Governors rankings: The top four races get more interesting

Presidential years are not the most active in terms of gubernatorial races, and 2008 is no exception, with only 11 states holding elections, only 5 of which are not entirely safe for the incumbent party. But there has been some movement within those 5 races, as many of them have gotten considerably (and unexpectedly) more competitive in the past few months.

The retirement of Gov. Blunt in Missouri, the heated Democratic primaries in North Carolina and Indiana, the candidacy of Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, and Dino Rossi’s attempts to rouse passions in Washington all guarantee that these 4 states will remain competitive to November and keep things interesting on the gubernatorial front. And since both parties control 2 of these 4 most contested governorships, Republicans can at least be relieved that things look more even-handed here than in the Senate and the House.

The previous gubernatorial ratings, written in December, are available here.

Toss-up (2 R, 1 D)

1. Missouri (Open)

Missouri’s gubernatorial race made a lot of news comparatively to other gubernatorial races. The showdown between Republican Gov. Blunt and Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon had started as early as 2004, and the incumbent’s growing unpopularity had given the early lead to Nixon. But Blunt unexpectedly announced his retirement in late January.

Republicans hurried to find a nominee and they will now have to decide between two strong candidates, congressman Kenny Hulshof and state Treasurer Sarah Steelman. Either  would keep the race competitive but Nixon undoubtedly has a head start given that he has been preparing his campaign for so long — and that the state’s voters have turned sour on their Republican administration.

2. North Carolina (Open; Previous ranking: 4)

Republican at the federal level, North Carolina remains blue at the state level, and Democrats looked favored to keep the governor’s mansion next year with two strong candidates — Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and state Treasurer Richard Moore — battling for the Democratic nomination. But two factors have made the race more competitive.

(1) The Democratic primary is staying very competitive and now going negative, with Moore needing to shake up the race to contest Perdue’s early edge. (2) Republicans got a potentially very competitive candidate in the race with with the entry of Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory. Polls show McCrory in toss-ups against both Perdue and Moore, with the Democrats holding the slightest of edges.

The GOP primary is also contested, however, and it remains unclear who will emerge to claim the party’s nod. We will now more about the state of play in North Carolina after the May 6th primary.

3. Indiana (Gov. Daniels; Previous ranking: 2)

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels is certainly unpopular and vulnerable, but it is difficult to precisely assess the general election before Democrats settle their nomination race on May 6th. Architect Jim Schellinger has been the establishment’s favored candidate and has far outraised his opposition, but former Rep. Jill Long Thompson could emerge the winner due to higher name recognition. The Indianapolis Star reports that Schellinger’s campaign has been a disappointment while Thompson has been very active and that his fundraising edge could be drowned amidst the presidential race if Clinton and Obama spend millions in ads here in the next few weeks.

Lean Retention (2 D)

4. Washington (Gov. Gregoire; Previous ranking: 3)

The 2004 campaign never really stopped in Washington, where Republican Dino Rossi lost by 129 votes on the third count after leading the first two ballot counts. Christine Gregoire started off a controversial term and has done her best to overcome the partisan rancor of her first election. Rossi announced his second gubernatorial candidacy in late 2007, and he has been campaigning hard since then, hoping to rouse the passions of 2004, bringing up the recount on the trail to undermine the legitimacy of Gregoire’s incumbency. This race will be tight (and bitter) to the end but Gregoire has been able to somewhat regain her footing over the past few years and built some good will which give her a slight edge to start with.

Check the full rankings with all 11 races here.

Governor Rankings: Only a few competitive races

Few people are paying attention to the 14 gubernatorial races that will be decided in the next 15 months (3 are happening this fall, and the 11 remaining are set for 2008). Yet, these contests will play a major role in deciding who holds control of Congress in the next decade: The governors who will be elected in those 14 states will hold control of redistricting after the next census, and each party wants to be ready for maximal gerrymandering in 2011.

With that in mind, let’s rank these races, from the most vulnerable to turnover to the one where the incumbent party feels the safest. It immediately appears that very few of these races are likely to be contested at all, especially the ones that will be decided in 2008. Democrats and Republicans will swap Louisiana and Kentucky this fall, and then fight in only  two-three states next year. A stark contrast to the 2006 cycle.

The first 3 races are listed after the jump. The full rankings and detailed descriptions of all 14 races is available here, on

  • Likely Takeover

1. Kentucky (Gov. Fletcher)
The first of the 2007 races. Fletcher has been facing huge allegations of misconduct and has even been indicted. This pushed Anne Northup, a congresswoman defeated in 2006, to challenge him in the primary last spring, but Fletcher inexplicably survived. He is now almost assured of going down in this November’s election against Democrat Steve Beshear, who has led every opinion poll by an average 20%. Democrats are now running ads using Northup’s words against Fletcher. Count on Fletcher losing his executive immunity in less than two months.

2. Louisiana (Open)
The second of the 2007 races. Republican Bobby Jindal almost became Governor in 2003 but came short against Blanco, who chose earlier this year to not run for re-election given her low approval ratings post-Katrina. Jindal became a House member in 2004, and he now looks unstoppable. Louisiana has no primary system, and the first round will take place in late October. Democrats have fielded weak candidates, and their only hope is to hold Jindal under 50% to force him into a one-on-one runoff in early December, but they would have little chance even then. Louisiana is rapidly drifting Republican.

  • Toss-up

3. Missouri (Gov. Blunt)
Blunt barely won his first term in 2004 against Democrat McKaskill, who since then became Senator. The 2008 campaign started almost immediately, as it became clear that AG Nixon intended to take Blunt on. The race has been nasty for months already. Given Nixon’s statewide recognition and Blunt’s unpopularity, Nixon might have the slightest of edges.

The rest of the rankings, and detailed descriptions of all 14 races, available here, on