Daily Kos Elections is pleased to announce our first set of gubernatorial race ratings for the 2012 election cycle:
Safe D/R: Barring unforeseeable developments, one party is certain to win.Below the fold are brief explanations of our initial ratings, including races rated as "Safe" and therefore not listed above, in alphabetical order. Arjun Jaikumar, David Jarman, David Nir, and Steve Singiser all contributed to these ratings; our individual contributions are noted for each entry.
Race to Watch: A foreseeable but as-yet unrealized development has the chance to make an otherwise "Safe" race potentially competitive, or an incumbent faces a potentially competitive primary.
Likely D/R: One party has a strong advantage and is likely to win, though the race has the potential to become more competitive.
Lean D/R: Lean: One party has an identifiable advantage, but an upset victory is possible for the other party.
Tossup: Both parties have a strong (though not necessarily perfectly equal) chance of winning.
• Delaware — Jack Markell (D): Safe D
You saw Delaware Republicans spurn their one electable guy, Rep. Mike Castle, in favor of lunatic Christine O'Donnell in last cycle's Senate race. They don't have anyone else, and even if they did, who's to say he or she could even win a primary? First-term Gov. Jack Markell will cruise. (DN)
• Indiana — Mitch Daniels (OPEN) (R): Likely R
There's been virtually no polling of this race between GOP Rep. Mike Pence and Democratic former state House Majority Leader John Gregg, but despite Barack Obama's extraordinary victory here in 2008, Indiana just naturally tilts Republican. Gregg is well-connected and a good fundraiser, but the money has simply poured in for Pence, who was a very powerful member of the House GOP caucus before deciding to run for governor this cycle. If the stars align—if Obama runs another strong race, if Dem Rep. Joe Donnelly's Senate campaign takes off thanks to Sen. Dick Lugar getting defeated in the primary, and if Democrats can find a way to drive Pence's negatives up—then Gregg might have a shot. But for now, Pence is the clear favorite. (DN)
• Missouri — Jay Nixon (D): Likely D
A year ago, this race looked like a coin flip in the making. A red-tinted state in a presidential election year, coupled with a legitimate opponent (Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder), looked like a recipe for a tossup race for first-term Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. Then Kinder imploded in hilarious fashion (his odd infatuation with an ex-stripper was a real high point), and the GOP has had a devil of a time finding a suitable replacement. The establishment favors businessman Dave Spence, while the teabaggers seem to like attorney Bill Randles, but both are almost unknown. Polls show Nixon well positioned to beat either of them. (SS)
• Montana — Brian Schweitzer (OPEN) (D): Tossup
Montana is usually a red state at the presidential level, but it's often been receptive to Democrats down the ballot. With Gov. Brian Schweitzer termed out after eight years, state Attorney General Steve Bullock gives Democrats a solid chance at holding the state house. One advantage he has is that he's a lock for the Democratic nomination, while more than half a dozen less-known Republicans, of varying degrees of crackpot-ness, are jostling for their nod; the likeliest nominee is Rick Hill, who served several terms as the state's at-large Rep. in the 1990s. The very few polls that have been taken here have shown Bullock and Hill tied, or close to it. (DJ)
• New Hampshire — John Lynch (OPEN) (D): Tossup
Democratic Gov. John Lynch has turned into a Granite State institution, having won election to four two-year terms and still retaining his popularity. Unfortunately, he's finally retiring this year, leaving one more gubernatorial race where the Democrats are playing defense. The two Democrats running so far are bother former state senators: Maggie Hassan and Jackie Cilley, who seems to be the more progressive candidate. The Republicans seem likely to nominate Ovide Lamontagne, who lost the 1996 gubernatorial race, disappeared, and then re-emerged from obscurity reborn as a tea party activist, nearly surprising establishment favorite Kelly Ayotte in the 2010 Republican Senate primary. Lamontagne has managed to transform into the establishment candidate himself, though, and now faces his own tea-flavored primary challenge from former state Rep. Kevin Smith. With the fields unsettled and few polls to go on, this race remains a question mark. (DJ)
