This weekend, we actually get a little boost in that arena. Earlier this week, the excellent Louis Jacobson of Governing magazine wrote what I believe is a first for this cycle: race ratings for all the state legislatures up for election this fall. And while his ratings were certainly far from optimistic for Democrats, reading them from top to bottom, it is hard to have more than only a few minor quibbles. They are solid rankings, and as such, we are including them in this round of Power Rankings.
So, if your electoral nerd interest is piqued, head across the squiggle, and you will find the 10 states that we believe, from statewide contests to state legislatures, will keep you entertained, terrified, and energized all night long on the November 4.
For those interested in the criteria, which has changed with the incorporation of the Jacobson state legislature ratings, please flip to the end of the piece.
There was some movement in this month's incarnation of the state-by-state Power Rankings, though the nature of the criteria makes these ratings a little less volatile than the ones for the U.S. Senate and the battles for governor. June is a month when some races began to solidify, while others completely fell apart (more on this later).
Thus, there is a little movement, mostly in the lower half of the top 10. This is largely, though not wholly, owed to the change in state legislative criteria. It also includes an embarrassing "oops" by your author. Last month, states were given points in the power rankings if their state legislatures were deemed competitive. It might've helped to double-check to make sure they were also deemed as ... um ... actually freaking holding elections this year. Which is how Minnesota dropped off the list, given that the state's somewhat competitive state Senate isn't even up for re-election until 2016.
Although, in my (very limited) defense, I wasn't the only one who made that mistake. The RSLC (the arm of the Republican Party that deals with state legislative elections) refers to Minnesota as a target for Republicans, since they have "a chance to re-establish legislative Republican majorities." Majorities. Plural. So, they pooped the bed a little bit, too.
Why does that not make me feel better about it?
Having dispensed with that correction and retraction, and in honor of the recently departed soundtrack to my youth, Casey Kasem, on with the countdown!
#10—FLORIDA (16 points—Four competitive contests)
Last month: Not Rated
Florida has arguably the most watched governor race in the nation (which has graced the top three in both rounds of the gubernatorial Power Rankings). The story this month, if there has been a story, is the fact that embattled GOP Gov. Rick Scott seems to have pulled back to all square in recent polling. Crist allies charge, not without justification, that Scott has paid handsomely to walk back from the ledge. Meanwhile, Democrats, after reading this exchange, have to be praying that former Congressman David Rivera gets a return engagement as the GOP nominee against embattled Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia in FL-26.
#8 (tie)—ARIZONA (16 points—Six competitive contests)
Last month: 8
Serious question—is there any Senate or gubernatorial race in the nation that has flown more under the radar than Arizona's gubernatorial race? It has not been polled since early March, but it was a coin flip back then. What's more, the Democrats have a legitimate candidate (former state party chair Fred DuVal), and the GOP primary (which has also largely gone unpolled) is a potential bloodbath with multiple legitimate candidates. Despite the relative quiet around this potentially intriguing race, Arizona once again makes the Power Rankings, based largely on a trio of very intriguing U.S. House races, and the slight promise of competitive battles for control of the state legislature, which remains (albeit not very strongly) in GOP hands.
#8 (tie)—WEST VIRGINIA (16 points—Six competitive contests)
Last month: Not Rated
West Virginia cracks the top ten by virtue, in no small part, of the highly pitched (and somewhat nasty) battle over control of the state House of Representatives. It has been close to a century since the GOP has controlled the lower house in the legislature, but the Democratic majority has been winnowed down to a modest 53-47 advantage. Barack Obama has been crushed there twice, and Democrats have not won in the state presidentially since 1996. But the state still will support Democrats at the local level, as both a Democratic governor (Earl Ray Tomblin) and U.S. Senator (Joe Manchin) were re-elected even as Mitt Romney was romping to a 20+ point win in 2012. Recently, Republicans have tried to flog an increased use in state-sponsored mailings to voters by vulnerable Democratic incumbents (somewhat akin to the kerfluffle around a dozen years ago about federal use/overuse of the franking privilege). Whether voters will choose to care about such matters is still a pretty open question.
#7—CALIFORNIA (17 points—Nine competitive contests)
Last month: 9
Why did California move up a couple of spots? Well, it had more to do with other states becoming less competitive than it was about the Golden State heating up. Indeed, the early June primaries did little to enhance the prospects of truly awesome November hijinks in most of the races on the card. Republicans got their preferred gubernatorial nominee, but the most recent polling suggests Neel Kashkari is nowhere near catching incumbent Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. Democrats, meanwhile, saw a marginal opportunity evaporate when they failed to place a Democrat in the top two in the Santa Clarita-based 25th district. They did, however, manage this time to avoid a similar fate in the blue-tinted 31st district in the Inland Empire, where Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar has to be considered a bettor's favorite over the man who led the open primary, Republican Paul Chabot.
#6—ILLINOIS (18 points—Six competitive contests)
Last month: 10
Like California, Illinois' ascent in the rankings this month is more about other places dropping (mostly due to the re-calculation of the state legislatures) than it is about any surge in interest in the Land of Lincoln. The intrigue here has been clear for a long time, and it is almost entirely defense that must be played by the Democrats, who have a deeply endangered incumbent governor (Pat Quinn) and a raft of freshman Democratic congressional reps. One thing that Democrats need not worry about is the state legislature: as Stephen Wolf and JeffMd have shown, the 2011 remap puts the state legislature here on Democratic lockdown for the foreseeable future.
