces for losses, there’s a huge number of hot governors’ races shaping up, most of which favor Republicans. Thirty-seven states are electing governors this year -- 19 states where Democrats currently control the governor’s mansion and 18 where Republicans are in charge.

Republicans will do well overall, netting a gain of a half dozen to a dozen. That’s significant considering that the current breakdown of governors nationally is 26 Democrats (opens in new tab) and 24 Republicans (opens in new tab). Governors not only manage state affairs as chief executives but also direct state agencies, craft budgets, manage state emergencies and negotiate with state legislatures. They’ll also have a large hand in directing how congressional districts will be redrawn after the 2010 Census is complete.

Nearly two-thirds of the governors’ races this year -- 23 of 37 -- are for open seats resulting from term limits, scandals, political pressures, health issues and plain old retirement desires.

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Right off the bat, eight governorships are highly likely to switch party control, according to a Kiplinger race-by-race analysis. The GOP looks very good to take over seven of them -- Wyoming, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They also rate at least decent odds of winning back Wisconsin. Then add to the mix several Toss-up races where a GOP pickup or two is possible and where Democrats will be fighting just to hold on to vulnerable seats they currently occupy.

Democrats have only one very solid chance for a takeover from Republicans: Hawaii.

Here are the hottest races by region:

The South

Florida (Republican hold). GOP state Attorney General Bill McCollum will likely win the Aug. 24 primary, and he rates an edge in November over Democrat Alex Sink, the state’s chief financial officer. Georgia (Toss-up, currently Republican-held). Republicans choose a nominee July 20, probably either former nine-term Rep. Nathan Deal or former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel. Either will have only even odds in the fall against the likely Democratic nominee, former Gov. Roy Barnes, who is far better known but who left office with mixed support and was defeated in 2002 by now retiring GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Oklahoma (Republican pickup). Rep. Mary Fallin (R) should win this election to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Brad Henry. Fallin has an impressive following in this low-population, largely conservative state. She also served as the state’s lieutenant governor prior to running for Congress.

South Carolina (Republican hold). State Rep. Nikki Haley appears to be a rising star in the GOP after a bitter primary and runoff election that drew much national attention for a variety of personal attacks on her character and Indian heritage. Haley won high-profile support from prominent national conservatives such as Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. Even though little known a few months ago, Haley rates decent odds to win in November to replace term-limited and scandal-rocked Gov. Mark Sanford (R). Haley’s bound to dominate with women voters, centrists and independents. Republican divisions would need to remain large for the Democratic nominee, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, to win.

Tennessee (Republican pickup). Either Rep. Zach Wamp (R) or Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam (R) will be favored this fall over likely Democratic nominee Mike McWherter, the son of former Gov. Ned McWherter. The primary is Aug. 5. The winner replaces term limited Gov. Phil Bredesen (D).

Texas (Republican hold). Gov. Rick Perry (R), running for a third term, rates an edge this fall against Houston Mayor Bill White (D). Perry earlier overcame a challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to win the primary, and he did so with a strong tack to the right, appealing to conservatives and tapping into anti-Washington voter sentiment.


Maine (Toss-up, currently Democratic held). Republican nominee Paul LePage, the mayor of Waterville and a Tea Party favorite, is a 3-to-2 favorite to defeat Democratic nominee Elizabeth Mitchell, the current president of the state Senate. Several independent candidates may draw support away from Mitchell. The winner will replace term limited Gov. John Baldacci (D).

Maryland (Toss-up, Democratic held). The regional economy will be key in what is shaping up to be a rematch between Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), and former Gov. Bob Ehrlich(R). State political demographics should favor O’Malley, but Ehrlich might ride voter frustration with the Obama administration, local job losses, corporate retrenchment and the economy. Ehrlich might also benefit from a possibly low Democratic turnout – about the only way a Republican can win statewide in Maryland.

New York (Democratic hold). Under pressure from the White House and Democratic Party leaders, Gov. David Paterson decided against running for election. That cleared the way for likely Democratic nominee Andrew Cuomo, the current high-profile state attorney general. Republicans will probably opt for former Rep. Rick Lazio. Unless he makes major missteps, Cuomo should cruise to election.

Pennsylvania (Republican pickup). State Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) has strong odds early on to win in November over Allegheny County Executive Don Onorato, who is far less known statewide, despite being well regarded in the state Democratic Party leadership. If he wins, Corbett, who is running as a moderate in order to appeal to crossover Democrats and independents, will replace term-limited Gov. Ed Rendell (D).

Rhode Island (Leans independent, currently Republican held). Former Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee is running for governor as an independent and rates decent odds of succeeding in November. Rhode Island is overwhelmingly Democratic, but Chafee, the son of longtime Sen. John Chafee (R) is widely liked and has moderate views that draw Democrats and independents. Republicans have no strong candidate running in the Sept. 14 primary, so Chafee essentially faces one of two far lesser known Democrats, state Attorney General Patrick Lynch or state General Treasurer Frank Caprio.

