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State of the Statehouses

With the primaries in Illinois this past Tuesday, the first ballots have now been cast in the 2010 elections. Naturally, most attention by national pundits has been lavished on the Senate and House contests, since members of Congress—wherever they are elected—have an impact on all of us. Governors affect only their own states in most circumstances, but the 37 statehouse races on the November ballot are every bit as revealing about American politics.

The problem with early analysis of the statehouses is that quite a few remain in the formative stages—and it is difficult to project forward without a good idea of the likely autumn match-ups. For example, in Maine twenty-four candidates have filed for governor. Minnesota has even more: thirty-five gubernatorial aspirants.

Even in Illinois, some last minute ballot counting and the potential for disputes in both parties’ razor-thin results may keep the line-up murky for a while longer. By the way, despite Illinois’ absurdly early primary date, independent candidates can still register up until June 21 and are not even allowed to begin soliciting signatures until mid-March. If hard feelings in either or both Land of Lincoln parties persist, could there be a secessionist movement leading to multiple November candidacies?

Despite all the uncertainties, if the election were held today, the Crystal Ball can outline its early projections: Republicans would pick up nine governorships currently held by Democrats, but lose three they currently occupy. Therefore, the GOP would have a net gain of six governorships, plus opportunities to play offense in three more toss-up races in states where Democrats now reign. The Crystal Ball foresees sizeable Republican gains in both houses of Congress, so it isn’t a great surprise that the GOP would add statehouses, too. The same voters will cast ballots simultaneously in federal and state elections. However, the overall number of probable governorship gains for Republicans may raise a few eyebrows in the political community.

Republicans certainly don’t have an easy ride in all states. In addition to the three currently Republican governorships we think they will lose, the GOP has five toss-up seats left to defend—meaning the party could drop up to eight governorships they now possess in a worst-case scenario for them.

It is difficult to overstate the change coming to the states in just nine months. Since there are already 21 open governorships with no incumbent running, just four incumbent governors need to lose in the primaries or the general election to produce a turnover of half the fifty governors in a single year. We believe that outcome is likely.

Crystal Ball 2010 Governor Ratings

Only major candidates, as determined by the Crystal Ball, are listed below. Candidates are listed in order of their primary chances, with frontrunners at top. Probable candidates who have yet to announce are listed in italics and incumbents seeking reelection are listed in bold.

* Dave Freudenthal (D), the incumbent, is technically term-limited but may sue to overturn the state law, allowing him to run again. If incumbent Freudenthal is running, he will be the favorite. If he is not, the Republican nominee will win.