The top 15 gubernatorial races of 2014

More and more money is beginning to flow from the coffers of the Republican and Democratic Governors Associations to advertising buys in key gubernatorial races as the 2014 election season kicks into gear. A review of early spending shows the RGA has spent more than $5 million nearly $4.8 million in four states, mostly to play defense on behalf of governors first elected in 2010. The DGA has spent less than half in two states -- one where they are playing defense, one where they are on offense.

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The RGA has spent the most heavily in Wisconsin Michigan, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) faces a potentially competitive race. The group has also hit the airwaves big in South Carolina, most recently with a rough ad hitting Democrat Vincent Sheheen for defending people charged with violent crimes as a lawyer. In Michigan, it has spent more than $1.3 million. Arkansas, which is Republicans' best pickup opportunity, is the fourth state where the RGA has gone up.

The DGA's ad money has gone to Arkansas and Michigan, with the vast majority going the latter state. These figures don't include money transferred to campaigns or committees, other ways the national groups wield their pocketbooks.

Republicans are defending 22 seats this year, compared to just 14 for Democrats. The RGA has also raised more money than the DGA.

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. Hawaii (Democratic-controlled): Massachusetts comes off of our top 15 after two polls showed state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) up double-digits in the general election and – perhaps as importantly for Democrats – one of them showed her ahead by 31 points in the Democratic primary. On comes Hawaii, where former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann announced Thursday that he is running as an Independent Party candidate. This could complicate matters for already-unpopular Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D), who defeated Hannemann in the 2010 Democratic primary. Former lieutenant governor Duke Aiona (R) also running. He was defeated by Abercrombie in 2010. (Previous ranking: N/A)

14. Kansas (Republican-controlled): Forget the speculation about HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius running for the U.S. Senate or the drama of Sen. Pat Roberts's Republican primary campaign for a moment. The most intriguing political story in the state might be the governor's race. Polls have show Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is not popular and that state House Democratic Leader Paul Davis (D) may have a fighting chance. For now, the edge still goes to Brownback, given the state's conservative tilt. But keep an eye on this one. (Previous ranking: 15)

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13. Georgia (R): With Michelle Nunn (D) raising heaps of cash in the Senate race and Jimmy Carter's grandson running for governor, Democrats are pumped up about the coordinated campaign here. In the long run, Democrats want to capitalize on demographic changes to turn the state blue. They are not there yet. But they have to be happy with where state Sen. Jason Carter (D) is right now in his run against Gov. Nathan Deal (R). Polls show a close race. (Previous ranking: 14)

12. Arizona (R): With Gov. Jan Brewer (R) now officially retiring, this is one off the most wide-open GOP primaries in the country. Among the candidates are Secretary of State Ken Bennett, state Treasurer Doug Ducey, former Mesa mayor Scott Smith and former California congressman Frank Riggs. Bennett and Ducey are the early favorites, while Smith seems to be running as a more moderate candidate. Riggs is the wildcard. Former state board of regents chairman Fred DuVal (D) is the likely Democratic nominee. (Previous ranking: 12)

11. Colorado (D): Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) leads his possible Republican opponents by seven to 10 points in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll. There was a time last year when Hickenlooper looked like he might be in some serious trouble. He's not a shoo-in, but he appears have to have righted the ship against a weak GOP field. (Previous ranking: 11)

10. Wisconsin (R): The recall election of Walker in 2012 effectively polarized the entire state. There are a pittance of people who don't view themselves are either ardently pro-Walker or vehemently anti-Walker. A Marquette Law School poll released late last month showed Walker ahead of former Trek executive Mary Burke (D) 48 percent to 41 percent. That might look encouraging for Democrats but it's going to be very hard to move the numbers much in such a polarized state. Meanwhile, a mysterious ad reserve could be extra reinforcements for the governor. (Previous ranking: 10)

9. Ohio (R): Gov. John Kasich (R) was really unpopular, then pretty popular, and now he’s basically a governor running for reelection in a swing state. A recent poll from Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling showed Kasich tied at 44 percent with Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (D). But Kasich leads big in the money chase.  (Previous ranking: 9)

8. South Carolina (R): The RGA is spending heavily to savage Sheheen, a sign that there is at least some concern about Haley's prospects. But, South Carolina is a state where it's tough for a Democrat to win statewide even under the best of circumstances and it's hard to see this November being a best-case scenario in terms of political environment for Democrats. (Previous ranking: 9)

7. Connecticut (D): Gov. Dan Malloy (D) badly mispronounced the name of Geno Auriemma, the head coach of the UConn women's basketball team, and practically royalty in the state. Eesh. On a more serious note, Malloy has a real race on his hands against Republican Tom Foley, who he defeated in 2010. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Michigan (R): Snyder was looking like something of a sitting duck earlier this cycle. That’s not the case anymore, but he’s still a Republican seeking reelection in a blue-leaning state. A recent poll even showed Snyder up by double digits, 49-37, on former congressman Mark Schauer (D). We doubt things are quite that rosy for the GOP, but Snyder has recovered a good deal. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Illinois (D): Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has his opponent: deep-pocketed self-funder Bruce Rauner (R). Rauner emerged over moderate state Sen. Kirk Dillard in the GOP primary last month, and Democrats have quickly turned to comparing him to Mitt Romney. Rauner gave them some ammunition when he casually noted that his income puts him in the .01 percent of the United States. Quinn is quite unpopular, but Democrats think they have a good bogeyman to work with in Rauner. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Arkansas (D): A New York Times Upshot/Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed former Republican congressman Asa Hutchinson at 41 percent to 40 percent for former Democratic Rep. Mike Ross. While Republicans will point out that that same poll showed Sen. Mark Pryor (D) with a 10-point lead that no one thinks he has, the poll does reflect that Ross has made a race that once looked lost for Democrats competitive. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Florida (R): Sen. Bill Nelson (D) said this week that he is tempted to run for governor. But it's hard to imagine him creating what would be an expensive and bruising primary against former governor Charlie Crist (D) this late in the game, especially given how the Democratic establishment has rallied around Crist. Still, these kinds of comments are never good for a candidate in Crist's position. At the least, they are annoyance. (Previous ranking: 2)

2. Maine (R): In a two-way race, controversial Gov. Paul LePage (R) simply can't be reelected. But, this isn't a two way race. Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud has to worry about independent candidate Eliot Cutler, allowing LePage what he probably shouldn't have: a chance — albeit it a long shot one — to win. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Pennsylvania (R): The Democratic primary has become very interesting very quickly. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) is doubling down on her Obamacare vote in a way you won't see in most other races. She still has ground to make up to catch businessman Tom Wolf (D), but close observers say it's still possible. None of this changes the fact that Gov. Tom Corbett (R) remains the most vulnerable governor in the country. (Previous ranking: 1)

5/2 Correction: At the time this post was published, the RGA had spent more on ads than the originally estimated $1.2 million in Wisconsin. It had spent about $1.7 million. This post has been updated to reflect that. 

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
Sean Sullivan covers national politics for “The Fix.”
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