The 15 Governorships Most Likely to Flip

National Journal ranks the gubernatorial seats in the top running for new red or blue paint jobs this year.

Republicans hold most of the governorships likeliest to change hands. Win McNamee/Getty Images (Hickenlooper); Mario Tama/Getty Images (Corbett)
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Karyn Bruggeman and Steven Shepard
Feb. 24, 2014, midnight

1-Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett (R)


Corbett is the most un­pop­u­lar gov­ernor in the coun­try. Edu­ca­tion cuts, slow job growth, and Corbett’s hand­ling of the Penn State-Jerry San­dusky scan­dal are among the is­sues con­trib­ut­ing to his sag­ging first-term poll num­bers. His weak ap­prov­al rat­ings have spurred an ar­ray of eager Demo­crats to jump in­to the race, and Corbett trails even the least well-known of them in the polls. Al­though the con­tested primary will sap Demo­crat­ic re­sources from the gen­er­al elec­tion, the in­tra-party battle has been fairly civil so far. Some Demo­crats are es­pe­cially ex­cited about the bids of Rep. Allyson Schwartz and former state En­vir­on­ment­al Sec­ret­ary Katie Mc­Ginty, which of­fer voters a his­tor­ic op­por­tun­ity to elect the state’s first fe­male gov­ernor. Treas­urer Rob Mc­Cord and self-fund­ing busi­ness­man Tom Wolf are also top Demo­crat­ic con­tenders.

2-Maine, Gov. Paul LePage (R)


Wheth­er he’s claim­ing that cli­mate change is a good thing or mak­ing jokes about blow­ing up the Port­land Press Her­ald build­ing, LePage is known for an ag­gress­ive style and off-the-wall state­ments that would gain na­tion­al at­ten­tion if Maine were a swing state. He squeaked to vic­tory in 2010, in a three-way race in which a Demo­crat and an in­de­pend­ent split the vote, and this year’s land­scape looks sim­il­ar. The gov­ernor’s best hope this time around is to run the same play against Blue Dog Demo­crat­ic Rep. Mi­chael Michaud and 2010 in­de­pend­ent can­did­ate Eli­ot Cut­ler, who is cam­paign­ing to the left of Michaud. But voters may have wised up since last time: In a Pan At­lantic SMS Group poll in Novem­ber, 68 per­cent of Michaud’s and Cut­ler’s sup­port­ers said they’d con­sider vot­ing for their second choice in or­der to de­feat LePage. Michaud’s can­did­acy would make his­tory: He’d be the first openly gay gov­ernor in the coun­try.

3-Flor­ida, Gov. Rick Scott (R)


Former Gov. Charlie Crist left the Re­pub­lic­an Party dur­ing his un­suc­cess­ful Sen­ate cam­paign in 2010, and in 2012 he made the full switch to the Demo­crat­ic Party in hopes of win­ning his old job back. Crist’s party change — and vari­ous new policy po­s­i­tions — don’t seem to have cost him much with voters. He is still viewed more fa­vor­ably than Scott, and he leads in the polls. Scott won a bit­ter race four years ago, spend­ing $62 mil­lion — al­most all of it his own money. This time around, he in­tends to spend oth­er people’s money, hop­ing to tally $100 mil­lion in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions; as of the end of Janu­ary, he’d raised $32 mil­lion. Both na­tion­al parties view the Sun­shine State race as among the most sig­ni­fic­ant of 2014, giv­en Flor­ida’s im­port­ance on the 2016 map. Neither cam­paign is in full swing yet bey­ond fun­drais­ing — a con­test in which Crist is lag­ging so far. But Flor­idi­ans can look for­ward to a sum­mer and fall of TV ad­vert­ising and per­son­al at­tacks from both sides.

4-Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn (D)


Quinn is just as un­pop­u­lar as the three in­cum­bents lis­ted above, but the state’s Demo­crat­ic ori­ent­a­tion and the un­cer­tainty about the iden­tity of the GOP nom­in­ee have for now put a thumb on the scale for Gov. Rod Blago­jevich’s suc­cessor, who is seek­ing a second full term. The battle ahead of the March 18 Re­pub­lic­an primary has been bru­tal. Busi­ness­man Bruce Rau­ner has pumped mil­lions of his own money in­to the race and dom­in­ated the air­waves over the past few months. But as the con­test has heated up, the oth­er GOP can­did­ates have got­ten in­to the mix, ar­guing that Rau­ner, who has donated to Demo­crats and is close to Chica­go May­or Rahm Emanuel, isn’t con­ser­vat­ive enough. Mean­while, state Treas­urer Dan Ruther­ford’s cam­paign was re­cently rocked by a law­suit filed by a former em­ploy­ee, who al­leges that Ruther­ford sexu­ally har­assed him. A WGN TV/Chica­go Tribune poll earli­er this month showed Rau­ner lead­ing 2010 nom­in­ee Bill Brady in the primary, 40 per­cent to 20 per­cent.

