Democrats say they'll be on defensive in '10

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pointing to public frustration over the pace of the economic recovery, Democratic governors said Wednesday they will begin the 2010 election year on the defensive and pledged to wage aggressive campaigns against Republican policies they said would take the country backward.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, vice chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said the country's finances were left in a shambles by former president George W. Bush. "People are hurting so badly," he added, "that they're very upset that their new leadership have not fixed it as quickly as everybody would like for us to have fixed it."

The mood among Democrats contrasted sharply with that of Republican governors, who met two weeks ago outside Austin and predicted significant gains beyond the 24 governorships they now hold. A dozen governors and more than two dozen Democratic candidates gathered in Washington this week to assess the climate after their party suffered losses last month in Virginia and New Jersey.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who took over as DGA chair, didn't dispute the potential for Democrats to lose ground. He noted that in the first midterm election of a new presidency, the party that holds the White House "typically loses five seats."

But Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the outgoing DGA chairman, nonetheless predicted the Democrats "are going to pick up states that haven't been in the hands of Democratic governors for a generation" and predicted that strong, charismatic candidates can overcome strong political headwinds.

Despite the difficult climate, DGA Executive Director Nathan Daschle, briefing Democratic candidates and donors at a luncheon in Washington, named several states where he said Democrats have a better-than-even chance of taking control of a governor's mansion now held by the Republicans: Florida, California, Vermont, Minnesota, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii, with five others -- Georgia, Alabama, Utah, Alaska and Rhode Island -- that could turn to the Democrats.

But roughly a dozen Democratic-held seats are currently in play. "We have our work cut out for us," Daschle said.

He, too, cited economic insecurity as a factor that is shaping the political climate. While people are feeling better about the economy, "There is still a great deal of pent-up anxiety and both parties have to pay attention," he said.

Markell announced the DGA would hold Republicans accountable on economic issues, with a new Web site and by spending some of its money in targeted states where he said Republicans are pushing policies that would throw state budgets into disarray.

There will be 37 gubernatorial elections next year, 19 for seats currently held by Democrats, 18 for seats held by Republicans.

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