Okay, we'll admit it. The real ticket in the 2014 election is the battle for control of the Senate. Everyone knows it, and everything else is a subplot.
But among all the subplots, the most interesting is some very competitive governor's races. And both sides are defending plenty of territory -- including in some unexpected places.
So while the GOP is primed to gain a handful of seats in the Senate and some in the House, Democrats could very well swipe the governor's mansions in Pennsylvania, Maine and Kansas. And the GOP has a great shot to overtake Democrats in Arkansas, Connecticut and Illinois.
That's right -- Democrats winning in Kansas and Republicans winning in Connecticut and Illinois. If polls are to be believed, it's quite possible that could happen, if not likely in each case. Clearly, the national environment isn't factoring as much in these state's races.
Below, we're taking or semi-regular look at the top 12 governor's races in the country. As usual, they are ranked from most likely to flip control (No. 1) to least likely (No. 12), but all of these races are considered in-play. (Another 24 states are holding races that didn't make our list.)
To the line!
12. Arizona (Republican-controlled): We've got our matchup here now, with state Treasurer (and former Cold Stone Creamery CEO) Doug Ducey registering a pretty convincing win in a crowded GOP primary. He faces Democratic former state Board of Regents chairman Fred DuVal, and every poll shows a very tight race. But this is a tough state for Democrats. Early edge: The Ice Cream Man. (Previous ranking: N/A)
11. Georgia (R): The good news for Gov. Nathan Deal (R): He has led in the last four nonpartisan public polls of this race. The bad news: Three of them showed him leading state Sen. Jason Carter (D) by just one point. We continue to give Deal a slight edge because this is a red state, but this race got competitive early this year and has stayed that way. (Previous ranking: 12)
10. Colorado (D): How vulnerable is Gov. John Hickenlooper (D)? Depends on which poll you are looking at. A recent Quinnipiac University survey showed him down 10 points to former congressman Bob Beauprez (R). A USA Today/Suffolk poll, meanwhile, showed a neck and neck race. Either way, it's clear Hickenlooper has a real race on his hands. (Previous ranking: 9)
9. Wisconsin (R): About a month ago, the national press corps — us included — realized that businesswoman Mary Burke posed a serious threat to Gov. Scott Walker (R). Walker seems to have regained his footing of late, however, and polling suggests he has a slight edge. Still, in an electorate as polarized as Wisconsin, this is a race for a very small piece of that electorate that remains, largely, up for grabs. (Previous ranking: 7)
8. Michigan (R): Believe it or not, there are still no debates set in this race between Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and former congressman Mark Schauer (D). It's hard to believe that will hold up in a competitive contest in one of the most populous states in the country. Suffolk shows Schauer up two, while Mitchell Research has the incumbent ahead by five. (Previous ranking: 8)
7. Florida (R): Gov. Rick Scott (R) has long been near the top of our list of the most vulnerable governors. But he moves down the line after demonstrating that he is going to be a tough out. Some polls show him leading former governor Charlie Crist (D). And money won't be an issue for the well-funded Republican. It probably didn't help Crist when the Tampa Bay Times dove into his past in a deeply reported story that surfaced some unflattering details. (Previous ranking: 3)
5. (tie) Kansas (R): Being a Republican incumbent should be enough to get you reelected in a state as conservative as Kansas. But Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is in deep trouble after tearing the GOP in the state apart thanks to a deep set of tax cuts he championed over the objections of the more centrist wing of the party. State Rep. Paul Davis (D) has been the beneficiary of all the ill will directed at Brownback and, according to most polling, is ahead right now. (Previous ranking: 10)
5. (tie) Illinois (D): This is a lot like Kansas: an incumbent with the right letter by his name but the wrong image. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) was beginning to be left for dead for a while there. This week, though, a Chicago Tribune poll showed him somehow leading Republican Bruce Rauner by 11 points, and a Democratic Governors Association poll had him up three. The Tribune poll is hard to believe; we're not sure Rauner's six-figure wine club membership knocked him down that much. But Quinn won't go quietly. (Previous ranking: 4)
4. Connecticut (D): The Constitution State isn't an obvious Republican target. But Gov. Dan Malloy (D) won the office by only 6,400 votes in 2010, and businessman Tom Foley (R) is back for a rematch. Malloy has sought to cast Foley as Connecticut's version of Mitt Romney — a plutocrat focused on feathering his own nest rather than looking out for the average person. Foley has hit Malloy mostly for the state's relatively slow economic growth. And Foley just took a six-point lead in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. (Previous ranking: 6)
3. Maine (R): Gov. Paul LePage (R), to his credit, has clung to pretty decent reelection hopes for a very long time. We thought when Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) got in the race -- a solid Democratic nominee -- it was probably curtains for the gaffe-prone incumbent. But independent Eliot Cutler keeps pulling just enough of the vote to make this competitive. The question is whether Cutler supporters will eventually ditch him for Michaud, when its clear he can't win. If that happens, this might not be close anymore. (Previous ranking: 2)
2. Arkansas (D): This race has been relatively quiet. Former congressman Mike Ross was a blue chip Democratic recruit (not to mention a Blue Dog Democrat), but basically all recent polls show him trailing former GOP congressman Asa Hutchinson -- including by nine in a recent NBC/Marist poll. Republicans have long eyed Arkansas as a top pickup opportunity. (Previous ranking: 5)
1. Pennsylvania (R): The only question here is how much damage Gov. Tom Corbett's (R) impending loss will cause Republicans downballot. Polling has show businessman Tom Wolf (D) with a 20-plus-point lead over Corbett, who has spent the last 18 months as the nation's most endangered incumbent. (Previous ranking: 1)