Vermont (Toss-up, Republican held). The Sept. 14 primary will provide more clarity. For now, the race can only be considered a toss-up. The winner will replace Gov. Jim Douglas who is retiring after four terms. Democrats appear almost evenly split among four top candidates for the nomination. Republicans are lining up solidly behind Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie. President Obama carried the state easily in 2008 with nearly 68% of the vote, but Obama’s popularity may not be a factor in the governor’s race this year. The very late primary date may end up helping more-unified Republicans. Democrats will have to scramble to turn out the general election vote for whoever wins theprimary winner.


Illinois (Leans to Democratic hold). The Democratic nominee is Pat Quinn, who assumed the governorship following the impeachment and removal of Rod Blagojevich (D). Quinn benefits from the historically heavy Democratic nature of the state. But Quinn has to contend with a tough regional economy and job losses. He also has to overcome scandal fatigue, which could be tough with a months-long Blagojevich trial in the news through the summer and possibly into the fall. Republicans nominated state Sen. Bill Brady, who’ll get lots of help from the Republican National Committee. Quinn rates an advantage.

Iowa (Republican pickup). Former longtime Gov. Terry Branstad (1983-1999) is the likely GOP nominee to face incumbent Gov. Chet Culver (D), a centrist Democrat who has struggled to win the support of conservatives and evangelicals in the state. Branstad rates a clear advantage over Culver.

Kansas (Republican pickup). Two-term Sen. Sam Brownback (R) should have little trouble winning the general election over far less known state Sen. Tom Holland (D). Current Gov. Mark Parkinson (D) is not running.

Michigan (Republican Pickup). Gov. Jannifer Granholm (D) is term limited, and Democrats are not fielding a strong candidate to replace her. Several leading Democrats chose not to run, figuring it was bad timing. Republicans on Aug. 3 will choose from a small group of top contenders for the nomination, including Rep. Peter Hoekstra, state Attorney General Mike Cox and businessman Rick Snyder.

Wisconsin (Leaning Republican pickup). Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is likely to win the GOP nomination in the Sept. 14 primary. Prominent Democrats chose not to run to succeed Gov. Jim Doyle (D) who decided against seeking a third term, possibly in anticipation of a difficult election cycle for Democrats. Walker will most likely face Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who is expected to get the Democratic nod.

Minnesota (Toss-up, Republican held). Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) is retiring and has his sights on a possible White House run in 2012. Several serious contenders in both of the major parties, as well as independents, are vying to be governor. The field will become clear after the Aug. 10 primary. For now, Minnesota is in the toss up category.

Ohio (Toss-up, Democratic held). Running for reelection, Gov. Ted Strickland (D) is contending with a sour statewide economy, marked by large manufacturing industry retrenchment and job losses. He’ll be in a close race all the way to November against former Rep. John Kasich (R) in this large swing state. Look for the Obama White House to campaign heavily for Strickland.


Arizona (Republicans to hold). Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has a good shot at winning both the Aug. 24 primary and the general election. Brewer is in the spotlight for signing Arizona’s tough anti-illegal immigration bill. The state strongly favors the law, but she’ll lose the vote of Hispanics who say it’s discriminatory. State Attorney General Terry Goddard, the likely Democratic nominee, will have a hard time gaining ground.

California (Toss-up, Republican held). Figure on a very close open-seat race in the country’s most populous state to replace Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Republican nominee and former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, an adviser to 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain, is tapping her immense personal fortune to force a highly competitive race. She has already spent about $100 million and is expected to spend another $150 million by November. Even with all that, however, she only can be given even odds for now of beating former Gov. Jerry Brown, the Democratic nominee, the current state attorney general and a longtime California political icon. Unable to compete with Whitman on the campaign spending side, Brown can count on a well organized and motivated state Democratic base to turn out for him, helped by the turnout for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), who also has a tough race.

Colorado (Toss-up, Democratic held). The state immediately became a competitive battleground for governor when Gov. Bill Ritter, a conservative Democrat, announced in January he would not seek a second term. Republicans will settle on former Rep. Scott McInnis, and Democrats will pick popular Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. A large Denver and Boulder-area turnout would help Democrats. A low voter turnout in the two cities and elsewhere would lift McInniss.

Oregon (Toss-up, Democratic held). Former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), who served from 1995 to 2003 during economic boom times in the state, has only even odds of defeating former Portland Trail Blazer basketball player Chris Dudley, who is pushing job creation, education and trade promotion policies.

Wyoming (Republican pickup). Republicans will choose their nominee on Aug. 18 and frontrunners include Colin Simpson, who is the state House Speaker and both a son and grandson of former U.S. senators, and former U.S. attorney Matt Mead. Democrats are not mounting a serious challenge for governor. Current Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) is barred from seeking a third term.

Hawaii (Democratic pickup). Democrats have every reason to expect to win back the governship in the heavily Democratic island state. Republican Gov. Linda Lingle is term limited. At the request of Lingle, Republicans are expected to settle on Lt. Gov. James Aiona. One of two Democrats will win in November, either former 10-term Rep. Neil Abercrombie or Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. A very late primary is scheduled for Sept. 18.

Richard Sammon
Senior Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter