Governor 2006: The Democrats’ Most Promising Field of Battle?


Partisan redistricting almost everywhere keeps the House of Representatives from demonstrating much of a political trend, unless the winds of change are hurricane-force. Senate contests are frequently idiosyncratic, distorted by the intense effects of incumbency and the massive spending of the wealthy. Moreover, only a third of the states feature Senate match-ups in any given election year, so the national trends are often muted. That leaves the Governorships, very special offices where the governmental rubber hits the road. If the political terrain favors the Democrats in 2006–if there’s at least a mild “Sixth Year Itch”–the Governorships are likely to prove to be the most fertile territory for the Democrats. Incumbency appears to matter less in the chief executive category, and voters will more often change parties in their statehouses–if only to signal that “it’s time for a change.”

It is still ridiculously early, so we refuse to do more than “lean” any governorship to one party or the other, even when we think it is clear one side will win. Still, take a look at our review of the 38 Governor contests in 2005 and 2006. Democrats have a fair to good shot at taking over statehouses in Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and maybe Hawaii. Republicans have a decent shot at taking over only Iowa, Virginia, and maybe Kansas. Again, it is early. This list will change many times. States not currently listed will be added, for both parties. Other states on the list today will be dropped as conditions change. And by no means will the opposition party actually succeed in taking over Governorships in all, or even most, of the states we have mentioned above.

Having attached all these cautions, the Democrats can reasonably target nine states to the Republicans’ three. Democrats might capture a mega-state or two (New York and Florida), while it is difficult to see where the GOP can gain in the highly-populated states. Yes, California–where Arnold holds sway–counts for a lot, but our argument holds as this election cycle gets fully underway.

Democrats can take some joy in the gubernatorial outlook. Republicans will be far more pleased with their prospects in the Senate and House races (covered in both past and future Crystal Balls).

Stay tuned for next week’s installment of the Crystal Ball, in which we will look back as far as 1942 and see how gubernatorial candidates from the same party as the President have fared. You may be surprised at the some of the results from the last 60+ years!

In the meantime, the Crystal Ball has added all-new commentary to each gubernatorial race in 2005 and 2006. Below you will find excerpts from several key states, but you can read them all on the Crystal Ball website here (for 2005) and here (for 2006):

  • Alaska – Every poll and sounding shows it. One-term Republican Governor Frank Murkowski is very unpopular, despite his nearly twenty-two years in the U.S. Senate (1981-2002) and easy victory for Governor in 2002. So what’s the problem? READ MORE >>>
  • Florida – Jeb Bush will likely finish his two terms as Governor of the Sunshine State as popular as he has been throughout his eight years, and that gives hope to Republicans that they can hold on to this key statehouse. READ MORE >>>
  • New York – The twelve-year reign of the Cuomo-killer, Governor George Pataki (R), is likely coming to a close, whether he runs for a fourth term or not. Pataki has fallen into a deep pit of unpopularity. Complicating his task is that Democrats will nominate state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the Slayer of Wall Street Greed (or so the image suggests). READ MORE >>>
  • Ohio – Republicans so dominate the statewide picture in 2004’s ultimate Presidential toss-up state that an analyst is tempted to call the 2006 Governor’s race for the GOP right now. And that would be foolish. READ MORE >>>
  • Rhode Island – Much like Massachusetts, Rhode Island is not a state where one would expect to find many Republican Governors. Much like Massachusetts, that expectation is wrong. The GOP elected businessman Donald Carcieri in 2002, succeeding another two-term Republican Governor, Lincoln Almond. READ MORE >>>
  • Virginia – As the Crystal Ball’s home base, we’ll cover this contest more thoroughly as we get closer to the primaries and the general election. Suffice it to say for now that Virginia’s exceptionalism makes all her Governor’s races unique. As the only state to maintain a one-term limit for the chief executive, the election for Governor is always an open-seat contest, and usually it has been waged openly for the entire four-year term of the incumbent Governor. READ MORE >>>
  • Texas – What a doozy of a Governor’s contest the Lone Star State has in store! Gov. Rick “Good Hair” Perry has had the keys to the Governor’s Mansion since succeeding President-elect George W. Bush in late 2000, but GOP U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison apparently plans to challenge Perry in the GOP primary. Already, the two are throwing Texas-sized mudballs at one another. READ MORE >>>