Following up on my recent first quarter race ratings for the US Senate and House are the ratings for the 36 gubernatorial contests taking place in 2014. Each rating represents the probability that either party will win the November election and uses the following scale:
Safe - That party has over a 95 percent percent chance of winning. The other party has no realistic options for victory under present or expected circumstances.
Likely - That party has over an 80 percent chance of winning and is the heavy favorite. However it is possible that the situation might change and the other party has a potential path to victory.
Lean - That party has over a 60 percent chance of winning and is a narrow, but clear favorite. This race will be competitive and it is quite plausible that the other party could win with changing circumstances.
Tossup - Both parties have less than a 60 percent chance of winning and the heavily contested race could easily go either way even if one party might be favored from week to week.
With that system in mind, let's take a look at the playing field mapped out and in chart form.
(click for an interactive map with more detailed info)
Following the disastrous 2010 elections Republicans built up a commanding lead in governors offices, particularly considering how many people are represented by each party. Currently there are 21 controlled by Democrats and 29 by Republicans with their party governing 56 percent of the (2010 census) population of the 50 states. Of the 36 states with 2014 gubernatorial elections, 14 are held by Democrats while 22 are held by Republicans. Aggregating all the races not up for election with those rated Lean or stronger for either party yields 22 for Democrats, 25 for Republicans, and 3 Tossups.
At present I expect 4 states to change hands with Republicans gaining Arkansas while Democrats gain Florida, Maine, and Pennsylvania and while that number is low it would represent a net gain of nearly 10 percent of the 50-state population for Democrats which would result in their governors representing the majority of Americans. Republicans would also lose their legislative trifecta in both Florida and Pennsylvania and Democrats would likely gain it in Maine, while Republicans already effectively have total legislative control in Arkansas with just a simple majority required to override vetoes. Control of state legislatures could also change, but is more difficult to predict nationwide.
Since there are just 36 races I'll detail them individually below the fold.
Arkansas - Open - (D)
Long a Democratic bastion, Arkansas gradually turned towards Republicans over the past two decades until that movement became an avalanche in 2010 and 2012 with little signs of abatement in 2014. Very popular governor Mike Beebe is term-limited and the man he defeated for the open seat in 2006, former congressman Asa Hutchinson, is the presumptive Republican nominee this year. Democrats have a very deep bench in the state though and their likely nominee is former 6-term congressman Mike Ross who has been running circles around Hutchinson in fundraising and held down with ease a much more important swing region of the state. Polling thus far has shown a neck and neck race and Hutchinson has been out of office since 2001 and ran his last race 8 years ago, but realigning partisanship will be difficult to overcome and I suspect the (D) next to Ross' name will be what beats him even if this race is competitive all year long.
Illinois - Pat Quinn - (D)
Governor Quinn cheated political death in the wave of 2010 when horrid approval ratings weren't enough to overcome a flawed Republican challenger and a strongly Democratic state. Unfortunately for Democrats, Quinn's approval rating is at best just as bad if not slightly worse, but on the other hand the political environment is very unlikely to be as bad is it was four years ago. Republicans have a somewhat competitive primary, but self-funding wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner appears to be the clear front runner for the upcoming March 18th primary. Though his money is a campaign plus, Rauner has never run for office before and has made some pretty foolish mistakes such as advocating for reducing the minimum wage while raising it is overwhelmingly popular. If any contested race is likely to be fought over issues of class, this is probably it. Given how Quinn eked out a victory in 2010 when most pundits had written him off I'm predicting he pulls it off one more time, but not with particularly high confidence.
Michigan - Rick Snyder - (R)
A product of the Republican wave, Rick Snyder was a first time candidate running on his business credentials who crushed his Democratic opponent as his state turned hard toward his party in 2010. But since then Snyder and Michigan Republicans have pushed a very aggressive and conservative legislative agenda with unpopular measures such as the emergency manager law effectively suspending many local (Democratic) governments which was overturned at the ballot box and then nefariously reinstated, a strict anti-abortion law, and the biggest of all a right-to-work measure which legislators disgracefully passed in a lame duck session after an election where they lost their majority for it. Snyder has seen his approval rating plummet from the nearly 60 percent he won in 2010, but complicating things tremendously is the unreliability of Michigan polling. There have been several polls in 2013 showing him with recovered approvals and modest leads over likely Democratic opponent, former congressman and state senate majority leader Mark Schauer, however pollsters also showed the 2012 presidential race competitive or had Romney leading late in the cycle when Obama won the state by nearly 10 percent. In Snyder's favor is his sizable monetary advantage and Schauer's currently undefined image, but with bizarre ads like this, the mediocre record it tries to defend, and the state's clear Democratic lean this one has the potential to become a Democratic gain.
