The Fix’s top 15 gubernatorial races

April 12, 2013

Democrats had a good week across the gubernatorial landscape when it came to recruitment:

* In Arkansas, former congressman Mike Ross, a Democrat with a moderate profile that's a good fit for the state, has decided to run for the seat being vacated by term-limited Gov. Mike Beebe (D).

Former congressman Mike Ross, a big recruiting win for Democrats. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Former congressman Mike Ross, a big recruiting win for Democrats. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

* In Pennsylvania, as expected, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) officially launched her bid to unseat Gov. Tom Corbett (R). Schwartz is a capable fundraiser whom Democrats have had at the top of their gubernatorial wish list.

* And in South Carolina, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D) said he is gearing up for a rematch against Gov. Nikki Haley (R). Sheheen narrowly lost to Haley in 2010, during a great Republican election cycle.

Democrats should be very pleased with the news that that all three are running. But when it comes to the first two, they should also be prepared to address the connections the candidates have to Washington by virtue of their time in Congress. Look for the GOP to cast Ross and Schwartz as creatures of the nation's capital. And Republicans are already signaling their intent to tie Sheheen, who hasn't even served in Congress, to the Obama administration, which is very unpopular in the Palmetto State.

(Of course, in Arkansas, the likely Republican nominee, former congressman Asa Hutchinson, also has a congressional record to address.)

All three races promise to be among the most closely watched contests of the 2014 cycle. If Republicans can hold on in Pennsylvania with a vulnerable incumbent, it will be a huge victory for the party. Similarly, if Democrats can unseat Haley in a very conservative state, it will be a major win for them. And in Arkansas, a state that has gone increasingly conservative, moderate Democrats Ross and Sen. Mark Pryor will be trying to prove their party can still win statewide.

And now, to the Line!

(A reminder that the races below are ordered according to the likelihood they will result in a change of parties, with No. 1 being the most likely.)

15. New Hampshire (Democratic-controlled): There’s a new Sununu on the scene. Republican Chris Sununu, the son of former governor and White House chief of staff John H. Sununu and brother of former senator John E. Sununu, is reportedly looking at challenging first-term Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) in 2014. Other GOP options include former congressman Frank Guinta, who lost his reelection bid in 2012 after one term. (Previous ranking: 15)

14. Arizona (Republican-controlled): Former Clinton White House aide Fred DuVal (D) picked up endorsements this week from a trio of former Democratic governors. But he may not have the field to himself, with state Rep. Chad Campbell (D) showing interest, too. There hasn't been much buzz lately about Gov. Jan Brewer (R) challenging the state Constitution to pursue another term (there had been some late last year), and if she doesn't try to run again, look for a potentially crowded GOP field. Republicans such as Secretary of State Ken Bennett, state Treasurer Doug Ducey and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith could possibly jump in alongside former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, the AP notes.(Previous ranking: 14)

13. Wisconsin (R): Having survived a recall attempt, Gov. Scott Walker (R) is taking his story to the national stage, stoking buzz about 2016. Walker is teaming up with former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen to pen a book about his time as governor, including his high-profile clash with labor activists. As for 2014, Walker is in decent shape early on, and Democrats have yet to find a candidate. If and when they do, this race could become more interesting. (Previous ranking: 13)

12. Connecticut (D): Former ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley (R) officially launched his rematch with Gov. Dan Malloy (D) last month, and his campaign quickly released a poll suggesting that Malloy is highly beatable. This was a very close race in 2010, with Malloy winning by about 7,000 votes. But that was a good GOP year, and running as an incumbent is often beneficial. For now, Foley’s got a shot, but Malloy’s the favorite. (Previous ranking: 12)

11. Massachusetts (D): Former Republican senator Scott Brown’s flirtation with a New Hampshire Senate campaign would seem to be a pretty good indication that he won’t run for Massachusetts governor in 2014. Then again, he might surprise us. Next in line is 2010 nominee Charlie Baker, who ran a solid campaign but came up short in a three-way race. Baker says he will decide on a rematch by the fall. (Previous ranking: 11)

