By Aaron Blake - 12/27/09 09:10 PM EST
Governors’ races around the country are shaping up with the calendar about to turn to 2010, and since the vast majority of the 37 races are considered competitive, it will be a huge cycle.
Picking a top 10 out of the many races is like choosing between your 25 children, but we have tried our best to compile a list of the most compelling races of the year.
1. Florida (Republican held, toss-up)
What other than the quintessential swing state could lead off this list? Gov. Charlie Crist’s (R) exit after one term to run for Senate looks like it will pit two statewide officeholders against each other, and the race features big implications both for the state’s future and for redistricting (the state is set to gain as many as two seats, and Republicans have large majorities in the state legislature). State Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) is still trying to win the big one after failing to win a Senate seat in 2000 and 2004, and Democrats feel good about their rock-solid candidate, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D).
2. Texas (Republican held, leans Republican)
The real action in the Lone Star State is a little more than two months away, when Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) wages one of the biggest primary challenges in political history against Gov. Rick Perry (R). Perry is looking more and more like a favorite, while Hutchison continues to back away from her promised retirement from the Senate. But even if the incumbent sails in the primary, he could now face a strong general election opponent too. The recent entry of wealthy Houston Mayor Bill White (D) might or might not turn this into a top November battleground, but it certainly puts it on the map. And with Texas likely to gain four seats for the next round of redistricting, the governor’s mansion will be a huge part of that process.
3. California (Republican held, toss-up)
The Governator isn’t running again, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) won’t be there to entertain us, but there’s plenty of firepower in this race. State Attorney General Jerry Brown, who was governor more than a quarter century ago, leads the way for the Democrats after Newsom’s unexpected exit. And on the GOP side, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman have each committed $19 million of their own money to the race, with Whitman promising to spend up to $50 million. In the year of the self-funder, this race takes it to a whole new level. Oh, and then there’s the continuing talk that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) might leap into the race at the last moment. Don’t count on it, but keep an eye on it.
4. Pennsylvania (Democratic held, toss-up)
The Keystone State has a habit of shifting its governor’s mansion between parties every eight years, and with Gov. Ed Rendell (D) on the way out after two terms, it’s the GOP’s turn. Republicans really like the chances of state Attorney General Tom Corbett, and he has polled big early leads, but he faces a primary with Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) first. Among Democrats, the field is very unsettled, with Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, state Auditor General Jack Wagner, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and former Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa.) battling it out.
5. Ohio (Democratic held, toss-up)
Pennsylvania’s neighbor to the west will also be a tough hold for the Democrats, as Gov. Ted Strickland’s (D) numbers have cratered in recent months. Similar to Pennsylvania, Republicans feel strongly about their candidate here, and former Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio) hasn’t disappointed. He began the race down big in some early polls, but has brought himself to neck-and-neck with Strickland. Look for observers to continue to look to Ohio as a bellwether for the rest of the country. Not to mention, of the many Rust Belt states that will lose congressional seats in 2010, Ohio looks as though it will lose the most (two).
6. Michigan (Democratic held, leans Republican)
No state has gotten hit harder by the economic downturn than Michigan, and Democrats look as though they will pay the price for what happened on Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s (D) watch. Much like in Pennsylvania, a congressman (Rep. Pete Hoekstra) is challenging the state Attorney General (Mike Cox) for the GOP nod. Cox has polled wide leads over Lt. Gov. John Cherry (D) and state House Speaker Andy Dillon (D). Cherry’s ties to Granholm make him a less-than-ideal candidate for this one, and he’s already begun the process of putting some space between himself and the governor.
7. Massachusetts (Democratic held, leans Democratic)
Ordinarily, Gov. Deval Patrick’s (D) awful approval ratings would basically disqualify him from winning reelection. But this is true-blue Massachusetts, and he’s got a few things working for him. Republicans like businessman Charlie Baker, but it’s looking more and more like the independent candidacy of state Treasurer Timothy Cahill – a former Democrat – could spoil things. Conventional wisdom suggests Cahill would steal votes from the Democrat Patrick, but early polling suggests his presence helps the governor by splitting up the anti-incumbent vote. Still, it could be a tight three-way race.
8. Arizona (Republican held, toss-up)
Janet Napolitano’s departure to become Homeland Security Secretary handed the governor’s mansion to Republicans, with Secretary of State Jan Brewer ascending to the post. But Brewer isn’t getting any of the advantages of incumbency. She trails state Treasurer Dean Martin big in the GOP primary and state Attorney General Terry Goddard (D) by even more in the general election. Martin hasn’t entered the race yet, but regardless, Brewer could face primary challengers like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who polled a huge lead recently. Arpaio and Martin would both provide plenty of material for reporters. Martin’s wife died earlier this year while delivering their son, and Arpaio is known nationwide for his strict approach to immigration.
9. Nevada (Republican held, toss-up)
Speaking of GOP governors who are in deep trouble: Perhaps no statewide official in the country can boast a disapproval higher than Gov. Jim Gibbons’s (R) 82 percent in a June Mason-Dixon poll. The good thing for Republicans is that they probably won’t have him as their nominee next year. Former District Court Judge Brian Sandoval is earning rave reviews and polling big leads over Gibbons, and he looks to be on the fast track to facing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) son, Rory, in the general election. Rory Reid’s candidacy is also interesting, because his father will be waging a highly difficult and visible campaign right next to him. Whether the Reid name is an asset or a liability, it will be on the ballot twice.
10. Colorado (Democratic held, toss-up)
Colorado’s transition from a nine-point Bush state in 2000 to a nine-point Obama state in 2008 has been well-documented. But the honeymoon is over, and Gov. Bill Ritter’s (D) 57-40 triumph over Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.) in 2006 is now ancient history. Like so many governors, Ritter has seen his numbers ebb this year. Former Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.), meanwhile, got a huge break when primary opponent Josh Penry dropped out of the race. This state will be a key test of whether Republicans can win back enough Latino voters to start winning again.