Colorado - John Hickenlooper - (D)
Then Denver mayor John Hickenlooper was a massive beneficiary of Republican dysfunction in 2010 when their presumed nominee imploded in a plagiarism scandal and narrowly lost the primary to a little known extremist whom the state party disavowed yet stayed on the ballot and former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo became their de facto candidate on the Constitution Party ballot. Initially quite popular and seen as a heavy favorite for reelection, Hickenlooper's standing fell in a state with a large rural population after state Democrats passed a gun control legislative package which despite having individually popular components polled poorly as a concept. However his numbers have seemed to level off and recover with him leading all comers in recent polling. The Republican field has shaped up to be a contest between secretary of state Scott Gessler and Tom Tancredo with the latter likely favored. However Tancredo brings along many general election liabilities, foremost of which being his very right-wing position on immigration in a state with a large immigrant population and crucial Hispanic voting bloc. If Tancredo does end up the nominee this race probably becomes out of reach for Republicans, but regardless the state does not seem ready to ditch Hickenlooper just yet.
Connecticut - Dan Malloy - (D)
Though Connecticut is quite blue federally, Dan Malloy only narrowly won an open race in 2010 and has had mediocre approval ratings in the few polls seen over the past few years. Republicans also have no shortage of decent candidates running to challenge him including their losing 2010 nominee former ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley. Given how Democratic Connecticut is and another Republican wave year being unlikely, Malloy is more likely to win than not, but without a reliable stream of polling data it is rather hard to tell and the somewhat competitive race could easily tighten at some point in the cycle.
Florida - Rick Scott - (R)
Like Rick Snyder, governor Rick Scott was a wealthy businessman and political neophyte who had the fortune of running in the 2010 wave. Scott however has and had at the time major liabilities in addition to very conservative positions. He was the CEO of the company that committed the biggest Medicare fraud in US history and Florida is one of the oldest states in the country, though Scott was never personally charged (he plead the 5th) and was rather miraculously still elected by a narrow margin he lagged far behind Republicans in the state that year. Since then though his approval ratings have consistently stayed in the 30s or low 40s and popular former moderate Republican governor Charlie Crist, who left the Republican party in 2010 and became a Democrat this cycle, is the presumptive Democratic nominee against him. In Scott's favor is his ability to spend a massive amount of money thanks to his personal wealth, but a high disapproval rating in a swing state versus a well-known and popular former governor puts him at a fairly clear disadvantage and Scott has not led or usually even come close to leading in any recent polling.
Arizona - Open - (R)
Incumbent governor Jan Brewer is term limited and the Republican primary to replace her is a free-for-all including the sitting secretary of state Ken Bennett and state treasurer Doug Ducey. Democrats have coalesced around former state university board of regents chairman Fred DuVal who is a first time candidate, but well connected in Democratic politics. While the state voted for Romney by roughly 9 percent, Democrats typically are competitive and held the governor's office from 2002-2010 and performed respectably against then popular Brewer in 2010. For now Republicans have a clear advantage due to the state's lean, but as the candidates become more well-defined and campaigning heats up the race could potentially tighten.
Ohio - John Kasich - (R)
At first elected by a slim margin in the 2010 wave, John Kasich saw his approval rating absolutely tank throughout 2011 only to astoundingly recover throughout 2012 and 2013 to where he now polls usually above water. The man he defeated in 2010, then governor Ted Strickland, chose not to seek a rematch at what would make him 73 on election day and thus removed Kasich's strongest potential opponent. Democrats have since settled on Cuyahoga County executive Ed FitzGerald as their likely nominee, but he has not run a top notch campaign with issues like his initial running mate pick having to step down over delinquent taxes. Unlike several other class of 2010 Republican governors with a same-party legislature, Kasich has made a strong attempt at maintaining an element of moderation in his public image through things like expanding Medicaid under Obamacare. Polling has been fairly infrequent and conflicted with only two firms dominating the scene: Public Policy Polling typically show results with Kasich being very competitive with his unknown Democratic opponent while Quinnipiac University finds Kasich with a huge positive approval rating spread, but paradoxically lower reelect numbers yet in a commanding position. In total though Kasich appears to be the clear favorite even if the race is competitive, but FitzGerald's campaign should have Democrats fairly concerned for what would be a huge electoral prize.
