The Fix’s top 15 gubernatorial races

March 22, 2013

So you want your old job back, huh?

That's the question voters will have for Charlie Crist if the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat former governor makes a comeback bid in Florida next year.

Former Florida governor Charlie Crist. (Jason Reed/Reuters)
Former Florida governor Charlie Crist. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Crist may not even be the only former governor to pursue his old gig next year. Former Maine governor John Baldacci (D) recently left the door open to a comeback bid of his own, provided some other Democrats don't run.

So it's worth asking the question: How successful have former governors been at reclaiming their old positions?

According to a University of Minnesota Smart Politics study published during the 2010 campaign, the odds are better than even.

The study found that dating back to 1946, former governors won 63 percent of the time in open seat races and 57 percent of the time overall -- provided they made it on to the general election ballot.

In 2010, the results were mixed. Jerry Brown (D) of California, John Kitzhaber (D) of Oregon, and Terry Branstad (R) of Iowa each won their comeback bids, while Bob Ehrlich (R) of Maryland and Roy Barnes (D) of Georgia fell short.

In 2012, there were only 11 gubernatorial races, and no former governors appeared on general election ballots.

If he runs, it looks now like Crist would have a pretty good chance of winning his old job back, given how unpopular Gov. Rick Scott (R) is looking. But Crist would first have to win the Democratic primary. And his GOP past could be a vulnerability, especially against a top competitor.

And now, to the Line! Below, we list our top 15 races (out of 36 states holding contests). As usual, No. 1 is most likely to change control.

15. New Hampshire (Democratic-controlled): Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), the lone Democratic female governor in the country after the retirement of Washington’s Christine Gregoire and the defeat retirement of North Carolina’s Bev Perdue, is still early in her two-year term and has yet to really carve out her space. What we know is that this race, as many races in New Hampshire, will be heavily dependent on the national environment. (Previous ranking: 15)

14. Arizona (Republican-controlled): Arizona moves down, now that it's clear former surgeon general Richard Carmona (D) isn't running. The 2010 Senate nominee's cross-party appeal would have made him a top recruit in the red state. Minus Carmona, the Democratic options include former Clinton White House aide Fred DuVal -- who is formally exploring a bid -- and Democratic state Rep. Chad Campbell, who is mulling a campaign of his own. Meanwhile, term-limited Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has left the door open to challenging the state Constitution to pursue another term. (Previous ranking: 11)

13. Wisconsin (R): Gov. Scott Walker (R) will face his third election in four years in 2014, after first winning during the 2010 GOP wave election and surviving a recall attempt last year. The question here is whether Democrats will recruit a formidable opponent for next year's race. Recent polling from Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling shows that Walker would be vulnerable to a challenge from former senator Russ Feingold. But it's not clear that Feingold wants to run. (Previous ranking: 14)

12 . Connecticut (D): Gov. Dan Malloy’s (D) 2010 opponent, former ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley (R) is off to a tough start after suggesting that Malloy’s approval rating benefited from the shootings in Newtown. But the fact is that Malloy’s approval rating, despite its recovery, remains below 50 percent, which makes him vulnerable. (Previous ranking: 13)

11. Massachusetts (D): Republicans have strong options to look at here, most notably former senator Scott Brown. The party's 2010 nominee, Charlie Baker, is also in the mix. That gives them some hope in the Democratic-leaning state. What's more, prominent Democrats like Attorney General Martha Coakley and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray passing on the race means question marks on the other side of the open seat competition. (Previous ranking: 11)

10. Ohio (R): Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (D) officially formed an exploratory committee earlier this month, and at this point, he looks like the candidate the party will rally around. Rep. Tim Ryan (D) recently took himself out of the running, and former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray's future depends on whether he is confirmed to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Democrats are upbeat about FitzGerald, who is a former FBI special agent. But Republican Gov. John Kasich's once awful numbers have been on the mend, giving the GOP a very reasonable shot of holding this swing state seat. (Previous ranking: 10)

9. South Carolina (R): The good news for Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is that she looks stronger in a potential primary, with a recent Winthrop University poll putting her approval among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents at 67 percent. Among all the state’s voters, she had an approval of 44 percent and a disapproval of 39 percent – slightly better than the last Winthrop poll in December but still vulnerable. (Previous ranking: 9)

8. Illinois (D): Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) suggested this week that if Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) challenges Gov. Pat Quinn (D) (who is very vulnerable, she could clear the field. If Quinn's the nominee, this is a pickup opportunity for Republicans. But if Democrats nominate someone else -- and Madigan has been viewed as a rising star in recent years -- they'll be in much better position to hold this seat. (Previous ranking: 7)

7. Michigan (R): The last two polls, from PPP, show Gov. Rick Snyder (R) slipping significantly into negative territory. The question is whether Democrats can recruit a top-tier challenger. Now that Sen. Carl Levin (D) is retiring, Rep. Gary Peters (D) appears primed to run for his seat rather than for governor, and the bench behind him isn’t as strong as one might expect in a blue-leaning state. (Previous ranking: 6)

6. Pennsylvania (R): Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) says it is her "intention" to challenge Gov. Tom Corbett (R) next year. That gives Democrats a top recruit against the incumbent, who polls show is vulnerable to a strong challenge. We're moving Pennsylvania up the line to reflect these realities. (Previous ranking: 8)

5. Virginia (R): There are two ways of looking at Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's decision not to make an independent bid. On the one hand, it spares Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) from losing moderate Republicans who would have gone with Bolling. On the other, it gives former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe a better shot at grabbing anti-Cuccinelli voters who would have preferred the lieutenant governor over the Democrat. One thing is clear, though: This one-on-one race is the most interesting statewide campaign of 2013, with the New Jersey gubernatorial race looking pretty one-sided right now. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Rhode Island (Independent-controlled): The nation’s lone independent governor, Lincoln Chafee, has seen his numbers continue to crater. There has been some thought that he might run for the Democratic nomination, but Democrats have to believe their chances would be better with either Providence Mayor Angel Taveras or state Treasurer Gina Raimondo. It's notable, then, that Democratic Governors Association Chairman Peter Shumlin has reportedly been wooing Chafee to become a Democrat. Of course, without a cleared field, Chafee would have little incentive to join a Democratic primary in which he'd be an underdog. But for the DGA, if Chafee became a Democrat and then lost the primary, the three-way general election would at least be off the table. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Arkansas (D): This big question mark here is whether former congressman Mike Ross (D) will make a bid. If he does, Democrats have some new and real hope of holding on to the open seat. If not, Republicans, likely with former congressman Asa Hutchinson as their nominee, will be favored to make a pickup. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Maine (R): The GOP’s best friend in this race appears to be the likely independent candidacy of 2010 candidate Eliot Cutler. In a head-to-head matchup, it’s hard to see Gov. Paul LePage (R) surviving, given his recent poll numbers and his propensity for taking very conservative positions. But this is Maine, and campaigns have a way of becoming three-way contests. Baldacci is thinking about running, but he left office very unpopular. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Florida (R): We know this much: Scott is extremely vulnerable. From there, the biggest questions are about primaries. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed both Crist and 2010 Democratic nominee Alex Sink leading the incumbent. Will both of them run? Crist, the former Republican, has won goodwill from party insiders for his support of President Obama's 2012 campaign. If both he and Sink run, the race would instantly become one of 2014's most interesting primaries. Meanwhile, Scott may receive a primary challenge, given his unpopularity. (Previous ranking: 1)

SECTION: {section=politics, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=politics, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Next Story
Sean Sullivan | March 22, 2013