5-Arkan­sas, Gov. Mike Beebe (D)


Each party already has a de facto nom­in­ee. Demo­crats are run­ning with former Blue Dog Rep. Mike Ross, who, un­like em­battled Sen. Mark Pry­or, won’t have the mill­stone of a vote for the health care law drag­ging him down. Ross even touts his vote against the law on his cam­paign web­site. The GOP nom­in­ee is likely to be former Rep. Asa Hutchin­son, best known as a Bill Clin­ton im­peach­ment man­ager, 2006 gubernat­ori­al loser, and Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation point per­son on school safety. The Re­pub­lic­an Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation launched its first TV ads of the 2014 cycle here last week. Arkan­sas has been trend­ing away from Demo­crats in re­cent years, but Beebe, who is throw­ing his full weight be­hind Ross, re­mains pop­u­lar. Polls show the two likely nom­in­ees neck and neck, but Ross so far leads the money race, end­ing the year with $2.5 mil­lion to Hutchin­son’s $1.3 mil­lion.

6-Con­necti­c­ut, Gov. Dan­nel Mal­loy (D)


Mal­loy has nev­er been pop­u­lar in the Nut­meg State. Ever since de­feat­ing GOP nom­in­ee Thomas Fo­ley by half a per­cent­age point four years ago, Mal­loy has had con­sist­ently me­diocre poll num­bers. While most new gov­ernors en­joy a hon­ey­moon peri­od, Mal­loy’s ap­prov­al rat­ing in a Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity poll two months in­to his term was un­der­wa­ter, and he’s nev­er got­ten above 48 per­cent since. The gov­ernor hasn’t con­firmed he will seek reelec­tion, but Demo­crats aren’t yet jock­ey­ing to suc­ceed him. Fo­ley is back for an­oth­er run this year, but he faces a crowded GOP field: State Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er John McKin­ney and Dan­bury May­or Mark Boughton are run­ning, and state Sen. Toni Bouch­er is con­sid­er­ing a bid. Al­though Con­necti­c­ut is a Demo­crat­ic state, Re­pub­lic­ans have done well at the gubernat­ori­al level. Be­fore Mal­loy’s elec­tion, Re­pub­lic­ans — in­clud­ing John Row­land, who served time in fed­er­al pris­on for hon­est-ser­vices fraud — ran the state from 1995 to 2011.

7-Wis­con­sin, Gov. Scott Walk­er (R)


Demo­crats failed to un­seat Walk­er in a June 2012 re­call elec­tion, and the odds are against them here. Un­tested first-time can­did­ate Mary Burke, a former state com­merce sec­ret­ary and Trek Bi­cycle ex­ec­ut­ive, is Walk­er’s likely op­pon­ent. At the start of the year, the gov­ernor held a big fun­drais­ing ad­vant­age over Burke, and he has led in every poll so far. Voters learned a lot about Walk­er and his policy stances dur­ing the re­call elec­tion, and they’re either for him or against him. This was re­flec­ted in Mar­quette Law School’s first sur­vey on the race last Oc­to­ber, in which Burke polled un­usu­ally well for an un­known can­did­ate, at 45 per­cent. The op­por­tun­ity to per­suade voters is Burke’s, but she’ll need both cash and polit­ic­al savvy to do it. It won’t be easy, but Demo­crats would love to knock off — or at least dent — Walk­er ahead of a pos­sible 2016 pres­id­en­tial bid.