#5—MICHIGAN (18 points—Seven competitive contests)
Last month: 5
Many in the Daily Kos/Daily Kos Elections readership will be descending upon Michigan this coming month, as Netroots Nation 2014 (and a panel hosted by your pals at DKE) heads into the Motor City. There is a ton of electoral intrigue in the state, from tight races at the top of the ticket to Democrats fighting hard to reclaim the state legislature. There is also, if you read articles like this one, quite a lot at stake.
#4—ARKANSAS (22 points—Five competitive contests)
Last month: 3
Arkansas could easily have slid into the second slot were it not for a race rating that I (speaking only for myself) find to be one of the few legitimate quibbles with the race ratings of Louis Jacobson. Jacobson, in his great overview of the state legislatures, rated Arkansas' state House as "Leans Republican." He may well be right. BUT ... a case could be made that if the GOP was able to seize a 51-49 majority* with Barack Obama acting as an anchor for Democrats atop the ticket, it is not unreasonable to say the Democrats could strike back with more electable Democrats on top of the ticket. Lest this seem harsh to Obama supporters, remember that Obama lost this state by nearly 24 points in November 2012.
(*)—Technically, the GOP House majority is 51-48, but the lone Independent (Green) lost his May primary as a Democrat, and the district is uber-Democratic.
#3—IOWA (23 points—Eight competitive contests)
Last month: 2
With the primaries held in Iowa at the start of the month, we now know the identities of all the players in the general election in the Hawkeye State. Dedicated readers know that it was Joni Ernst who scored a larger-than-expected win in the GOP primary for the open U.S. Senate seat held by the retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. Veteran Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley is her opponent. GOPers crowed at early polls showing Ernst as highly competitive in the race, but the most recent poll (a Quinnipiac poll) had Braley +4. Allied groups are wasting no time: the League of Conservation Voters has already begun a campaign likening Ernst to Sarah Palin (who endorsed Ernst). This race alone would make Iowa worth watching through the cycle, but you also have a governor's race that could be a sleeper, and literally dozens of competitive U.S. House and state legislative races. Iowa may not be the No. 1 state in the Power Rankings this month, but don't be shocked to see it at the top spot at some point before November.
#2—NEW YORK (24 points—Eight competitive contests)
Last month: 4
New York's movement into the top two was based entirely on the new criteria for measuring state legislatures. Now that all competitive chambers are not allotted the same total, "tossup" chambers weigh in a bit heavier than the others. And if there is a battle for a legislative chamber worth watching, it has to be New York's wild battle for control of the state Senate. That race got even more interesting this week, as the IDC, a group of renegade Democrats who handed control of the chamber to the GOP minority in 2013 by creating a governing coalition with them, announced that they would (kinda, sorta, maybe, but not until after the election ... seriously, trust us!) reconcile with the Senate Democratic caucus. A handful of IDC members are looking at competitive primaries, and they are clearly jarred by the prospect. Progressives in the state have to hope that Democrats see through this absurdist exercise in self-preservation, which could make primary day even more interesting than November 4. For those who read that last sentence and are curious ... yes, in a quirk that is quintessential New York, they hold separate primary elections for federal offices and state legislative offices.
#1—COLORADO (26 points—Six competitive contests)
Last month: 1
Colorado retains the top spot this month. If anything, the past month has made things even more interesting in the Square State, as last week's primaries yielded a fascinating turn of events in the 2014 cycle. In what has to be described as a setback for Colorado Republicans, two of their more electable challengers for seats in the state Senate (in, at best, light blue turf in Jefferson County) were dispatched in Tuesday's primaries by more ideologically rigid conservatives, backed by a local gun rights PAC. The general consensus is that GOP prospects for seizing either seat went down markedly as a result of that event. Democrats, meanwhile, just missed out on the high-end entertainment value of getting Tom Tancredo to kick around one more time. Alas, former Rep. Bob Beauprez won a narrow 6-point GOP primary win. Despite some Twitter derp, it is hard to describe this as a "big GOP win": Beauprez has already run for governor once (in 2006). He got trounced. What's more: the most recent poll (by a GOP pollster!) had Beauprez down 15 points to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The criteria for the state power rankings was based on a fairly simple point system. States were awarded points on the following basis (race ratings were culled from our DKE ratings for the House, Senate, and gubernatorial races):
- 8 points for a gubernatorial/U.S. Senate race deemed a tossup.
- 6 points for a state legislative chamber deemed a tossup.
- 4 points for a gubernatorial/U.S. Senate race deemed as "leaning" to a party.
- 4 points for each U.S. House race deemed a tossup.
- 3 points for a state legislative chamber deemed as "leaning" for a party.
- 2 points for a gubernatorial/U.S. Senate race deemed as "likely" for a party.
- 2 points for each U.S. House race deemed as "leaning" to a party.
- 1 point for a U.S. House race or a state legislative chamber deemed as "likely" for a party.