Sabato Predicts GOP Could Pick Up 8 Governorships

Friday, 04 Jun 2010 05:56 PM

By John Rossomando

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Republicans could pick up eight governorships in November if current trends continue, according to a new report released by Larry Sabato’s University of Virginia Center for Politics. There are currently 24 GOP governors, and of the 23 open gubernatorial races 12 are now held by Democrats and 11 by Republicans.

At the same time, Sabato has not projected Democrats will take over any governorships currently held by Republicans.

Sabato credits the political winds trending in the Republicans’ direction for the likely pickups.

“2010 is a GOP-leaning year, and there are so many open seats  ̶  probably the most in half a century once some incumbents lose – that it helps the party that is favored overall,” Sabato tells Newsmax. “Some of this is happenstance, of course. Term limits kicking in for various incumbents and the like.”

Voters also are showing an eagerness to get new faces and fresh blood in governor mansions around the country, and Sabato predicts a lot of new faces come January.

“Even though it is partly happenstance, it nicely dovetails with the apparent desire in a large part of the public for 'new people,'” he says. “They are going to get their wish in the statehouses, with a majority of governors probably being freshmen come January.”

Sabato sees strong possibilities for GOP pickups in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming. All of these states, except Iowa, have governors who are either term-limited or have decided not to seek re-election.

Wyoming and Kansas present Republicans with their best chances to make inroads on current Democratic turf, Sabato writes in his report, listing them as solid Republican takeovers.

Current Democratic Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal has decided to retire after two terms, and state House Speaker Colin Simpson, the son and grandson of former Wyoming senators, is widely favored to win the primary against three other major GOP contenders.

“The Republican nomination will probably be tantamount to election,” Sabato writes in his report.

In Kansas, Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson, who succeeded Kathleen Sebelius when she became secretary of health and human services, has decided not to run, as has the lieutenant governor he chose to succeed him. Although the presumed Democratic nominee, state Sen. Tom Holland, has respectability, Sabato sees GOP Sen. Sam Brownback easily walking away with the prize.

Sabato places Tennessee in the likely Republican takeover category, as Democratic Gov. Phil Bresden is term-limited. He views the race as “unquestionably Republican,” but it remains to be see whether Rep. Zach Wamp or Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam will win. The Democrats’ lack of a “top-drawer choice” also increases GOP chances.

Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Oklahoma find themselves in the “leans Republican” takeover category.

Michiganders have grown weary of the depressed economic situation that has persisted under the leadership of unpopular outgoing Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Sabato says. The Democrats have been in disarray since Lt. Gov. John Cherry announced his withdrawal from the race, likely sensing defeat in November, meaning an unknown candidate will carry their party’s banner.

The hotly contested GOP primary features Rep. Pete Hoekstra; Attorney General Mike Cox; businessman Rick Snyder; and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard.

“It will be a surprised if Republicans don’t win this governorship,” Sabato writes.

Unpopular Iowa Democratic Gov. Chet Culver faces a spirited challenge from former GOP Gov. Terry Brandstad, who served as the state’s chief executive for 16 years from 1983-1999. Culver’s popularity has sagged due to the economy and his failure to fight the state Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. Culver’s job performance is the issue in this race, Sabato says.

In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle fell victim to the recession and decided not to seek a third term, largely due to the economy. Sabato sees whoever wins the GOP primary  ̶  whether it is Milwuakee County Executive Scott Walker or underdog former Rep. Mark Neumann  ̶   as the favorite in November against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Oklahoma remains a strongly Republican state, so Sabato believes GOP Rep. Mary Fallin will “almost certainly” take the governor’s mansion back from term-limited Democratic Gov. Brad Henry after his eight-year tenure.

Pennsylvania stands alone in the likely Republican category due to the state’s overall Democratic trend and its perennial habit of switching parties in the governor’s mansion over the past 50 years. This year seems little different, with Attorney General Tom Corbett favored over Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.

The Republican Governors Association (RGA) likewise sees 2010 as a good year for them, but spokesman Tim Murtaugh tells Newsmax his organization remains cautiously optimistic.

“Sabato’s numbers are encouraging, but we have to keep our eye on the ball, and we won’t let up until after the polls close,” Murtaugh says.

The RGA believes it will regain a majority of the nation’s governor mansions this year due to voter angst over the economy and government spending.

It sees states such as Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland as possible pickups, in addition to those projected by Sabato.

Maryland is of particular interest to Republicans, where incumbent Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley faces a spirited rematch from the man he defeated for the job in 2006, former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich.

“Maryland definitely is in play,” Murtaugh says. “We think Maryland definitely will be competitive.”

But Sabato tells Newsmax largely Democratic Maryland will “be a tough nut for the GOP to crack,” and he says anything could happen in the 13 races he has listed as tossups.

Calls to the Democratic Governors Association were not returned.




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