8-Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder (R)


Snyder won his first term re­l­at­ively eas­ily, de­feat­ing Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee Virg Bernero by 18 per­cent­age points in 2010. Since then, Snyder has struck a bal­ance between the mod­er­ate, tech­no­crat­ic, “One Tough Nerd” per­sona he cul­tiv­ates, and the con­ser­vat­ives in the state Le­gis­lature who pushed him to sign right-to-work le­gis­la­tion in late 2012 that angered or­gan­ized labor. Snyder’s all-but-cer­tain Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent is former Rep. Mark Schauer, who was swept out of his battle­ground-dis­trict seat in the 2010 GOP wave. Polls show Snyder lead­ing Schauer, but Demo­crats see Michigan as an im­port­ant tar­get. The Demo­crat­ic Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation last month launched its first TV ads this cycle, fea­tur­ing Schauer, dir­ect-to-cam­era, cri­ti­ciz­ing Snyder on edu­ca­tion. Al­though Snyder ap­pears un­likely to match his mar­gin of vic­tory four years ago, he’s the fa­vor­ite for reelec­tion.

9-Mas­sachu­setts, Gov. Dev­al Patrick (D)


Demo­crat­ic At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Martha Coakley and 2010 GOP nom­in­ee Charlie Baker are com­fort­ably situ­ated to be their parties’ re­spect­ive can­did­ates, but Coakley’s path to vic­tory is riddled with potholes. Del­eg­ates and party in­siders con­trol the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­at­ing con­ven­tion in June, and former Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Steve Gross­man is cash­ing in on loy­alty earned over his dec­ades of sup­port­ing loc­al can­did­ates. Still, Coakley will likely sur­pass the 15 per­cent threshold at the con­ven­tion to make it to the Septem­ber primary. Fin­an­cially, she trails both Gross­man and Baker, and the state’s strin­gent cam­paign fin­ance laws, which cap in­di­vidu­al and PAC dona­tions at $500, could make a fun­drais­ing gap tough to bridge. In the end, a Coakley-versus-Baker match­up would fea­ture two can­did­ates who have suffered high-pro­file losses, and the res­ult would de­pend on who took bet­ter notes on the hard-earned les­sons of 2010.

10-Kan­sas, Gov. Sam Brown­back (R)


By all rights, Kan­sas should be safe Re­pub­lic­an ter­rit­ory, but it fea­tures the sleep­er race of the cycle. The Sun­flower State has voted Re­pub­lic­an in 18 of the last 19 pres­id­en­tial elec­tions (Lyn­don John­son in the 1964 land­slide was the ex­cep­tion). Demo­crats have had suc­cess here at the gubernat­ori­al level, though, win­ning three of the past six elec­tions, in­clud­ing vic­tor­ies for Kath­leen Se­beli­us in 2002 and 2006. Moreover, the Kan­sas GOP has split in two, with as­cend­ant con­ser­vat­ives pur­ging mod­er­ate le­gis­lat­ors over the past couple of elec­tions. Brown­back is closely aligned with con­ser­vat­ives, and mod­er­ates have ban­ded to­geth­er to op­pose his agenda. There are rum­blings that some mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans may even sup­port the Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate, state House Minor­ity Lead­er Paul Dav­is. An auto­mated poll con­duc­ted late last year found Dav­is nar­rowly ahead of Brown­back, while a Brown­back in­tern­al sur­vey showed the in­cum­bent ahead but well be­low the 50 per­cent mark.

11-Col­or­ado, Gov. John Hick­en­loop­er (D)


At one point con­sidered a shoo-in for a second term, Hick­en­loop­er watched his ap­prov­al rat­ings slide in 2013 after he signed new le­gis­la­tion on re­new­able en­ergy and on re­strict­ing gun own­er­ship. But his job rat­ing re­boun­ded in a Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity poll this month, and he leads his Re­pub­lic­an com­pet­i­tion. Head­ing the GOP pack is former Rep. Tom Tan­credo, who ran in 2010 on the Con­sti­tu­tion Party tick­et after sup­port for Dan Maes, the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee, col­lapsed. Tan­credo still car­ries lots of bag­gage from his con­gres­sion­al ca­reer and 2008 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, which was a single-is­sue can­did­acy centered on il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion. The oth­er lead­ing Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate is out­spoken Sec­ret­ary of State Scott Gessler, who proudly car­ries the nick­name “Honey Badger” for his per­sist­ence on red-meat GOP is­sues such as voter fraud. The Hick­en­loop­er-in-2016 chat­ter has died down, but in re­cent months his 2014 pro­spects have been look­ing up.

