How many State Houses will change hands?
In this, the centennial year of the non-partisan National Governors’ Association, the Democrats currently occupy 28 of the 50 State Houses in the US, and will be hoping to extend this tally in November. These races, which arguably have a greater impact on voters’ lives than Congressional contests, are frequently overshadowed by elections for the US Senate, so I wanted to give an overview of each of November’s Gubernatorial battles. I have excluded American Samoa (the Governorship so coveted by Hunter S. Thompson) and Puerto Rico from this list, partly because they are unlikely to be covered by any betting markets which I hope will become available in due course, and partly because Puerto Rico has had a pretty good airing over the last couple of weeks on pb.com.
WASHINGTON – Democratic incumbant Christine Gregoire won by only 129 votes out of over 2.8m four years ago, with 3rd place Libertarians getting over 60k. She could sow this one up, with a good Democratic tide, but her approval ratings are not nearly safe enough, and this re-match could make former State Senator Dino Rossi the first GOP Governor in Washington State since 1980. Olympia will see, I think, probably the closest Gubernatorial contest in November.
MONTANA – Arguably America’s most-popular Governor, Brian Schweitzer was alone in opposing biometric drivers’ licenses and state ID cards when proposed by the Department of Homeland Security. When the federal government’s REAL ID programme threatened not to accept Montanan ID at a federal level, he won the initial stand-off with Secretary Michael Chertoff. A fluent Arabic-speaker thanks to his time working as an irrigation advisor in Saudi Arabia, he is rare in that he is an NRA-sponsored Democrat. Unless Schweitzer is invited to take the VP slot on Obama’s ticket, there is very little chance of the Democrats losing the State House in Helena to GOP State Senator Roy Brown.
NORTH DAKOTA – Having won over 70% of the vote in 2004, and running for his third term, it is unthinkable that anything other than a major scandal would allow State Senator Tim Mathern to unseat Republican incumbant John Hoeven from his office in Bismarck. He is the longest-serving Governor currently in office, having taken office 5 days before Rick Perry in Texas.
VERMONT – Although Vermont has a history of voting heavily Democratic in Presidential elections, its massive proportion of Independents seem keen to give Jim Douglas his fourth two-year term in Montpelier. However, Obama’s massive popularity in the state must be of some concern to any Republican incumbant with less than 60% of the vote last time around. AS well as Democratic Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives, Gaye Symington, many Democrats are supporting the Vermont Progressive Party’s Anthony Pollina, running for the party founded by Democrat-caucusing Independent US Senator Bernie Sanders.
NEW HAMPSHIRE – John Lynch is one of the safest Democratic Governors in the Union, and extremely unlikely to be defeated running for his third term. Removal men in Concord won’t be approaching the State House any time soon, although the GOP have chosen a popular contender in State Senator Joe Kenney to face him.
MISSOURI – Congressional Quarterly has this down as the most difficult Gubernatorial race to call – the incumbant Republican Governor Matt Blunt has only served one term, winning a narrow victory over (now US Senator) Claire McCaskill in 2004, but has announced his intention to retire. Although one of the youngest Governors in the US (replaced by Bobby Jindal in Louisiana) he was trailing the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Jay Nixon, heavily in late 2007. State Treasurer Sarah Steelman and Congressman Kenny Hulshof (MO-09) are competing for the GOP nomination. Missouri is likely to be a key Presidential swing-state in 2008, so the statewide polling for the Gubernatorial race to succeed Blunt in Jefferson City will add useful clarity to the political leanings of the ‘Show-Me State’.
INDIANA – With uninspiring aproval ratings, and the nickname ‘My Man Mitch’ from the most unpopular President in US history, Republican incumbant Mitch Daniels is facing a stern challenge from former Congresswoman Jill Long Thompson, after she won a very close Democratic primary contest. She is aiming to become Indiana’s fiftieth Governor, and the first woman to take the State House in Indianapolis. Indiana is a swing state this year, with Obama from neighbouring Illinois, and Senator Evan Bayh reputedly on his shortlist for VP, so expect this to be one of the best Gubernatorial races of the Fall.
UTAH – Utah is currenty showing a 30% lead for John McCain over Barack Obama. This is not Democrat country, and the perfectly-named Jon Huntsman is unlikely to be concerned about losing his first re-election bid to the office in Salt Lake City, against Bob Springmeyer.
WEST VIRGINIA – This Appalachian state is expected to be quite difficult for Obama to win, but other Democrats seem to have little problem. Joe Manchin’s first Gubernatorial election saw him join US Senators Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller in securing over 63% of the vote. Re-election against former GOP State Senator Russ Weeks should not challenge him – his job in Charleston is safe.
DELAWARE – America’s oldest Governor, 73-year-old Democrat incumbant Ruth Ann Miller, is term-limited so (along with North Carolina and Missouri) this is one of only three open Governorships in the US. Senator Joe Biden is running for his seventh term this November, meaning the Democrat vote is expected to turn out in force. The State House, based in Dover, is a short drive from the airfoce base where the bodies of US casualties of war are returned – don’t expect John McCain to perform too well here in November. This race is expected to be fought mainly between Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Carney and former State Superior Court Judge (and GOP candidate in 2004) William Swain Lee.
NORTH CAROLINA – Another term-limited incumbent, Governor Michael Easley, being forced to retire means that the Democrats risk losing the State House in Raleigh – Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue is running against the Republican Mayor of Charlotte, Patrick McCrory, though her bid to be the State’s first female Governor is currently seeing her trail slightly in polls favourable to the man who has made Charlotte the USA’s biggest banking centre other than New York (overtaking Chicago).
If pressed for a prediction, I would expect Indiana and Missouri to move from the GOP to the Democrats, but North Carolina to switch into the Republican column. Washington is likely to be a very close re-run of 2004, and I do not think Democrat Governor Christine Gregoire can afford to be complacent. She should hold on based on the advantage of incumbency, but I think this race is too close to call. Democrats gain one, or no-change are the most likely outcomes, with the slim chance that they see a net result of plus-2. Any other final score would be a real surprise.