OLYMPIA, Wash. — Republicans are in position to extend their recent gains among governors as they compete for seats they haven't won in a quarter-century.
Of the 11 states with gubernatorial elections in November, eight are now led by Democrats, and each of the most competitive races is a GOP pickup opportunity. The numbers suggests that Republicans soon will claim 30 to 33 governorships after holding just 22 a few years ago — an advantage not reflected in the divided Congress or competitive presidential race.
"It says that when people are choosing the government closest to the people, they're choosing Republicans," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, chairman of the Republican Governors Association. "They realize the CEO of the state has got to be someone who's fiscally conservative and is going to focus on jobs."
North Carolina, the most likely state to flip, is trending toward a Republican governor for the first time since 1988. In Washington state, which hasn't chosen a GOP governor in more than three decades, new polls show a tossup.
Steven Greene, a professor of political science at North Carolina State University, suspects there isn't necessarily a national tide pushing Republicans in governor's races so much as individual circumstances in the small number of competitive states. Democrats in North Carolina, for example, saw a former governor convicted of a felony in 2010 and the current governor is sullied by an investigation that led to charges against her former campaign aides.
The Republican candidate, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, has cast himself as a pragmatic centrist and is projected to win comfortably even as President Obama tries to compete in the state. Mr. Greene noted that a bloc of ballots will be cast for Mr. Obama and for Mr. McCrory.
"The candidates matter," Mr. Greene said. "As political scientists, we have to remind ourselves about that sometimes."
Republicans have been aided by a cash advantage, with the RGA raising about twice as much as the Democratic Governors Association during this election cycle. Both sides have invested in three other states held by Democrats — Washington, New Hampshire and Montana — that are seen as too close to call.
Kate Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association, acknowledged that the realities of the electoral map make 2012 a difficult year for Democrats, since they have more seats to defend.
"We're pleased with the shape of the more competitive tossup races going into the homestretch — because we have excellent candidates focused on creating jobs and expanding opportunity, and we've made smart and early investments throughout the year," Ms. Hansen said.