Wisconsin - Scott Walker - (R)
Perhaps the Republican golden child of the 2010 wave, Walker has walked the finest line between electoral viability and pushing a very conservative legislative agenda since his initial election. Though he incurred a major backlash by pushing through unpopular anti-union legislation as one of the first acts in his term and one on which he did not campaign upon, a 3-1 spending advantage and an electorate dismayed that the electoral recall was being used for political reasons comfortably reelected him in the summer of 2012. Walker's approval ratings since then have been slightly positive and along with the recall's failure seem to have importantly deterred top tier Democrats from running, but he still faces serious opposition from presumptive Democratic nominee and city of Madison school board member Mary Burke who has the potential to heavily self-fund. With Wisconsin being a light blue state and Republicans under Walker presiding over a strongly conservative policies there will be plenty for Burke to attack him on, but his decent approval rating and a very impressive fundraising ability should allow Walker to win a modest victory.
Maine - Paul LePage - (R)
Despite being an incumbent in a medium, but not dark blue state LePage is a heavy underdog. Initially elected by a bare plurality with just over 40% of the vote thanks to a split field among the left, the quite conservative LePage has made several blunders and kept himself very unpopular. The only reason he's not completely dead on arrival is because 2010 runner up, independent Eliot Cutler, is running for a rematch. However unlike 2010 when the Democratic nominee was loathed and came in a distant 3rd, Democrats are running their most popular politician in the state, 6-term congressman Mike Michaud who consistently destroys LePage one on one in polling. But since this is a three-way race, polls have shown LePage competitive if not narrowly leading thanks to Cutler siphoning off a large portion of the vote, but don't be fooled by trial heats this far out. It would be practically unheard of in our two party system for Cutler, who is not unusually well-liked as now-senator Angus King was in 2012, not to collapse in support as left-leaning voters come home to Mike Michaud who is very popular with them. This may not happen until low-information voters start paying attention to the election later in the summer and the ad wars heat up, but I don't expect Cutler to exceed 15 percent of the three way vote and that is completely insufficient for despised governor LePage to win.
Minnesota - Mark Dayton - (D)
Bucking the trend in the midwest, Mark Dayton was very narrowly elected in this light blue state in 2010 when Republicans put forth a nominee deemed too conservative by the electorate. Since his initial win with just over 44 percent of the vote, Dayton has seen his approval ratings consistently positive and above 50 percent and the state Republican party is in relative disarray after coming off a bruising 2012 loss of the legislature and being deep in debt. While multiple decent candidates have stepped forward to challenge him, Dayton is unlikely to lose barring a shift in the national environment away from his party.
Pennsylvania - Tom Corbett - (R)
Though he had a successful track record of winning election in a light blue state and was elected governor with ease in the 2010 wave, Tom Corbett has seen his approval rating sink to abysmal lows making him likely the least popular governor in the country who is still running for reelection. Though he has governed over an unpopular legislative agenda, what makes Corbett's reelection almost impossible is his connection to the Penn. State Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal from when he was state attorney general and his office declined to prosecute those connected. The only thing keeping this state out of the Safe Democratic category is the still wide open Democratic primary where several candidates are running with the front-runners most likely 6-term congresswoman Allyson Schwartz and 2-term state treasurer Rob McCord with the potential for a damaging negative race, but even then I'm still strongly tempted to move Corbett to Safe Democratic when he has poll ratings in the low 30s and upper 20s.
Alaska - Sean Parnell - (R)
Though he has had a mediocre approval rating in the past few polls and has credible opposition, Alaska is one of the least Democratic states in the country and a it is unclear whether Republican-turned-independent candidate Bill Walker will pose more of a threat to Parnell by splitting his base or to the opposition as a conduit for anti-Parnell votes. The Democratic field is not fully set here and polling has been very infrequent and has a relatively poor track record in the state, so for now a rating of Likely Republican is more out of caution than anything else.
