Unlike the increasingly polarized maps in the Senate and especially the House, we currently have no fewer than fourteen of the thirty-six governor’s mansions up for grabs this cycle rated as “Toss-Up” or “Leans.” This week, we’re tackling leaning races from Hawaii to Maine.

Arkansas (Beebe-D, Term-Limited) — Leans Republican Takeover

Arkansas, a state, like West Virginia and Kentucky, that has trended Republican at the federal level but retains its Democratic roots at the state level, is hosting no fewer than four competitive contests: two open House seats with credible Democrats, the marquee Senate contest between incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D) and Rep. Tom Cotton (R), and the race to replace hugely popular, term-limited Gov. Mike Beebe. Eager to reclaim the statehouse, Republicans have nominated Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman who held key posts at the Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. His Democratic opponent is Mike Ross, a former Blue Dog Democratic congressman with an ‘A’ rating from the NRA who easily weathered the Republican wave of 2010 in a district that John McCain won by nineteen points. While Mr. Ross has the ideal profile of a Democrat in Arkansas—in all likelihood, he is the only candidate who could stand a chance against Mr. Hutchinson—this is becoming increasingly difficult territory for Democrats. Mr. Hutchinson has led recent polls by single digits, and definitely has the edge. We rate this race Leans Republican.

Arizona (Brewer-R, Term-Limited) — Leans Republican

Arkansas’ mirror image, Arizona is a state that is moving toward the Democrats. Driven by the state’s rapidly growing Latino electorate, Democrats are hoping that Arizona will follow its neighboring New Mexico into the blue column. In 2012, Democrat Richard Carmona narrowly lost a Senate election while Democrats seized a majority of the state’s congressional delegation for just the second time since 1967. Now, they are hoping to take back the governor’s mansion that they lost when Gov. Janet Napolitano was appointed to become President Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security. Democrats are running Fred DuVal, a business executive with a moderate image who has chaired the state’s Board of Regents and served as President Bill Clinton’s chief congressional liaison. Out from a messy primary that left severe fractures in the state party, Republicans nominated Doug Ducey, the Arizona State Treasurer and former chief executive of Cold Stone Creamery. In a presidential year, we would probably give Mr. DuVal even money coming out of the August primaries, but lower turnout definitely works in favor of Republicans—especially since Democrats rely so heavily on registering young Hispanic voters—and polls have given Mr. Ducey a narrow lead. Mr. DuVal is still in the game, but this race is Leaning Republican.

Connecticut (Malloy-D) — Leans Republican Takeover

Much like Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Gov. Dannel Malloy (D-CT) has alienated many constituencies on the left without making friends in the middle. And while Connecticut is staunchly Democratic at the federal level—both senators and all five congressmen are Democrats—Mr. Malloy was the first Democrat elected governor since 1986. But unlike Mr. Abercombie, he’s still alive and fighting a rematch against his 2010 opponent, private equity investor and former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley. Capitalizing on Mr. Malloy’s sagging approval numbers and tepid economic conditions, Mr. Foley has eked out a small lead over the incumbent in a surprisingly limited amount of quality polling. Unfortunately, we haven’t really gotten a look at the race since Quinnipiac gave Mr. Foley a six-point lead just after Labor Day, and Mr. Malloy has come out swinging since then. Until we see some evidence to the contrary, however, we think Mr. Foley has the upper hand, but there’s a lot of uncertainty here.

Georgia (Deal-R) — Leans Republican

With recent Democratic successes in Virginia and North Carolina driven by demographic changes and southward migration, many on the left believe that Georgia is ripe to become the next purple state in the Southeast. We have already covered the tussle over the state’s open Senate seat, but a more competitive race is underway for the governor’s mansion. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal is running for reelection against Jason Carter, a state senator and grandson of former President (and Georgia Governor) Jimmy Carter. Mr. Deal has touted Georgia’s selection as the best state to do business, but has been dogged by ethics violations while Mr. Carter has blamed the incumbent for high joblessness. And since Mr. Carter’s grandfather is not the unifying figure that ex-Sen. Sam Nunn, father of Democratic Senate nominee Michelle Nunn, is, Mr. Carter has been walking a tightrope between distancing himself from his grandfather and tapping into his fundraising and activist connections. Polls are currently showing the race neck-and-neck, but we think that a runoff in December—if neither candidate reaches 50%, likely given the presence of a Libertarian candidate in the race—would favor Mr. Deal, and give this race a rating of Leans Republican.