10. Ohio (R): It's looking as though Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (D), who has formed an exploratory committee, is going to be the candidate Democrats end up coalescing around. Republican Gov. John Kasich's numbers look at whole lot better than they once did, but he's far from invulnerable. Republican state legislators recently threw out Kasich's proposed tax plan, a development Democrats seized on to suggest he is out of step with most of the state. (Previous ranking: 10)

9. Illinois (D): The buzz about a potential bid by state Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) has been ramping up, drawing attention to a pol long seen in Democratic circles as a rising star. Of course, Madigan will have to beat Gov. Pat Quinn (D) in a primary -- but his numbers have been downright lousy. Meanwhile, don't lose sight of Republican Bruce Rauner (R). The venture capitalist who is exploring a bid has raised a hefty $1.3 million. (Previous ranking: 8)

8. South Carolina (R): Sheheen's news moves this race up the Line one spot. His announcement, paired with Elizabeth Colbert Busch's House bid, has given South Carolina Democrats something to get jazzed about for the first time in, well, a long time. But Republicans are trying to tie both to the national Democratic Party -- and if they are successful, it could be another disappointing cycle for Democrats in the Palmetto State, given how unpopular President Obama is there. (Previous ranking: 9)

7. Michigan (R): The good news for Democrats? Gov. Rick Snyder (R) continues to have a higher disapproval than approval rating, and 2010 opponent and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero (D) won’t seek a rematch of his 18-point loss. The bad news? It’s not clear who will make the race. The Democratic bench in Michigan remains very thin despite the state’s blue lean, and with Rep. Gary Peters (D) looking like a good bet for the open Senate seat, it’s not clear who else will step forward. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Virginia (R): Both former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe and state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) are starting to take their lumps, with McAuliffe being the subject of scrutiny related to his resignation from GreenTech Automotive and Cuccinelli being targeted for failing to disclose his stock holdings on time. Expect both men to stumble repeatedly in the hottest race of 2013. (Previous ranking: 5)

5. Pennsylvania (R): Schwartz gives Democrats a top candidate in this race. She was the House Democratic campaign arm's chief fundraiser, which means she knows how to bring in big bucks. Other Democratic candidates might jump in, but the early read is that Schwartz has the inside track. Polling shows Corbett is vulnerable, so he's got some work to do if he's going to win a second term. (Previous ranking: 6)

4. Arkansas (D): There's no question that Ross's decision to run gives Democrats a big boost here. What was beginning to look like a lost cause for the party suddenly looks like a race where they have some hope. Still, Ross will have to get by former lieutenant governor Bill Halter in the primary while former congressman Asa Hutchinson (R) appears to have a clearer path to the GOP nomination. Republicans have the edge here, but not by as much as they did before Ross jumped in. (Previous ranking: 3)

3. Maine (R):  A new poll shows that Gov. Paul LePage (R), despite his unpopularity, could very well survive in a three-way contest. If 2010 independent nominee Eliot Cutler runs as a Democrat, though, Cutler would be an eight-point favorite in a head-to-head race. Former governor John Baldacci’s (D) flirtation with running should give Democrats great pause; he exited office with terrible approval ratings. (Previous ranking: 2)

2. Rhode Island (Independent-controlled): What will unpopular Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) do? He could become a Democrat -- something Democratic Governors Association Chairman Peter Shumlin appeared to welcome recently -- but he might find himself running against two top contenders (Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras) if they decide to make bids. What's more, the DGA isn't going to endorse Chafee or anyone in a contested Democratic race, a national Democrat noted. (The group will simply support the eventual nominee.) If he runs as an independent, Chafee may still lose a three-way race. There are not a lot of outs for him in this race. (Previous ranking: 4)

1. Florida (R): The good news for former governor Charlie Crist (D) is that it doesn't sound as if 2010 nominee Alex Sink is going to run. If Crist runs and ends up the Democratic nominee, and Gov. Rick Scott (R) isn't felled in a primary, we could be in for an interesting Sunshine State general election. In one corner would be Scott, who has angered both the political left and the right. In the other, Crist, who abandoned the GOP for a Democratic Party in which some voters may be skeptical of him. Money talks in the state with so many expensive media markets. Crist and Scott (a huge self-funder in 2010) would each be expected to spend big. In the end, this still looks like a very tough hold for the GOP. (Previous ranking: 1)

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Juliet Eilperin · April 12, 2013