TheDC Election Outlook: Republicans poised for solid gains in governors races

Jonathan Strong Jonathan Strong, 27, is a reporter for the Daily Caller covering Congress. Previously, he was a reporter for Inside EPA where he wrote about environmental regulation in great detail, and before that a staffer for Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA). Strong graduated from Wheaton College (IL) with a degree in political science in 2006. He is a huge fan of and season ticket holder to the Washington Capitals hockey team. Strong and his wife reside in Arlington.
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As in the House and Senate, Republicans are poised to make large gains in the dozens of campaigns for governor on Nov. 2. According to polls, Republicans are likely to hold the governorships in 27 states, Democrats in 16. Seven other races are up for grabs. Democrats currently hold a 26-24 edge.

Unlike in Congress, the would-be governors do not form a voting body. In that sense, it’s less important whether a given party holds a majority.

At the same time, the party that holds the governorship in each state plays a crucial role in how that state draws the boundaries for its congressional districts. Cumulatively, then, the 2010 governors races will have a huge impact on the congressional campaign landscape for the next decade.

They will also determine how each state implements laws passed by the current Congress, including — perhaps especially — Obamacare.

Democrats appear to be faring better in the nation’s governors races than they are in contests for the House and Senate. In California, for instance, Democrat Jerry Brown recently took a significant lead in polls over Republican Meg Whitman. Democrat Andrew Cuomo appears to be holding his sizable lead against Tea Party favorite Republican Carl Paladino. Given the large number of congressional districts in each state, the governorships there are critical for each political party, though perhaps less so in California where a ballot initiative could put the process in the hands of an independent commission.

Still up for grabs are seven races in Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon and Vermont. Here’s the latest:

Florida: Republican Rick Scott, an entrepreneur who made millions in the health care industry, recently took a narrow lead in polls against Democrat Alex Sink, elected in 2006 as the state’s Chief Financial Officer with a decades-long background in business as well.

The race for the open seat has gotten nasty. Scott has blasted Sink as an “insider” and slammed her for the high unemployment rate in Florida. “When she took office Florida had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Now look at it. We have lost over 800,000 jobs,” Scott said.

Sink retorted that Scott is a liar. “You can’t trust anything that Rick Scott says. He’s not truthful,” Sink said. She also highlighted that one of Scott’s companies was forced to bay $1.7 billion in fines for Medicare fraud.

A ballot initiative on redistricting also at issue on Nov. 2 could put redistricting further from the political process, decreasing the impact of the governorship on that issue. But if the ballot initiative loses, expect the winner to have a key role in redistricting: Florida’s redistricting battles have been particularly intense.

Illinois: The governor’s seat in Illinois hasn’t been competitive for many years, but it’s proving a difficult challenge for Democratic Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn to hold onto the seat for his party. The problem? He was Rod Blagojevich’s lieutenant. Blagojevich was impeached by unanimous vote after he was charged with corruption.

Conservative state Sen. Bill Brady, whose background was heading a small construction firm, had held a sizable lead in polls since May, but the race recently tightened considerably. Brady is still ahead by two points in the Real Clear Politics average.

In redistricting, the governor will be dealing with a state legislature with a Democratic majority in both houses. The governorship will thus be pivotal in determining whether Democrats can maintain their 12-7 majority in the congressional delegation into the next decade.

NEXT: The state of the races in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, and Vermont
Massachusetts: Gov. Deval Patrick could eke out a miracle, holding onto his seat after a rocky tenure with only 40 percent of the vote because a third party candidate is splitting the vote against him.

Patrick, who shares key advisors with President Obama in David Axelrod and David Plouffe, won the governorship in 2006 on a campaign strikingly similar to the one Obama won the presidency on in 2008.

While Patrick’s popularity has plummeted during his term, polls show him narrowly leading the race, with just over 40 percent. Republican Charles Baker, a businessman who heads a health insurance company, has about 36 percent of the vote. Tim Cahill, a former Democrat turned independent has about 12 percent.

Baker is blasting an imaginary “Patrick-Cahill” ticket, apparently to try to overcome his difficulty with the split vote.

Redistricting is not a key issue in this race as the state’s congressional delegation is entirely Democratic and Republicans have little presence in the state legislature.

Minnesota: In another three-way race, Democrat Mark Dayton is polling about six points up from Republican Tom Emmer with independent Tom Horner pulling in 17 percent of the vote in third.

As in Massachusetts, Republican Emmer and independent Horner are battling for the same share of the vote while the Democrat holds onto a small, but large enough share to win if polls hold until election day, analysts say.

Minnesota’s state legislature is held by Democrats, so Republicans won’t have a say in redistricting unless they win the governorship.

Ohio: Since the beginning of August, Republican John Kasich, a best-selling author who formerly hosted a weekly program on Fox News after a career in Congress, has enjoyed significant lead in polls over Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

The Real Clear Politics average puts Kasich 4 points ahead of Strickland, who won in 2006 by a 60-37 margin. But Democrats are blasting Kasich for having worked at Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street investment firm that went under during the financial crisis, to argue Kasich is an insider.

Redistricting is a key issue in Ohio, were Republicans could conceivably flip several Democratic seats into more-or-less permanent Republican districts. Or, if Strickland wins, he could help protect Democratic incumbents from Republican gerrymandering.

Oregon: Republican candidate Chris Dudley leads Democrat John Kitzaber by 3 or 4 points in polls. A Republican hasn’t won the governor’s seat in Oregon since 1982. Dudley and Kitzaber are running for an open seat.

Vermont: Surprisingly, Republican Brian Dubie is close in polls to Democrat Peter Shumlin in heavily Democratic Vermont. Vermont only has a single, at-large congressional district, so redistricting is not as much of an issue there.

This is the first installment of an ongoing series about gubernatorial races in the midterm elections that will appear every Monday leading up to Election Day.