The Fix’s top 15 gubernatorial races of 2014

Cue Gloria Gaynor's "I will survive." It's time to take a look at governors who are facing tough reelection odds but have signaled to the political world this year that they won't go quietly in 2014.

In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn has long been the cycle's most vulnerable Democratic governor. Quinn still holds that title, but he's standing on firmer ground than he was a year ago.

There was a time when it looked like Quinn might not even survive the primary. But thanks to a combination of luck and skill, he scared away the Democratic competition and how holds the title of his party's presumptive nominee. And he just signed a pension reform plan, addressing the issue that has in large part driven his lousy public image.

Quinn faces problems with labor and a GOP field eager to run against the unpopular incumbent. So he's far from out of the woods. All in all, though, the governor's got to be happy with where he is.

Democrat Charlie Crist's launch has been rock in Florida. (Alan Diaz/AP)

Democrat Charlie Crist's launch has been rocky in Florida. (Alan Diaz/AP)

So does Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who entered the year with a lousy approval rating driven by unhappiness from both his political left and right. Don't get us wrong — he's still a top target for Democrats. But he's reminded observers that he's a tough campaigner who is steadily building a massive war chest. His likely Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, meanwhile, has gotten off to a rough start.

Neither Quinn nor Scott is in the clear. Far from it. But what we've learned this year is that it's too early to write either of them off just yet.

And now, to our list of the 15 seats most likely to change party control. As always, No. 1 is most likely to flip.

To the Line!

15. Kansas (Republican-controlled): State Rep. Paul Davis (D) launched one of the first attacks of the 2014 campaign late last month, criticizing Gov. Sam Brownback (R) for tax cuts that cut funding for education. Democrats think this is THE sleeper race in 2014. (Previous ranking: 15)

14. Minnesota (Democratic-controlled): Gov. Mark Dayton (D) is right on the cusp of being vulnerable. A GOP poll conducted recently showed 45 percent said he deserved reelection and another 45 percent said it was time for someone else. Most polling has shown his approval rating higher than his disapproval, though. (Previous ranking: 14)

13. Massachusetts (D): Women running for statewide office had long struggled in the Bay State until now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) broke through in 2012, becoming the first woman elected to the Senate. Women gained more momentum this week when Democrat Katherine Clark (D) won a special election and became the fifth woman to represent Massachusetts in the House. Can Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) continue the trend by becoming the first elected female governor of Massachusetts? She's the early front-runner. If Coakley advances from a crowded primary, her likely opponent is 2010 GOP nominee Charlie Baker. (Previous ranking: 13)

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12. Arizona (R): “Arizona gov in spotlight over child abuse failures” isn’t exactly the headline you want to see if you’re … well … the Arizona gov. Republican Jan Brewer still hasn’t said whether she’ll attempt to seek another term, but something tells us headlines like this make her less apt. (Previous ranking: 12)

11. Connecticut (D): This data point shows why Gov. Dan Malloy (D) isn’t a shoo-in for reelection in this blue state. Over the course of his three years in office, his state has increasingly lagged behind the national unemployment rate. While it was better than the national average when Malloy was elected and for most of his first year, Connecticut’s unemployment rate peaked at 0.8 points higher than the national average in August and September. It’s now 0.6 percent higher. (Previous ranking: 11)

10. Wisconsin (R): There's been a lot of chatter about the possibility that Gov. Scott Walker (R) will run for president in 2016. Polling shows winning another term as govenror in 2014 isn't a done deal, however. Democrat Mary Burke definitely has her work cut out for her, but Walker could end up with a competitive race on his hands. (Previous ranking: 10)

9. Colorado (D): It's been a tough year for Democrats here. After two state senators were recalled over their support for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper's gun-control legislation, a third just resigned to avoid a recall.  Gun-control activists are shifting their resources to states such as Colorado, which could help change the public's mind about the legislation Hickenlooper signed. Make no mistake, Hickenlooper's poll numbers have not looked good. But his saving grace next year could be a GOP field that lacks a top recruit. (Previous ranking: 9)

8. Ohio (R): Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) embraced Medicaid expansion, a gamble that put him at odds with many Republican governors. The good news for Kasich is that it's popular in Ohio. The bad news is that it hasn't really helped his polling numbers. And if he runs for president in 2016, it could be a liability. Nonetheless, Kasich still has the upper hand here against Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (D), though his lead has shrunk a bit in recent months. (Previous ranking: 8)

7. South Carolina (R): GOP Gov. Nikki Haley’s campaign is on the attack, criticizing state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D) for, as a lawyer, working on cases that are before magistrates that he has recommended for their appointments. Sheheen has endorsed a bill that would prevent legislators like him from recommending magistrates, and his campaign says he is at the forefront of reform efforts. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Michigan (R): A recent survey from Democratic automated pollster PPP showed a close race between Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and former congressman Mark Schauer (D). One of Schauer's main tasks is name recognition. He needs more voters to know who he is to compete with Snyder. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Illinois (D): Can Quinn keep up the momentum he built this year in 2014? Things will get more difficult for him after the March primary, when the eventual Republican nominee can focus on him, not the competitive three-way GOP primary underway right now.  Businessman Bruce Rauner is competing for the Republican nomination with state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Florida (R): Florida moves down the line to reflect the rocky start of former governor Crist and the continued impressive fundraising of Scott. Crist abruptly parted ways with his new campaign manager Bill Hyers. And while he raised nearly $3 million out of the gate in his first month as a candidate, Scott brought in nearly $6 million in the same period. (Previous ranking: 3)

3. Arkansas (D): One thing former congressmen Asa Hutchinson (R) and Mike Ross (D) can agree on: They both like popular outgoing Gov. Mike Beebe (D) and they both like his tax cuts. We still think Hutchinson (or another Republican) has a better shot at succeeding Beebe, but it’s not clear-cut, and Ross’s fundraising has been very strong. Arkansas moves up the line as a reflection of the movement in Florida, it should be noted, not because the shape of the campaign has changed since our last rundown. (Previous ranking: 4)

2. Maine (R): A new poll from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network shows a tight race, with Rep. Mike Michaud (D) at 37 percent, Gov. Paul LePage (R) at 36 percent and independent Eliot Cutler at 18 percent. This race will continue to be close, despite LePage’s unpopularity, as long as it’s a three-way contest. We think Michaud eventually pulls more of Cutler’s supporters, though. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Pennsylvania (R): Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) was recently caught in the middle of a political back-and-forth involving Warren and the centrist think tank Third Way, with which Schwartz is affiliated. While it remains to be seen whether the dust-up has an impact in the Democratic primary, it doesn't change the fact that Gov. Tom Corbett (R) remains the most vulnerable governor up for reelection. (Previous ranking: 1)

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