You wouldn’t know it by following the Senate-control-centric coverage of the midterm elections emanating from Washington, but we could well be headed toward a historic gubernatorial election in 15 days.
Not since 1984 have more than six sitting governors lost in any one election. But, 30 years after that gubernatorial carnage, a look at this year’s races puts 11 incumbents in various levels of peril — suggesting that history may be in the making.
Only one incumbent, however, is a goner for sure: Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett (R). Even the likes of Maine’s Paul LePage (R) and Illinois’ Pat Quinn (D), both of whom were left for dead months ago, appear to have a path — albeit not a wide one — to victory.
The striking competitiveness of so many races — and in such typically non-competitive places such as Kansas and Connecticut — has led to massive amounts of spending on TV ads.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, $379 million has been spent on commercials in the 36 gubernatorial races this fall — $58 million more than has been spent on ads in the 36 Senate races. That includes a stunning $62 million in ads in the Florida race between Gov. Rick Scott (R) and former governor Charlie Crist. In Illinois, Quinn and wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner (R) have spent almost $53 million on TV. And eight of the 10 candidates who have spent the most money on campaign commercials this cycle are running for governor.
History-making ain’t cheap, after all.
The races below are ranked in the order of a likely party switch.
13. Georgia (Republican-controlled): Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and state Sen. Jason Carter (D) are very close in the polls. With the libertarian candidate polling as high as 6 percent, it’s much more likely that Deal and Carter would go to a Dec. 2 runoff. And such runoffs are not kind to Democrats.
12. Massachusetts (Democratic-controlled): The most recent Boston Globe poll shows Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker tied at 41 percent. Baker has been outraising Coakley and stockpiling cash. This is a real race.
11. Alaska (R): Independent Bill Walker, who is running on a fusion ticket with former Democratic nominee Byron Mallott as his lieutenant governor, leads Gov. Sean Parnell (R) in most recent polls. But a Fox News poll showed Parnell up five points. And as the Senate race in Kansas showed us, independents can compete in red states if the Democrat drops out, but it can be hard to maintain that momentum once the GOP starts pegging you as the de facto Democrat.
10. Wisconsin (R): Just when it looked like Gov. Scott Walker (R) might be starting to build a lead, a new Marquette University Law School poll showed him tied with Democratic challenger Mary Burke.
9. Michigan (R): A string of recent polls show Gov. Rick Snyder (R) up on Mark Schauer (D). Republicans might be losing hope in the Wolverine State’s Senate race, but they should feel pretty good about where they are in the governor’s race, considering how big a target Snyder has had on his back all cycle.
8. Colorado (D): Democrats insist Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has righted the ship by focusing on the economy, and they note that he has been drastically outspending former congressman Bob Beauprez (R) on TV. Sure. But the Real Clear Politics polling average gives the incumbent the smallest of edges — and suggests that Beauprez is still in the game.
7. Illinois (D): Quinn has survived by the skin of his teeth before, and it looks as if he might do it again. After polls showed him basically a goner, he has staged a pretty healthy comeback and has led within the margin of error in the last three polls.
6. Connecticut (D): Gov. Dan Malloy (D), running in a deep blue state, is one of the few Democrats who stand to benefit by associating himself with President Obama. But Obama canceled a campaign appearance last week to deal with the threat posed by Ebola. The most recent polls show Malloy recovering and drawing about even with Tom Foley (R).
5. Kansas (R): Don’t look now, but Gov. Sam Brownback (R) appears to be in slightly better shape. The most recent surveys from three pollsters that have regularly examined the race — Public Policy Polling, Fox News and SurveyUSA — all show Brownback gaining on Paul Davis (D), to varying degrees.
4. Florida (R): The big story last week was the bizarre argument over a fan at a debate. Scott, who showed up to the debate seven minutes late after a dispute over whether Crist could use the fan, probably came off looking worse. Meanwhile, this race is very tight. In the last three polls, the candidates have essentially been even.
3. Maine (R): In a two-way race, LePage (R) could never be reelected. Lucky for him, he faces not only Rep. Mike Michaud (D) but also independent Eliot Cutler. It’s still tough to see LePage winning, though; he has been remarkably controversial and is almost certainly too conservative for the state.
2. Arkansas (D): Democrats were thrilled when they lured former congressman Mike Ross (D) into this open-seat race. But it appears as though the conservative nature of the state is too much for him. Polling suggests that former congressman Asa Hutchinson (R) has a mid-single-digit lead and is likely to win.
1. Pennsylvania (R): Tom Wolf (D) hasn’t had a very high profile since cruising to a primary win in the spring. That’s a smart move because his opponent, incumbent Corbett (R), is extremely unpopular. Wolf is measuring the drapes in the governor’s mansion — and rightly so.