2010 Nat'l Governors Picture

One of the most interesting things in politics these days, to me, is the 2010 gubernatorial election cycle; I've written some about this before, but will be following it closely for you all along the way.

With Charlie Crist's announcement that he will run for the open US Senate race in Florida, rather than what would have been an easy re-election, things have gotten even more interesting. So, I thought I'd do a little overview on the big picture at this point.

Currently, 28 of the 50 states have Democratic governors -- more importantly (in my view), roughly 53% of Americans live under Democratic governors, versus 47% under Republicans, according to my math using 2008 Census estimates. That's been a very big change over the past few years; not long ago, just about two-thirds of the US population had Republican governors.

An enormous amount is up for grabs in 2010. (Two states, Virginia and New Jersey, have gubernatorial elections this year. Both are now in Democratic hands, and both races are highly contested. For my purposes, I'm going to ignore those and assume they remain Democratic, just to simplify the analysis of 2010.)

In 2010, 36 states -- including the nine most populous -- hold gubernatorial elections. That covers nearly 80 percent of the US population. And 16 states, representing close to two-fifths of the population, will have open seats, where the current governor is either term-limited out, or, like Crist, is choosing not to run. That figure may grow; Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota has not said if he'll run for re-election (I think he won't), and there are others, like Jodi Rell of Connecticut, who are rumored to be possible retirees. Plus, a number of incumbents are facing potentially difficult re-elections.

Of the 36 states facing 2010 elections, 19 are now held by Democrats -- but Republicans actually have much more at stake. The only GOP governors not up in 2010 are in Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Utah, and North Dakota -- relatively small states, in other words.

And a whopping 77 million people now under Republicans -- more than half of their total -- are facing open seats in 2010, compared with 40 million people under Democrats, which is just a quarter of their total.

You can see how much is at stake by looking at the nine most populous states in the country -- which account for about 155 million people, or just over half the country, and all of which hold gubernatorial elections in 2010. Of those nine governors, four are term-limited out (Cal, Penn, Mich, Ga); one is opting not to run (Fla.), and two inherited their posts via scandal-forced resignations, and have never won the gov. election on their own (NY, Ill.).

Today, the GOP holds California, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, for a population edge of 89m-66m in those states; the Democrats hold New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.

If things go well for the GOP, they keep the four they have, and add two or three of the NY/Ill./Penn/Ohio/Mich group -- making their advantage somewhere around 113m/42m. If things go well for the Democrats, they hold their five, and add California and Florida, giving them a huge 121m-34m edge.

Obviously a big part of that is California, which holds more than 36 million people, and where Arnold Schwarzenneger is term-limited out next year. That race could go either way -- especially with the budget situation currently undergoing total meltdown -- but I'd give the Democrats the edge at this point.

Florida, with 18 million people, seemed like a safe keeper for the GOP -- until Crist's decision. Again, anything could happen; but I think it's going to Alex Sink (D), who announced her candidacy today.

The GOP would seem to have some golden opportunities to flip some of the other big states in the other direction, but so far, things aren't looking so promising for the GOP to take advantage.

In New York, Andrew Cuomo is likely to swoop in and rescue New York for the Democrats. Illinois has several potential Democratic candidates, including Gov. Pat Quinn, who seem likely to beat any of the interested Republicans.

In swing-state Pennsylvania, the Democratic governor is term-limited out, giving the GOP a clear shot. But... A) the registration gap has widened to a 1.2 million Democratic advantage in recent years, and B) as evidenced in the Specter fiasco, only a hard-right conservative is likely to win a Penn. GOP state primary, and that kind of candidate is doomed in the general election. (Interestingly, one of the GOP's better chances to win that seat, moderate congressman Jim Gerlach, is being pressured to run against Pat Toomey in the Senate primary instead.)

Michigan, where the Democratic governor is also term-limited, is considered a toss-up because of the horrendous economic conditions. But, this is a state that voted Obama by a 17-point margin, and gave a 14-point margin to the Democrat in the last gubernatorial election. Republicans also are hoping that economic troubles will give them a shot in Ohio, but thus far Ted Strickland looks solid for re-election.

As for the smaller states, there will be a lot of interesting races, and it's possible that we could see a wave in one direction or another -- but at least for now, it looks more likely that things will break different ways in different areas for different reasons. The GOP's best pick-up chances are in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming; the Democrats' are in Minnesota, Nevada, Hawaii, and Rhode Island.
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