12-Ohio, Gov. John Kasich (R)


Kasich knocked first-term Demo­crat­ic Gov. Ted Strick­land out of of­fice in 2010, and he won’t be easy to un­seat in 2014. Kasich’s likely Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent, Cuyahoga County Ex­ec­ut­ive Ed FitzGer­ald, has run a less-than-stel­lar cam­paign thus far. He dumped his first run­ning mate, state Sen. Eric Kear­ney, with­in a month of nam­ing him to the tick­et, after it was re­vealed that Kear­ney and his wife owed hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in taxes. The gov­ernor entered the year with a big fun­drais­ing lead, with $7.9 mil­lion on hand to FitzGer­ald’s $1.4 mil­lion. Demo­crats will use the suc­cess­ful re­peal of the GOP-sponsored an­ti­union meas­ure SB 5 in 2010 and a wave of new abor­tion re­stric­tions as fuel to fire up FitzGer­ald’s lib­er­al base. But Kasich’s will­ing­ness to buck his party by ex­pand­ing Medi­caid will al­low him to run as a “com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­vat­ive” who can ap­peal to the swing state’s per­en­ni­al middle.

13-Ari­zona, Gov. Jan Brew­er (R)


Ari­zona’s Con­sti­tu­tion lim­its of­fice­hold­ers to two terms, but it’s un­clear what that means for Brew­er, who was el­ev­ated from sec­ret­ary of state to gov­ernor when Janet Na­pol­it­ano be­came Home­land Se­cur­ity sec­ret­ary. Brew­er won her first full term in 2010, and any at­tempt to run for a second seems likely to end up in court. If she opts out, the race will be wide open. Former state Board of Re­gents Chair­man Fred DuVal has the be­ne­fit of a re­l­at­ively clear Demo­crat­ic primary field, while six Re­pub­lic­ans would duke it out in the Au­gust primary. GOP can­did­ates in­clude Sec­ret­ary of State Ken Ben­nett, state Treas­urer Doug Ducey, Mesa May­or Scott Smith, former Go Daddy ex­ec­ut­ive Christine Jones, state Sen. Al Melvin, and Frank Riggs, a former House mem­ber from Cali­for­nia. The state’s right­ward slant gives the even­tu­al Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee the edge, but wheth­er Brew­er runs or not, the GOP will have to con­tend with her con­tro­ver­sial leg­acy.

14-Hawaii, Gov. Neil Aber­crom­bie (D)


No Demo­crat should have to worry about win­ning reelec­tion in a state where Pres­id­ent Obama took more than 70 per­cent of the vote in 2012, but there could be trouble in para­dise for Aber­crom­bie. The former con­gress­man beat then-Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona by 17 points in the Re­pub­lic­an wave year of 2010, but Aber­crom­bie’s ap­prov­al rat­ings have since taken a dive. He now faces a primary chal­lenge from state Sen. Dav­id Ige and the threat of a re­match with Aiona in the gen­er­al elec­tion. A Hon­olulu Star-Ad­vert­iser poll earli­er this month found Aber­crom­bie ahead of Ige in the primary by single di­gits but 8 points be­hind Aiona in the gen­er­al. Hawaii is a tough state to sur­vey ac­cur­ately, and Demo­crats say they don’t think the poll re­flects the likely elect­or­ate in either race. Fur­ther com­plic­at­ing mat­ters is former Hon­olulu May­or Mufi Han­neman: The Demo­crat says he may join the race as a Re­pub­lic­an or an in­de­pend­ent.

15-Texas, Gov. Rick Perry (R)


Demo­crats’ chances in the Lone Star state are ex­actly what this 15th-place rank­ing im­plies: a long shot. State Sen. Wendy Dav­is be­came a na­tion­al sen­sa­tion after her 11-hour fili­buster last June over re­strict­ive new abor­tion le­gis­la­tion, which ul­ti­mately passed. The money that will be poured in­to this race is what will keep it on our radar screen, as will the in­volve­ment of Demo­crat­ic groups us­ing the ex­cite­ment around Dav­is’s can­did­acy as a launch­ing pad for ef­forts to en­gage and re­gister His­pan­ic voters they hope will help make the state com­pet­it­ive in years to come. Dav­is’s best hope is that Re­pub­lic­an At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Greg Ab­bott makes a series of un­forced er­rors, but he is a seasoned politi­cian whose Texas-sized cam­paign war chest con­tains more than $29 mil­lion. As was the case with her fili­buster, Dav­is’s can­did­acy may prove to be largely sym­bol­ic in this tra­di­tion­al GOP strong­hold.

COR­REC­TION: A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this story in­cor­rectly stated Wis­con­sin Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate Mary Burke’s vote share in a Mar­quette Law School poll last Oc­to­ber.


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