As the 2004 campaign swings into high gear, it's high time we examine an area of the 2004 races that hasn't been covered yet-Governorships. With 11 seats up in 2004 (6 Democrats, 5 Republicans), and with most of them competitive, both sides have a good shot at expanding their numbers in the Statehouses.
Missouri - Governor Bob Holden has been frequently refered to as "One-Term Bob" and with good reason. He's been an unpopular Governor, and the GOP took over the Legislature completely in 2002. So far, Holden is trying the ol' Harry Truman trick, running against the GOP Legislature and portraying himself as the good guy. However, Holden has drawn a strong Democratic opponent in the primary-State Auditor Claire McCaskill. McCaskill is running, so she claims, because she wants to clean up the Statehouse, as well as because Holden can't win in 2004. The GOP has rallied behind SOS Matt Blunt, the young son of Roy Blunt, the House Majority Whip. A bloody Democratic primary, which could happen, would probably give Blunt the win. Should McCaskill emerge from the primary, however, all bets are off. She is a tough and tenacious campaigner, and a straight-talker at that. This race starts out with a GOP edge, but if the Democrats can avoid a bloody primary, then the race is a tossup.
Deleware - Governor Ruth Ann Minner is sitting in the catbird seat in 2004. The GOP will likely nominate Bill Lee, a former State Judge, who narrowly lost the 2000 Gubenatorial primary. Minner may get a serious primary challenge from State Senator Karen Patterson, who is a maverick Democrat in a GOP-dominated legislature. Should Minner avoid a primary challenge, she will be the likely winner in 2004.
Washington - With Governor Gary Locke's retirement, the GOP has its first golden opporunity since 1992 to win the Governorship. They have chosen State Senator Dino Rossi, a talented conservative, as their nominee. The Democrats have three candidates-AG Christine Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims, and maverick Democrat Phil Talmadge. Gregoire currenty is the favorite for the Democratic nomination, and has an edge over Rossi in the general election. This race leans Democratic.
West Virginia - Even though Governor Bob Wise has decided to retire following a massive sex scandal, the Democrats are still favored to keep the Statehouse. SOS Joe Manchin III, a conservative Democrat, is likely to win the primary, and is favored to win the general over a bunch of GOP candidates. The frontrunner for the GOP is Rob Capeheart, the former State Revenue Secretary. Manchin will probably win in 2004.
Indiana - Originally, with the double retirement of Governor Frank O'Bannon and Lt. Governor Joe Kernan, it looked like Mitch Daniels, Bush's Budget Expander Manager, would waltz into Indianapolis. However, with Governor O'Bannon's tragic death in September, Governor Kernan has decided to run. With Kernan's popularity and incumbency, this race has gone from a GOP-pickup to a duel between Kernan and Daniels. Daniels has the White House and the money behind him: The question is, will Bush or Senator Evan Bayh (also up for reelection in 2004) have a greater coatail effect on the race? Only time will tell. Tossup.
North Carolina - Governor Mike Easley is currently favored to win reelection in 2004. The GOP has a weak field, by most accounts, and only State Senate Minority Leader Patrick Ballantine poses a serious threat to Easley. A recent indepedent poll had Easley at 42% reelect, to 31% wanting someone new and the rest ready to consider another person. That's not unbeatable, but Easley starts out the favorite in this race, which leans Democratic.
Montana - With the wildy unpopular and scandal-plagued Governor Judy Martz retiring, Democrats have rallied behind Brian Schweitzer, the fiesty populist who nearly upset Senator Conrad Burns in 2000. Schweitzer is raking in money at an amazing clip (for Montana), raising $630,000 by the end of December. The GOP frontrunner is SOS Bob Brown, a popular Republican who is in a dead heat with Schweitzer in a Mason-Dixon poll in November. Look for a tight race here, but Schweitzer may start out ahead.
Utah - With Governor Mike Leavitt off to the EPA (what's he thinking?), the GOP has a primary field the size of the Democratic Presidential race, while the Democrats have rallied behind Scott Matheson, Jr, son of the late, beloved Governor of that state. Matheson, a university official, is a smart campaigner, but the question remains if he has enough charisma to rally Utah Democrats behind him. The GOP leader (if there is one) is Jon Huntsman, Jr, son of the philanthropist and GOP leader in Utah. However, State House Speaker Marty Stevens and Lt. Governor Olene Walker are also strong candidates (although Walker may not run). This will be a good race, with Utah Democrats seemingly finding their ground again.
North Dakota-Governor John Hoeven is a heavy favorite for reelection, even though two Democrats are running against him. There is a draft movement underway to get ex-AG Heidi Heitkamp in the race-should that somehow work, we'll re-examine this race. For now, Hoeven is the safest seat in 2004 for either side.
Vermont-Governor Jim Douglas faces a powerful challenge in 2004-the possibility of Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle uniting the Democrats and the Progressives in Vermont against the GOP. With Howard Dean, the native son, likely to win the nomination, Douglas is in serious jepoardy in 2004. However, a Democratic primary might save him, and with Peter Shumlin possibly running against Clavelle, that could happen. Should Clavelle avoid a primary, this race will be very competitive.
New Hampshire - Governor Craig Benson is also a favorite going into 2004-however, it looks like former Congressman Dick Swett may run against him in November. Swett would be a top-notch candidate. Other Democratic possibilities include State Treasurer Micheal Ablowich and Gary Hirschberg, the Yogurt king. Should the Democrats fail to get a strong nominee, Benson will breeze to reelection.