Democratic fortunes brighten in governors races

at 01:10 PM ET, 05/20/2011

Democrats are defending all five of the seats on this month’s gubernatorial Line but that vulnerability belies the fact that the party has strengthened its hand in several of its most problematic races in recent weeks.

To wit:

* Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s convincing victory in last Saturday’s West Virginia Democratic primary increases his party’s chances to hold that seat in the October 4 special election. Republicans believe their nominee — wealthy businessman Bill Maloney — can drive a strong “insider versus outsider” contrast with Tomblin but the incumbent starts with a clear edge.

* Kentucky state Senate President David Williams less-than-overwhelming win in Tuesday’s Republican primary — despite heavily outspending his two rivals — isn’t the sort of springboard Republicans were hoping for heading into the fall election against Gov. Steve Beshear (D).

* Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who is widely expected to be the Republican nominee against Gov. Jay Nixon, has been bruised and battered over revelations that he charged taxpayers for a hotel stays for political and personal events. Kinder has since reimbursed the state to the tune of $52,000 but the negative headlines have made it difficult for him to shine a light on Nixon’s first three years in office.

To be clear, none of the developments in this trio of states means Democrats are out of the electoral woods.

President Obama lost all three in the 2008 election — he came close in Missouri but fell well short in Kentucky and West Virginia — and the Republican nominees will do everything they can to remind voters of their opponents’ ties to the unpopular national party.

And, with no Republican governorships cracking our top five most endangered races, the GOP is still playing offense in 2011 and 2012.

Still, the early primary results — as well as other developments on the ground — have brightened Democratic prospects of holding onto several seats in unfriendly territory, a prospect that was hard(er) to imagine six months ago.

As always, the number one ranked race is considered the most likely to switch sides in the coming election. Kudos or critiques of our rankings? The comments section awaits.

To the Line!

5. Washington (D-2012): Republicans think they have a good chance in the Evergreen State, pointing to polling that shows a toss-up between Attorney General Rob McKenna (R) and Rep. Jay Inslee (D) for the seat. (Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) could run for a third term but is expected to retire.) Republican Rep. Dave Reichert is also considering a bid and could be a strong candidate. A contested GOP primary would be a good thing for Democrats who have held the governorship since 1984. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Missouri (D-2012):A whole month of bad press for Kinder has Nixon looking strong. The Republican lieutenant governor clearly hoped that his decision to repay the state for his hotel stays would end the controversy. But the state auditor’s office is still planning an investigation. And, Nixon raised about twice as much money as Kinder in the past six months. Democrats still can’t take this race for granted, however, given the conservative direction in which Missouri trended in 2010. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Montana (D-2012):State Attorney General Steve Bullock (D) is the 800-pound gorilla in the race and most smart Democrats now expect him to run. If he does, he gives Democrats a real chance of holding onto the Montana governorship for 12 straight years. Republicans already have a crowded field with former Rep. Rick Hill as well as former state Sens. Corey Stapleton and Ken Miller among others. Whoever winds up as the GOP nominee will likely benefit from the likelihood that the Republican presidential nominee will easily carry the state. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Kentucky (D-2011): Democrats are pointing to this week’s primary as a sign that Republican voters aren’t all that enthusiastic about Williams, who outspent tea party-backed businessman Phil Moffett ten-to-one and yet didn’t crack 50 percent. Williams’ running mate, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, has also been stumbling. But, Beshear is still running for re-election in a state where President Obama is unpopular and unemployment is in the double-digits. That reality suggests that it would be a mistake to write off the race. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. North Carolina (D-2012): Gov. Bev Perdue (D) can’t seem to catch a break in this race, which looks likely to be a rematch of 2008 against former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R). The latest bad headline? Her son, Garrett, posted a message on Facebook describing a man hosting a McCrory fundraiser as a “chronic adulterer and town crier”. Yeesh. Even Democrats acknowledge that Perdue has had a very rough first few years in office. Perdue’s hope is that Obama’s decision to target the state will help drive loyal Democrats to the ballot box. (Previous ranking:1)

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

 
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