There weren't many governor's races to begin with this year. And most of the contests that were on the ballot aren't terribly competitive. Republicans will pick up at least one seat this year, and two other states offer the GOP opportunities. But the limited playing field means both the Democratic Governors Association and the Republican Governors Association are spending their millions (they're still allowed to solicit corporate contributions) on just a handful of really competitive seats.
On Nov. 6, keep an eye on Montana, New Hampshire, and Washington state.
In this final installment of Hotline's gubernatorial rankings, we examine the races most likely to change partisan control of governor's offices this year. That is, we see North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue's seat as more likely to wind up in Republican hands than Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire's.
Our complex methodology includes a delicate balance of poll numbers (both public and private); fundraising performance; message resonance; buzz on the trail; and, the key ingredient, our gut feelings.
Using those five factors, we answer a fundamental question: Which candidate would we rather be? The ultimate conclusions are subjective, of course. But they represent months of close scrutiny of each race, and our best-drawn conclusions as to where battles for the statehouse are headed this year.
See previous rankings here.
|NORTH CAROLINA (Open D, Gov. Bev Perdue retiring) (Previous rank: 1)
Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory has polled ahead of Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton all year. Now, outside groups -- even Democrats -- have pulled their money out, a concession that McCrory's advantage is too big for Dalton to overcome.
|MONTANA (Open D, Gov. Brian Schweitzer retiring) (Previous rank: 3)
Montana is one of two states in which the Democratic nominee is relying heavily on a popular incumbent, in this case Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Attorney General Steve Bullock would love it if voters focused on Schweitzer's success on local issues. Republican candidate Rick Hill prefers the national issues matrix. A recent court ruling robbed Hill of $500,000, and his money is low, but the combination of a toss-up race and Mitt Romney's presence on the top of the ticket is a benefit to the Republican.
|NEW HAMPSHIRE (Open D, Gov. John Lynch retiring) (Previous rank: 4)
Just as Bullock needs Schweitzer, Gov. John Lynch is a big boost to Democrat Maggie Hassan. Recent surveys suggest Hassan has a narrow lead over Republican Ovide Lamontagne. Democrats are working to paint Lamontagne as out of the mainstream, and they're using Maine Gov. Paul LePage in an unusual play for regional guilt-by-association. Lamontagne has a spending advantage, but he will likely need Obama voters to cobble together a majority.
|WASHINGTON (Open D, Gov. Christine Gregoire retiring) (Previous rank: 2)
In a state predisposed toward Democrats, we've been surprised by the number of times Republican Rob McKenna has highlighted his party affiliation. Polls over the last two months have showed Democrat Jay Inslee building a slight lead, though a new Elway survey puts McKenna on top by a fraction. Like Lamontagne in New Hampshire, McKenna needs Obama voters to cross over. Unlike Lamontagne, McKenna isn't running in a swing state, making his job all the more difficult.
|VIRGINIA (Open R, Gov. Bob McDonnell retiring) (Previous rank: 5)
Big dogs are circling this race, which isn't up until 2013. The Republican primary between Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli favors Cuccinelli, an emerging hero of the conservative right. The Democratic primary favors former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe -- for now. The shadow that looms large over McAuliffe's chances belongs to Sen. Mark Warner; rumor has it he might entertain a return to Richmond. Democrats would be favored to take back the seat if Cuccinelli is indeed the GOP nominee. Warner, Bob McDonnell, and Tim Kaine, recent Virginia winners, all appealed to a middle that Cuccinelli's ideological bent scares.
|NEW JERSEY (R, Gov. Chris Christie) (Previous rank: 6)
Chris Christie can beat a Trenton insider. But could he beat the state's most popular Democrat? Christie's back-and-forth with Newark Mayor Cory Booker has produced some good parodies, but Booker has started talking with top Democrats about snagging Christie's job. Expect their relationship to get frosty as Booker circles the race.
|INDIANA (Open R, Gov. Mitch Daniels is retiring) (Previous rank: 8)
Democrats say the race is closing -- and it is. But that means Democrat John Gregg is losing by high single digits to low double digits, rather than by 20. Republican Rep. Mike Pence is going to succeed retiring Gov. Mitch Daniels.
|WEST VIRGINIA (D, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin retiring) (Previous rank: 7)
Republicans had an opportunity to knock off Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last year. But Tomblin is a much improved candidate now, and West Virginia is one of the rare states in which the national Democratic brand is separate from the state Democratic brand. If Republican Bill Maloney had invested his own cash earlier in the race, he'd have had a better shot.
|MISSOURI (D, Gov. Jay Nixon) (Previous rank: 9)
Gov. Jay Nixon is a bit obsessive, according to our sources, and he's running like he's two points behind. Polling shows he's running way ahead of Republican Dave Spence, another self-funder who didn't spend as much as he might have early on in the race.
|NORTH DAKOTA (R, Gov. Jack Dalrymple) (Previous rank: 10)
Gov. Jack Dalrymple hasn't broken a sweat. Some day, Democrat Ryan Taylor will be the answer to a trivia question no one will ask.