The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republicans still have a shot at a record number of governors’ mansions, but Democrats aren’t going without a fight

Republicans have a chance to build on their majorities and win a record number of governors' seats in 2016. Democrats are doing everything they can to stop them.

Of the six changes to our rankings, four of them favor Democrats, including in two states Donald Trump is expected to win, Indiana and West Virginia. (The presidential race doesn't factor as heavily into governors' races as it does for Congress, but it will still factor in some.)

Oh, and we're adding a sixth race to our rankings of the top governors' races of 2016 because 1. I can do that, and 2. these six races are really the only competitive governors' races in 2016 right now. (Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's (D) reelection against tech entrepreneur Greg Gianforte is the only other possibility, but so far it's going in Democrats' favor.)

Enough chatter. Here are the top six governors' races most likely to change parties in November, with six being the least likely, and so on. To the line!

5. New Hampshire (D) OPEN: New Hampshire's open race for governor becomes slightly less competitive for Republicans for two reasons: 1. We don't know who their nominee is, given the primary is Sept. 13. Right now it looks like the race is between Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, the son of a former governor, or Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas. The Democratic side doesn't have a nominee either. The leader in a recent WMUR poll is Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, who doesn't have a lot of name ID in the state but does have grass-roots support. He leads former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand. 2. The winds in this very, very competitive state at the federal level slightly favor Democrats. Outgoing popular Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) has a slight lead in the titanic Senate race with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R). And a RealClearPolitics average of polls has Hillary Clinton up by nine points (!) in this swing state over Trump. So we'll give the edge to Democrats in the governor's race right now. (Previous ranking: 4)

4. Indiana (R) OPEN: It's safe to say Gov. Mike Pence wouldn't have taken the risky, sometimes-thankless job of becoming Trump's vice-presidential nominee if he thought his reelection back home was a sure bet. So does Pence's exit from the governor's race hurt or help Republicans? On the one hand, they can try to cut their new nominee, Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, loose from the albatross that was the gay rights debate hanging around Pence's neck. But on the other, they essentially had to start the governor's race from scratch some 100 days before the election. And because of a campaign-finance error, some of Pence's $7 million in reelection money can't be transferred to Holcomb. Despite all those challenges, a recent Monmouth University poll had the race between Holcomb and former state House speaker John Gregg (D) pretty close to tied, suggesting Indiana is a red-enough state to make up for the curveball thrown at Republicans late in the race. (Previous ranking: 5)

3. West Virginia (D) OPEN: If the open race to replace term-limited Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) were held today — always a tricky hypothetical — Democrat Jim Justice would win, even if Trump takes the state (which he probably will). Justice is leading by 14 points in a new West Virginia Metro News poll, getting 20 percent of Republican support. And really, Justice is running basically as a Republican. He's the biggest coal owner in the state. He's the first big-name Democrat to say he won't support Clinton. Unrelated: He smartly opened the famed Greenbrier Resort, which he owns, to people displaced by this summer's flooding. In part because he's such a character, Justice is dominating the narrative right now. Republican and state Senate president Bill Cole needs to find a way into that conversation and not just hope he can ride Trump's coattails. This race could come down to: How many Trump-Justice voters are there? (Previous ranking: 1)

2. North Carolina (R): This is probably the most substantive change on our list. Polls show the transgender bathroom bill Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed into law in the spring is still hurting him. Yes, Democrats risk overplaying their hand by hammering away at the bill, but Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) adroitly made the conversation about the law more of a referendum on McCrory's record as a jobs governor than about social justice issues. This race is far from over — for example, does a recent WRAL News report that Cooper rarely used email in his 15 years on the job mean anything to voters? Throwing out an incumbent governor is one of the hardest things to do in politics, but for now, Cooper has positioned himself to have a chance to do it. (Previous ranking: 3)

1. Missouri (D) OPEN: This is Republicans' best pickup opportunity this year. They nominated a charismatic former Navy SEAL, Eric Greitens, to try to take the seat over from term-limited Gov. Jay Nixon (D). In reflecting the state's sometimes schizophrenic politics, Greitens is a former Democrat, while the Democrats' nominee, state Attorney General Chris Koster, is a former Republican. The RealClearPolitics average of recent polls shows Koster up by about six points, but the race is expected to be much closer than that as Missouri continues its steady march to red. (Previous ranking: 2)