Republicans Set for Big Gains In Governor Races

An abundance of open-seat races bodes well for the GOP.

Republicans stand to gain significant ground in governor races next year, adding to their recent pickups in Virginia and New Jersey, and setting them up nicely for 2012 and beyond. A half dozen pickups – a very real possibility – would give them far greater influence over the redistricting process for House seats and provide the GOP presidential candidate with readymade statewide organizations to help with registration and get-out-the-vote drives. GOP gains would also provide a boost for fundraising and reinforce the growing view that the Republican Party is gaining momentum and fresh purpose after defeats in the last two election cycles sunk them deeper into minority status.

There’ll be 20 Democratic-held seats up next year and 16 Republican-held seats. While not all of them will be competitive, fully 20 of the 36 races are open-seat races caused by retirements, because of term limitations or other reasons. A gain of six would give the GOP control of 30 of the 50 state governors’ mansions.

Republicans’ best chances for pickups are in these open seat races for governorships currently held by Democrats:

Wyoming. The GOP will win this open-seat race, most likely with State House Speaker Colin Simpson, son of popular former Sen. Alan K. Simpson.

Oklahoma. Republicans have an early advantage in an open-seat race in this GOP-leaning state. The Republican nominee will be either U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin or State Sen. Randy Brogdon.

Kansas. The GOP will most likely nominate Sen. Sam Brownback, who is well positioned to win in a general election. The Democratic field looks weak.

Tennessee. U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp is the odds-on favorite.

Wisconsin. Republicans have the edge with former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann likely to be nominated.

Pennsylvania. Democrats are staring at a weak field, despite having two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor. Republicans may nominate Rep. Jim Gerlach or possibly former Sen. Rick Santorum, a conservative firebrand who is considering this race and also mulling a run for president in 2012.

Michigan. Auto-sector job losses and other unemployment in the state could hurt Democrats. Among the likely Republican nominees are state Attorney General Mike Cox, U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra and Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon.

Democratic hopes

Democrats also have some pickup opportunities in open-seat races in states with Republican governors.

Hawaii. U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, for example, has a solid advantage. He’ll face either Lt. Gov. James Aiona, R, or former state Sen. John Carroll, R. Figure on this one going to Democrats.

Rhode Island. Independent candidate Lincoln Chafee, a former senator, is in a fairly strong position to take this job away from Republicans, and Democrats have long found him someone they can work with. Still, Democrats will put up their own candidate -- either state Attorney General Patrick Lynch or former Rep. Bob Weygand. Chafee or a Democrat will win the general election, replacing a retiring Republican governor.

Other hot races to watch:

New York. Democratic Gov. David Paterson is intent on running, but he lacks clear backing from President Obama. He’s doing poorly in polls, has only mixed support from state party officials and is under continuing pressure to drop out. Widespread speculation points to a run by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who would challenge Paterson in a primary. If Cuomo decides against a run, Republicans would have a solid chance of winning. Even if Cuomo does run, the race would be close. A large GOP field with strong candidates looks certain. In the GOP mix is former Rep. Rick Lazio and former state Assembly Minority Leader John Faso.

California. It will host a galactic showdown, probably between Republican Meg Whitman, the former chief of eBay, and former Democratic governor and current state Attorney General Jerry Brown. Each will have huge operations in place and each also benefits from name recognition. Whitman, a billionaire, will spend as much as $100 million of her fortune in the race and will portray herself as a social moderate focused on job creation and business development. Brown already has legions of supporters from years of public service. GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is term limited.

Arizona. Republicans have cause some worry, but incumbent Gov. Jan Brewer rates an early edge. Still, a close race could be in store if Democrats nominate state Rep. David Bradley or state Attorney General Sam Goddard.

Ohio. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland will likely face former GOP Rep. John Kasich. Continuing job losses in Ohio’s manufacturing and other industries will hurt Strickland, but he still rates a smalls edge.

Iowa. Also close, but incumbent Democratic Gov. Chet Culver has an early advantage. The Republican field of possible nominees is large and includes two state representatives, Rod Roberts and Christopher Rants, and state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey.

Oregon. This state should remain in Democratic hands with a strong campaign by Rep. Peter DeFazio. He’ll have a close race, however, for this open seat if Republicans nominate former two-term Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Illinois. Obama’s home state is no slam dunk for Democrats, but they have a decent advantage going in. Gov. Pat Quinn, D, who replaced Rod Blagojevich, who was impeached and removed from office, has much party support, is popular with moderates and independents and benefits from the general Democratic lean of the state.

Minnesota. There’s a huge field of candidates on either side, as well as several independents running to replace retiring GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty. For now, the race is a toss-up. Among the Democrats running is former Sen. Mark Dayton. On the GOP side, Sen. Norm Coleman, R, may also run.Florida. Similar to Minnesota, each party has many strong candidates running to replace Gov. and 2010 Senate candidate Charlie Crist, R. Among Republicans running is state Attorney General and former Rep. Bill McCollum. Among Democrats running are the state’s chief financial officer, Alex Sink, and mental health advocate Anthony Shriver.

Texas. The state will remain in Republican hands, despite a tight GOP nomination battle between incumbent Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The Democratic field is especially weak.

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