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The top 12 governor’s races of 2014

Paul Davis, the presumed Democratic nominee for Kansas governor, speaks at a news conference announcing the endorsements by more than 100 current and former Republican politicians on July 15 in Topeka, Kan. The list of participating Republicans was led by Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, who has clashed with Gov. Sam Brownback on health-care policy. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Could Republicans win the Senate but lose some of their governors in 2014?

It’s appearing increasingly possible. As the 2014 election cycle has progressed, a number of lower-tier pickup opportunities for the Democratic Governors Association have crept up the list below, including some in some pretty unexpected states like Georgia and Kansas.

As it stands, Democrats have the top three pickup opportunities in all 36 races being held in 2014. They also have eight of the top 12.


Republicans have added targets too, most notably in Colorado and Hawaii. And they've also improved their fortunes in some key states like Florida and Michigan. But if the election were held today, the GOP would still probably stand to lose ground – after already losing one seat last year in Virginia.

This would appear to be in stark contrast to what’s happening in the Senate. Republicans there are favored to win the six seats needed to re-take the majority. To some, this has created the illusion that 2014 is shaping up to be a Republican wave election.

That's not really the case. In fact, the story for the DGA and Senate Republicans is actually pretty similar: They started off in the minority, with a great map including lots of opportunities -- thanks to the Democratic wave of 2008 in the Senate and the GOP wave of 2010 in governor's races -- and they have added to those opportunities as the cycle progressed.

On Nov. 4, both of them could emerge as winners.


As always, the 12 races below (we're trimming it from 15 to 12 this month) are ranked from most likely to change control -- No. 1 -- to least likely -- No. 12.

To the line!

12. Georgia (Republican-controlled): State Sen. Jason Carter (D), Jimmy Carter's grandson, outraised Gov. Nathan Deal (R) during the second quarter. The Republican Governors Association has already gone up on TV. The signs are there that this is a real race. Republicans will use the same playbook against Carter they will use against Democrat Michelle Nunn in the Senate race, trying to tie both hopefuls to national Democrats. Both races appear tougher than Republicans would like. (Previous ranking: 12)

11. South Carolina (R): This is another red state that might surprise some people being on this list, but Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has been vulnerable since day one. Both national parties are currently advertising here, and a poll last week showed Haley leading Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen by just four points. (Previous ranking: 9)

10. Kansas (R): Kansas moves up the line following the stunning defection of more than 100 current and former Republican officials into the camp of state Rep. Paul Davis (D). Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's conservative tax cuts did more than alienate Democrats -- they angered moderate Republicans, too. A robopoll this week shows Davis up eight points. We're a little skeptical it's that bad for the governor, but clearly this is a race. (Previous ranking: 14)

9. Colorado (Democratic-controlled): Republican strategists probably got the best possible nominee when former congressman Bob Beauprez won the GOP primary. A recent Quinnipiac poll showed Beauprez running about even against Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). (Previous ranking: 10)

8. Michigan (R): This is one race where Republicans are in significantly better shape than they started the election cycle. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has run a solid campaign so far. But EPIC-MRA, which showed the governor leading former congressman Mark Schauer (D) by nine points a couple months back, now shows him up just three. (Previous ranking: 7)

7. Wisconsin (R): Democrat Mary Burke has got to feel good about where she is right now. A Marquette Law school poll released this week showed her in a dead heat against Gov. Scott Walker (R), who has been plagued by negative headlines about an alleged illegal coordination scheme. The good news for Walker is that Burke remains undefined in the eyes of many voters. The RGA and the Walker campaign will spend millions this fall trying to define her negatively. (Previous ranking: 8)

6. Connecticut (D): We've been pitching this as a tight rematch between Gov. Dan Malloy (D) and Republican Tom Foley for a while now, but Foley first has a primary with state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney next month. Foley would apparently rather that he didn't have a primary, though, and this week he called on McKinney to drop out of the race in the name of focusing on the Democratic governor. McKinney, of course, declined. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Arkansas (D): This is yet another red state where Democrats' fortunes have improved from the start of the cycle, but we still think it's clear that former congressman Asa Hutchinson is the favorite against his fellow former congressman, Blue Dog Democrat Mike Ross. That said, Ross continues to outraise Hutchinson. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Illinois (D): Illinois is still Republicans' best pickup opportunity. But the test is whether Bruce Rauner (R) can withstand Democratic attempts to cast him as an out-of-touch businessman a la Mitt Romney. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) is really unpopular, bu we're talking about Illinois, a blue state where the Romney-style broadsides could work. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Florida (R): We  got our first high-quality poll here in a while this week (from Quinnipiac), and it showed former governor Charlie Crist (D) leading current Gov. Rick Scott (R) by five points. Scott is in better shape than he was at the start of the cycle, but this still seems to be Crist's race to lose -- something, we should note, that he's quite capable of doing. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Maine (R): We said in our last write-up that if Eliot Cutler (I) ends up in the mid-to-high teens or better on Election Day, he's going to make Democrats awfully nervous. A June poll showed Cutler at 15 percent. Rep. Mike Michaud (D) still led Gov. Paul LePage (R), 40 percent to 36 percent. But the survey underscored the point that so long as Cutler remains a threat to pull a fifth of the vote, which would otherwise mostly go to Michaud, LePage still has some hope of surviving. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Pennsylvania (R): Gov. Tom Corbett (R), quite simply, needs a small miracle to beat Democrat Tom Wolf. (Previous ranking: 1)

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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