The Fix’s top 15 gubernatorial races of 2014

It's a race pitting an incumbent Democrat who has governed in tough fiscal times against a Republican former private equity executive who has vowed to right the ship. Sound familiar?


Bruce Rauner (R) smiles at supporters after winning the Republican gubernatorial primary. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

We're not talking about President Obama versus Mitt Romney, but rather Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) against Republican Bruce Rauner, who recently clinched his party's nomination.

Democrats and labor spent big hammering Rauner in the GOP primary, but they were unable to stop him from winning. Rauner's victory, albeit by a narrower than anticipated margin, gave a Republicans a well-heeled candidate with a business background that could serve as an appealing alternative to voters, given the bleak fiscal outlook that has made Quinn vulnerable.

Democrats are going to try to turn Rauner into 2014's Romney, with attacks casting him as out of touch. But Rauner isn't shying away from his personal wealth, declaring recently, "Oh, I’m probably .01 percent."

The race will test 1) whether Republicans have learned how to deal with the kinds of attacks Democrats lobbed at Romney in 2012 and 2) whether Democrats can replicate them on a smaller scale.

The answer to those questions might well decide who the next governor of Illinois will be.

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): A group allied with Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has already gone up on TV, a sign Republicans are not taking this race for granted. Limited polling has shown a close race between Brownback and state House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D). National Democrats view this as a potential sleeper pickup opportunity. (Previous ranking: N/A)

14. Georgia (R): We’re still waiting for a good new poll, but Democrats think Gov. Nathan Deal (R) will pay a price for his state’s horrendous response to a snow and ice storm last month – one that left motorists in Atlanta stranded for half a day or more in some places. State Sen. Jason Carter (D), the grandson of former president Jimmy Carter, is the Democrats’ standard-bearer here. Keep an eye on that next poll. It might surprise you. (Previous ranking: 15)

13. Massachusetts (Democratic-controlled): A recent poll showed Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) remains the candidate to beat here. She is up big over her primary opponents as well as Republican Charlie Baker. The good news for Baker is that he cobbled together enough support at the state GOP nominating convention to appear alone on the Republican primary ballot. (Previous ranking: 13)


12. Arizona (R): Gov. Jan Brewer (R) finally made it official, announcing that she won’t attempt to seek reelection. There was little question about the fact that she couldn’t run for a third term – since the state’s term limits law includes partial terms – but now the race is officially on. Maricopa County Sheriff and noted anti-illegal immigration crusader Joe Arpaio said this week that he’s still considering a run. The Republican field is crowded and competitive. (Previous ranking: 12)

11. Colorado (D): The addition of Rep. Cory Gardner (R) to this state’s 2014 Senate race gives Republicans a chance to win both a Senate seat and a governorship in a state that wasn’t really on their map a year ago. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), like Sen. Mark Udall (D), isn’t as strong as he once appeared. But his poll numbers have bounced back after a rough 2013. Unlike in the Senate race, there’s a crowded GOP primary for the chance to face Hickenlooper. The frontrunner for the GOP nomination appears to be Secretary of State Scott Gessler. (Previous ranking: 9)

10. Wisconsin (R): A recent and very reputable poll showed Gov. Scott Walker (R) up seven points over Democrat Mary Burke, unchanged from the previous survey. The good news for Walker is that the release of more than 25,000 pages of e-mails last month involving his office when he was county executive of Milwaukee does not appear to be moving voters to oppose him. The bad news for Walker is that his approval rating has slipped. The governor recently went up on the air, a sign this race is kicking into gear. (Previous ranking: 10)

9. Ohio (R): Gov. John Kasich's lead over Democrat Ed FitzGerald is five percentage points, according to a recent poll. Considering that Kasich's image was in the toilet a couple of years ago, that's a pretty good position for him to be in right now. The big question mark for Fitzgerald is money. He needs to make up ground fast, and he knows it. The Democrat recently brought on a new fundraising team. (Previous ranking: 8)

8. South Carolina (R): The Republican Governors Association recently hit the airwaves here for the first-time with an ad hitting Democrat Vincent Sheheen for supporting Medicaid expansion. It just so happens that the chair of the RGA, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), supports it too. Gov. Nikki Haley (R) opposes it. Policy inconsistencies aside, the early ad confirmed national Republicans are mindful this seat could be in play. Still, it's going to be tough for Sheheen to pull an upset in a ruby red state. (Previous ranking: 7)

7. Connecticut (D): Yet another Quinnipiac poll shows Republican Tom Foley in a virtual dead heat with Gov. Dan Malloy (D) in a rematch of their razor-thin 2010 race. The new poll has them at 42-42, after the last one showed Foley ahead 43-40. Since then, Obama’s approval rating in this blue state has dropped to 45 percent. Sparring over the minimum wage with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) was probably good for Malloy's image in deep blue Connecticut. But make no mistake: He has a real race on his hands. (Previous ranking: 11)

6. Michigan (R): The RGA hit the airwaves this week with a spot slamming former congressman Mark Schauer (D). The DGA has already spent $2 million on the air here, and it appears to be having an effect. A recent poll showed Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's lead over Schauer has been trimmed. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Illinois (D): How much of his own money is Rauner willing to spend in the general election? He spent $6 million in the primary. Illinois is a populous state where money matters. Rauner's ability to spend and raise big money is one of the reasons Republicans feel good about this race.  (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Arkansas (D): Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) might be trying to use Bill Clinton against Hillary Clinton in 2016, but in Arkansas, the Democrats are using Clinton’s impeachment against Republicans. Former congressman Mike Ross (D) this week attacked fellow former congressman Asa Hutchinson (R) for his role in prosecuting the impeachment case against Clinton in the late 1990s. Ross, a Blue Dog, continues to give Democrats a solid shot to hold this red state (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Florida (R): Turmoil in the world of Republican Gov. Rick Scott's campaign spilled into public view this week when sharply worded e-mail correspondence appeared in media reports -- not what the vulnerable incumbent needed in a close race against Democrat Charlie Crist. Democrats like what they have seen from Crist so far, but Scott is a fighter, and Republicans expect him to be in competition in November. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Maine (R): So long as independent Eliot Cutler remains in the race, unpopular Gov. Paul LePage (R) has a fighting chance. Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud (D) has run a solid campaign and looks like the frontrunner, even with Cutler in the race. But without him in the picture, Democrats could breathe much easier here. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Pennsylvania (R): Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is still the most vulnerable governor in the country. A recent Quinnipic poll showed voters said he doesn't deserve reelection by 55-34 percent. Former state revenue secretary Tom Wolf has emerged as the Democratic frontrunner, and he led the incumbent 52-33 in the same poll. Ouch. (Previous ranking: 1)

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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