Georgia - Nathan Deal - (R)
Governor Deal was elected by a fairly comfortable 10 percent over a former Democratic governor for the open seat in 2010, but that was a relatively poor showing compared to the rest of the ticket. Deal had resigned his seat in congress to avoid a congressional ethics investigation ahead of his gubernatorial run and only narrowly won his party's nomination, but since his initial election has seen his middling approval rating nonetheless put him in a decent position for reelection given the state's heavy Republican lean. However Deal now has strong opposition in the form of Democratic state senator Jason Carter, the grandson of former president Jimmy Carter who is still quite popular in Georgia and Carter raised a hefty $1.3 million in the end of 2013. Throwing a major wrench into Deal's reelection was state and local governments' disastrous handling of the recent modest amount of snow in the Atlanta metro area, for which the public has given him a lot of the blame. Whether that, Deal's potential ethical issues, Carter's positives as a candidate, and Georgia's slow but steady Democratic trend will be enough to turn this race into a competitive one remains to be seen and for now we can expect heavily conservative state to favor Deal.
Kansas - Sam Brownback - (R)
Despite Kansas being one of the most Republican states in the country, first term governor Sam Brownback's very conservative agenda has caused his approval rating to tumble as many of the state's large contingent of relatively centrist Republican voters became turned off. Polling has been very sparse though it generally shows him quite unpopular and the state has had a long tradition of electing moderate Democratic governors. Likely Democratic nominee, state house minority leader Paul Davis also raised a respectable $1 million in 2013. However this is still Kansas and it would take a lot for Brownback to actually lose a state where Democrats have had a hard time winning anything in recent years.
New Mexico - Susana Martinez - (R)
More than any state, analyzing this race is frustrated by lack of polling. While governor Martinez, elected by a modest margin in the 2010 wave, is widely regarded as popular and in a strong position to win reelection, there hasn't been a general election poll of New Mexico released since 2012 despite the popular sitting attorney general and son of a former governor Gary King and several other serious Democratic candidates in the running. Martinez has been dominating in fundraising and with a Democratic legislature keeping her in check hasn't been able to pass the kind of conservative legislative agenda that has damaged the popularity of many other class of 2010 governors and all the signs point to her reelection, but annoyingly polling is not one of them. This race could be completely uncompetitive or surprisingly close without polling, so for now it's rated Likely Republican.
South Carolina - Nikki Haley - (R)
Even though South Carolina is generally a safe state for Republicans, disgust with former governor Mark Sanford's tumultuous relationship with his own party and Haley's close ties to him, a strong conservative Democratic opponent, and possibly her ethnicity caused Haley to win a surprisingly close initial election in 2010 despite a serious monetary advantage. Back for a rematch is state senator Vincent Sheheen who held Haley to under a 5 percent win in 2010, but it is unlikely that he will even come as close this time given how Haley has maintained a sufficient approval rating, particularly with her own party, for her to survive in a state as deep red as South Carolina.
California - Jerry Brown - (D)
Governor Brown is immensely popular in a very Democratic state, has a huge war chest in an incredibly expensive state, and faces little funded 3rd tier opposition.
Hawaii - Neal Abercrombie - (D)
Abercrombie was regarded as vulnerable and deeply unpopular all throughout the beginning of his term thanks to terrible poll numbers, but more than any state in the nation Hawaii polling is horrendous. Abercrombie had close poll numbers late in 2010 and won by a 17 percent blowout. Now-senator Mazie Hirono had competitive polling numbers early on in the 2012 cycle and won by a 25 point rout. For whatever reason, pollsters dramatically understate Democratic chances here and Hawaii is already one of if not the most Democratic states in the union. With retread opposition and the wind at his back, don't be surprised at yet another landslide win for Abercrombie.
Maryland - Open - (D)
Maryland is one of the most Democratic states in the country and Republicans have no serious nominee. Lieutenant governor Anthony Brown will win in a walk.
