GOP will make pickups in governor’s races — but how many?

November 2, 2012

Republicans will make pickups across the landscape of governor’s races on Tuesday. The only question left is how many states the party will net.


Rob McKenna is trying to become the first Republican elected governor of Washington since 1980. (Dean Hare/AP)

The GOP is poised to pick up North Carolina, where Gov. Bev Perdue (D) opted to retire amid anemic polling numbers. GOP nominee Pat McCrory has run a solid campaign there against Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton (D).

From there, Republicans plausibly stand to pick up between zero and three more states. Democrats’ only possible pickup opportunity is in Indiana, a race that has tightened but still looks like a pretty safe GOP hold.

(In all, 11 states will hold gubernatorial elections on Tuesday. Eight are currently controlled by Democrats.)

Aside from North Carolina, the GOP’s two best chances to make gains are in a red state and a blue one: Washington and Montana. Both are open seat races. Recent polling in both states has shown close races. 

Republicans shouldn’t get too comfortable playing offense. They will have to defend seats in New Jersey and Virginia in 2013. In 2014, 36 states will hold governor's elections, and Republicans will be defending at least 22 of those. 

And now, to our rundown of the 5 seats most likely to change parties. As always, these races are rated from most likely to flip — No. 1 — to least likely — No. 5.

To the Line!

5. Indiana (Republican-controlled): Rep. Mike Pence’s (R) decision not to go negative against former state House speaker John Gregg (D) has allowed this race to tighten, but the Republican is still favored to win. A bipartisan Howey/DePauw poll released on Friday showed Pence leading Gregg 47 percent to 40 percent, and a Democratic poll showed the race to be even tighter. Pence should win, but this doesn’t look like the rout it once resembled. Indiana replaces West Virginia at No. 5, though to be clear, neither state looks like it is going to flip. (Previous ranking: NR)

4. New Hampshire (D): A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll showed former state Senate majority leader Maggie Hassan (D) leading Republican attorney Ovide Lamontagne 49 percent to 44 percent. Outgoing Gov. John Lynch (D) remains popular in the state, and voters appear inclined to replace him with another member of his party. If Lamontagne loses, it will be his second defeat in as many elections. (He lost a Senate primary in 2010.) (Previous ranking: 3)

3. Washington (D): This race has been a real roller coaster ride. Former congressman Jay Inslee’s (D) campaign got off to a rocky start, but he steadied the ship after resigning from Congress to focus on the contest full-time. Attorney General Rob McKenna, the GOP’s top gubernatorial recruit this cycle, underwhelmed in the August all-party primary, but has since bounced back. A recent Elway poll showed a neck-and-neck race, with McKenna at 47 percent and Inslee at 45 percent. (Previous ranking: 4)

2. Montana (D): Like Washington, this race looks very close. Ultimately, we put it at No. 2 because all other things being equal, the state’s overall partisan tilt benefits former congressman Rick Hill (R) (as Washington’s Democratic-tilt benefits Inslee). An odd campaign finance development temporarily snagged Hill’s spending, but a Mason-Dixon poll released this week showed the Republican with a slight, three-point lead. A group backing Attorney General Steve Bullock (D) released an internal poll on Friday showing him up by 7. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. North Carolina (D): McCrory is the heavy favorite here, and if he wins, the former mayor of Charlotte would become the first Republican elected governor of the Tar Heel State since 1988. (Previous ranking: 1)

Sean Sullivan covers national politics for “The Fix.”
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Chris Cillizza | November 2, 2012