Democratic governorships appear in peril

History, economy point to big gains for Republicans in states

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer improved her chances of keeping her seat when she signed into law a tough enforcement measure against illegal immigration. Polls show the Republican incumbent leading the race. (Arizona Republic via Associated Press)Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer improved her chances of keeping her seat when she signed into law a tough enforcement measure against illegal immigration. Polls show the Republican incumbent leading the race. (Arizona Republic via Associated Press)
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A Republican election wave could give the party control of roughly two-thirds of state governorships, according to an analysis.

The survey in Governing magazine, in line with trends in the midterm congressional races, projects that Republicans will win more races than Democrats and largely focuses on the size of the GOP gains and the likely outcomes of some of the tightest races.

“The only question now is how much will the Democrats lose,” Jessica Levinson, a director at the nonpartisan Center for Government Studies in Los Angeles, said Tuesday.

She said the likely outcome is partly a reflection of historical trends and partly a function of the struggling economy.

“A very good night could net the Republicans 11 seats, while a disappointing night could result in perhaps a three- to four-seat switch,” said Louis Jacobson, who forecast the 2010 gubernatorial elections and did the same analysis for the 2006 and 2008 cycles.

Right now, Democrats have a 26-to-23 lead in governorships, with Florida’s Charlie Crist the nation’s lone independent governor. Mr. Jacobson said his best estimate is that Republicans will have a net gain of seven seats in the 37 gubernatorial races on ballots this year.

He bases that number on Republicans taking the 21 races they appear to be winning, the Democrats winning nine where they are ahead, and the parties splitting the seven tossups. The outcome could have a major influence on the House redistricting battles next year and on President Obama’s expected re-election bid in 2012.

“We are excited about our opportunity to regain a majority of governorships,” said Mike Schrimpf, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association. He also said having control of 28 governorships on Nov. 2 would “make it a very successful night” by historical standards.

Still, Mr. Schrimpf said, “Where we win is as important as sheer numbers. We’re particularly excited about winning in a majority of swing states.”

Emily Bittner, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association, said the Republicans have set a high bar for themselves and “it will be a dramatic failure if they can’t pick up 10 [governorships].”

She added, “We’re on offense in nearly a dozen states, we’ve targeted our resources strategically, and - more importantly - we are in a good position to pick up key states like Florida and California.”

Among the marquee races, the analysis shows Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, keeping her seat, with the tough immigration statute she signed into law this year proving a boon in her contest with her Democratic opponent, Attorney General Terry Goddard.

In Michigan, where the unemployment rate is roughly 13 percent, moderate Republican Rick Snyder is leading in polls to replace outgoing Democrat Jennifer M. Granholm.

Among the most closely watched contests is the Florida race in which conservative GOP candidate Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink are battling for Mr. Crist’s seat. Mr. Jacobson calls the race “one of the nation’s purest gubernatorial tossups.”

Beyond the 2012 elections, the gubernatorial races could serve to create a new farm team for Republicans, he added. He noted that Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush served as governors before they became president.

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