Fewer incumbent governors are seeking reelection

If you missed any of this year's primaries -- or just forgot -- here are the names and faces you need to know in November.
By Karen Tumulty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's a grim time to be a governor.

With state budgets in their worst shape since the Great Depression, nearly every one of them has had to spend the past few years slashing popular programs, laying off workers, draining rainy-day funds and, in some cases, raising taxes. Those bright campaign promises made in flusher times are a faded memory.

So it is no surprise that almost half the nation's battered governors will be heading for the exits this year. Some are leaving by choice, some because of term limits, others because they would be shown the door in November.

Yet amid all this turnover, some familiar faces are showing up -- looking older, grayer and balder than the last time we saw them.

This year, no fewer than five former governors are seeking to win back their old jobs.

"My wife's first reaction was, 'Are you crazy?' " Republican Terry Branstad said of his decision to leave his post as president of Des Moines University.

Branstad -- who became the youngest governor in Iowa history after he was elected in 1982 and was the longest-serving by the time he left in 1999 -- is leading in polls against Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, whose approval ratings are stuck in the 30s.

The other past and possibly future governors: Democrat Jerry Brown of California, Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland, Democrat Roy Barnes of Georgia and Democrat John Kitzhaber of Oregon.

Gubernatorial elections will be held in 37 states this year. But only 13 incumbents are running -- and six of them are in races that are considered tossups, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. That means the incoming crop of new state executives is expected to be the biggest in half a century.

For all the challenges that governors face in today's treacherous environment, it remains, in many ways, the best job in politics. "You don't have to carry all the burdens of the presidency, and you're an executive with the power to impose an agenda," said Alan Rosenthal, a political science professor at Rutgers University who is writing a book about governors.

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"If you have a certain personality type, it makes sense" to want the office, Ehrlich agreed. "Governors have real impact in a more immediate way, as opposed to Congress, where I was for eight years."

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