Massachusetts - Open - (D)
Though Republicans recruited losing 2010 nominee Charlie Baker to run and he came within 7 percent in 2010, I don't foresee a path to victory for him in a non-wave political environment, especially against very popular multi-term attorney general Martha Coakley even despite her epic fail during the 2010 US Senate special election. Massachusetts is one of the least Republican states in the country and even if Coakley proves a bad candidate a second time, Baker's party should be enough to sink him again when he couldn't even defeat an unpopular governor in the best year for his party in generations.
New Hampshire - Maggie Hassan - (D)
While her initial 2012 election was considered competitive until she won by a hefty 12 percent, Hassan has had stellar approval ratings all cycle and no serious opposition despite New Hampshire's swingy nature.
New York - Andrew Cuomo - (D)
One of the most Democratic states in the country and Andrew Cuomo is popular and obscenely well funded.
Oregon - John Kitzhaber - (D)
Three term governor Kitzhaber very narrowly won the open seat in 2010 after serving two prior terms, but has since maintained a solid level of support and faces much weaker potential opponents. With Oregon Democrats holding on to their general popularity in a medium blue state he will have little trouble winning.
Rhode Island - Open - (D)
Similarly to Massachusetts, the days of this state electing moderate Republicans is over. Rhode Island is one of the most Democratic states in the country even if not the most liberal and their party has no shortage of strong candidates to run, including Providence mayor Angel Taveras and state treasurer Gina Raimondo. While likely Republican nominee, Cranston mayor Allan Fung, is personally popular he is more than weighed down by his party affiliation and his chances of winning a majority or plurality of the vote are highly unlikely without another Republican wave.
Vermont - Peter Shumlin - (D)
Probably the most liberal governor in the country, Peter Shumlin was initially elected very narrowly over moderate Republican lieutenant governor Brian Doubie in 2010, but has since kept a high approval rating. With Vermont's dark blue hue and a total lack of serious opposition Shumlin is a lock for another term.
Alabama - Robert Bentley - (R)
Bentley is a non-offensive incumbent in a state where Democrats would have an incredibly difficult time winning if they were even running a strong candidate.
Idaho - Butch Otter - (R)
While governor Otter had a relatively modest initial election margin in 2006, he was easily reelected in 2010 and is overwhelmingly favored for a third term in 2014 as Idaho is one of the most Republican states and he faces no serious Democratic opposition.
Iowa - Terry Branstad - (R)
The longest-serving governor in American history, Terry Branstad is a very heavy favorite for a record 6th term even though Iowa is a marginally Democratic state and he faces sitting state senator Jack Hatch. Branstad maintains a positive though not extraordinary approval rating and has governed fairly middle of the road, which will be enough to earn him another term as Democrats will not seriously invest here given present circumstances.
Nebraska - Open - (R)
As with its neighboring plains states, Nebraska is heavily Republican and though Democrats had a long history of winning gubernatorial elections here those days have been left behind for the time being. Republicans have a large field to replace term-limited popular governor Dave Heinneman while Democrats are likely to nominate former state university board of regents member Chuck Hassebrook, but it would take a major game changer for the Republican nominee not to win.
Nevada - Brian Sandoval - (R)
Brian Sandoval is overwhelmingly popular, has governed fairly moderately, and has no major party opposition despite sitting in a light blue state.
Oklahoma - Mary Fallin - (R)
Oklahoma is one of the most Republican states in the country and any Democrat is unelectable here against any scandal-free Republican, let alone a fairly popular incumbent.
South Dakota - Dennis Daugaard - (R)
Governor Daugaard is popular in a strongly Republican state and faces no serious opposition.
Tennessee - Bill Haslam - (R)
After winning his initial election over a legitimate Democratic candidate in a rout, Bill Haslam has maintained a high level of popularity and has no credible opponent while in a starkly Republican state.
Texas - Open - (R)
Although Democrats recruited Wendy Davis, a state senator elected twice to a Republican leaning district of over 800,000 constituents, as their nominee here and she posted a very impressive $12 million fundraising total for the second half of 2013, this is still Texas where Democrats have a ceiling of support well short of 50% thanks to relatively very low minority voter participation rates and an implacably conservative white population. Davis' national fame and support-base will keep this election in the news, but don't believe for a second that she stands a realistic shot at beating relatively popular and very well-funded state attorney general Greg Abbott.
Wyoming - Matt Mead - (R)
Wyoming is one of if not the very most Republican states in the country, Mead is very popular, and he faces no Democratic candidate.