- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Never before have so many governorships been up for grabs - and with so much at stake.

The races come just ahead of once-in-a-decade congressional and legislative redistricting to reflect the U.S. population of the 2010 census, a process in which governors will play a central role. Of the 37 governorships on the ballot, more than half are open seats. And many of the contests are in prime 2012 presidential battleground states.

Democrats control 26 governorships and must defend 19 in November. Sheer math, the sour economy and historical trends favoring the out-of-power party in midterm elections suggest big Republican statehouse gains.

“We are now tasked with remaking the political map,” proclaims the website of the Republican Governors Association, headed by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a potential presidential candidate.

Republicans are hoping for eight or more pickups. “We can’t wait until 2012 to start taking our country back,” says Mr. Barbour.

Democrats are striving to minimize losses and pull off some upsets.

“We knew it was going to be a tough year just by virtue of the fact that we elected a Democrat to the White House in 2008,” said Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. “History shows the president’s party loses 5.5 governors seats in midterm elections.”

Furthermore, the poor economy and growing “tea party” activism are weighing on all incumbents and those perceived as establishment candidates.

“In a year like this, no one is safe,” Mr. Daschle said.

Underscoring the high stakes: The GOP governors association is poised to spend up to $65 million on the races; its Democratic counterpart, about $50 million.

Republicans’ best shot for pickups may be a string of governorships now held by Democrats across Great Lakes and upper Midwestern states, including Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa as well as Pennsylvania.

Democrats have fewer opportunities for gains, although they appear on track to pick up Republican governorships in Hawaii, Connecticut and possibly Minnesota.

Both parties were pumping resources into high-profile campaigns in populous California, Texas and Florida, all won by Republicans four years ago. Democrats hope to add at least one of those big three to their column.

These have been particularly trying times for governors.

On the front line of the economic crisis, many have been forced to cut services or raise taxes or both. And they’ve been bloodied by voter anger and the tea party movement sweeping the nation. Unlike the federal government, governors can’t print money and many are barred from deficit spending.

That, along with term limits in some states, is why so few sitting governors are running. Only 13 incumbents are on the ballot.

And some standing for re-election are in close races, including Democratic Govs. Chet Culver in Iowa, Ted Strickland in Ohio, Martin O’Malley in Maryland, even Deval Patrick in Massachusetts.

Governors in 31 of the 37 states on the ballot will have a pivotal role in redrawing congressional and legislative district lines. Whichever party has more control over the process is likely to get a larger number of favorable districts.

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