• North Carolina — Bev Perdue (OPEN) (D): Lean R
Gov. Bev Perdue, narrowly elected with the aid of Barack Obama's coattails in 2008, quickly turned into one of the nation's least popular governors and consistently trailed in polls of a rematch against the man she beat four years ago, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, often by around 10 points. Unable to improve her standing, she threw in the towel in January, opting not to run for a second term, giving Democrats some hope that a new face might fare better. Since then, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and ex-Rep. Bob Etheridge have gotten in for the Democrats—and polls still show them trailing McCrory by around 10 points. This race may get closer, but it'll be hard for the Dem nominee to catch up all the way with McCrory. (DJ)
• North Dakota — Jack Dalrymple (R): Likely R
Two things keep this from being Safe R. One is that Gov. Jack Dalrymple has never been elected on his own statewide (he has, however, lost two Senate bids). The other is that the Democrats have a decent candidate, state Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor. North Dakota is a Republican state, but not doctrinaire about it, so it's too early to write this one off. Still, it's hard to ignore the institutional advantages for the incumbent Republican. (AJ)
• Utah — Gary Herbert (R): Race to Watch
In dark-red Utah, in a presidential election year, there is no rational reason why an incumbent Republican governor shouldn't be anything other than safe. But Utah has a reputation for teabagging their Republican incumbents, and a trio of conservatives are looking to add Herbert's name to the roster of vanquished incumbents. Democrats have a better-than-average option here, as well, retired Army Major General Peter Cooke, but it would take a beyond-extraordinary turn of events to make this race competitive in the fall. Utah's unusual and unpredictable GOP nominating process (where candidates face delegates at the state convention to earn a chance at running in the primary) makes this a Race to Watch, however. (SS)
• Vermont — Peter Shumlin (D): Likely D
First-term Gov. Peter Shumlin managed to win a tight race in 2010—and pick up a formerly Republican-held governorship in the process. He didn't get much time to catch his breath, though, since Vermont (along with next-door neighbor New Hampshire) is one of just two states with two-year gubernatorial terms. In PPP's latest poll (which was taken all the way back in August 2011), Shumlin enjoyed solid approval ratings and was cruising to reelection over his likely opponent, state Sen. Randy Brock. Of course, that was a long time ago. It’s hard to imagine Shumlin winning in 2010 and losing in 2012 with presidential turnout, but one never knows; Shumlin was polling at 51 percent, which is a good number, but not uber-safe. (AJ)
• Washington — Chris Gregoire (OPEN) (D): Lean R
The longest Democratic gubernatorial winning streak belongs to Washington: A Republican hasn't been elected here since 1980. The GOP, of course, is hoping that state Attorney General Rob McKenna helps them break that jinx; he's been effectively running for a number of years so his name recognition is high, and he successfully plays a moderate on TV. Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee, on the other hand, is not as well known and his campaign has been slow to catch fire, something he apparently hopes to remedy with his recent decision to resign his House seat to focus full-time on this race. Most polls have given McKenna a lead in the high single-digits, though observers tend to anticipate the race to get tighter, given the state's Democratic lean—and that may be starting to happen, with the two most recent surveys of the contest showing a tie game. (DJ)
• West Virginia — Earl Ray Tomblin (D): Lean D
A year ago, interim Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was in great shape for reelection, following the election of his predecessor Joe Manchin to the Senate. On Election Day in October, however, Tomblin actually outperformed expectations when he squeaked to a narrow, three-point victory. Tomblin is personally well-liked and people seem to approve of him as governor; however, as 2011 showed, West Virginia is increasingly tough for Democrats these days. He faces off this fall against his 2011 opponent, Bill Maloney; while Tomblin should certainly be favored, last year should serve as a cautionary tale. (AJ)