New Mexico (Martinez-R) — Likely Republican

When we published our list of races that we deemed “likely” to be won by one side, we held off from putting New Mexico on the list. State Attorney General Gary King seemed to be mounting a credible challenge to incumbent Republican Susana Martinez in a state that twice went for President Obama by double digits, with some polls showing him close to Ms. Martinez. But his campaign has hit turbulence, shedding three campaign managers and falling further behind. With Ms. Martinez clearing 50% in recent polls, we have shifted our rating to Likely Republican.

Hawaii (Abercrombie-D, Defeated In Primary) — Leans Democratic

The only statewide incumbent to fall in a primary this year, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie struggled with style and substance in his rocky tenure in the Aloha State and was dealt a stunning 36-point primary defeat by State Senator David Ige. Mr. Ige now faces former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (R), who was favored to defeat the unpopular Mr. Abercrombie but is now running uphill in the state that twice gave President Obama his widest margin of victory. But like other heavily Democratic states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Hawaii has recently had Republican governors—Linda Lingle held the office from 2002 to 2010—and Mr. Aiona is a formidable candidate. A conservative former Democrat, Mufi Hannemann, is scrambling the race further with an independent run—though his support has dwindled since Mr. Abercrombie’s defeat. Polls currently give Mr. Ige a narrow edge, and the turf is blue enough to give this race a rating of Leans Democratic.

Kansas (Brownback-R) — Leans Democratic Takeover

We’ve already given plenty of ink to Kansas, which we’ve picked as the most exciting state of the cycle—at least so far. Governor Sam Brownback (R) now faces a group of revolting moderates in his own party after he followed a series of purges from the state legislature with a an unbridled experiment in ultra-conservative governance. He now faces reelection in a state of dreadful unpopularity; despite Kansas’s ruby-red hue, Mr. Brownback is down in the high single-digits against a Democratic state legislator, Paul Davis, who has cut a moderate image and is, for now, successfully focusing the campaign entirely on Mr. Brownback. It seems to be working pretty well, and we think Mr. Davis is in the driver’s seat: Leans Democratic.

Maine (LePage-R) — Leans Democratic Takeover

Maine has a history of electing pragmatic, centrist Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins and ex-Sen. Olympia Snowe. But its governor, Paul LePage, is nothing of the sort. Narrowly elected in 2010 with just 38% of the vote, he has leapt from one controversy to the next, from comparing the IRS to the Gestapo to publically telling the NAACP to “kiss [his] butt.” His relationship with the state legislature has been stormy at best, and Democrats have been determined to defeat Mr. LePage in a state where President Obama defeated Mitt Romney by fifteen points. Democrats have nominated Mike Michaud, a congressman from rural, northern Maine—his district is the largest east of the Mississippi—who would be America’s first LGBT governor. Mr. Michaud has held a narrow lead in the polls, though many Democrats worry that Eliot Cutler, an independent who received 36% of the vote four years ago, will siphon enough votes to allow Mr. LePage to squeak out another bare plurality. But Mr. Cutler has steadily dropped in the polls—he now sits in the low teens—and will probably only drop further. We give this race a rating of Leans Democratic, but keep an eye on it.

 

RACE RATING UPDATES:

MA-GOV: Will Martha Coakley again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Polls continue to show Republican Charlie Baker close in the Bay State’s gubernatorial race, and we are switching it from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic.

KY-SEN: As we hinted at in our last Senate article, Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) needed to show some momentum to avoid a shift to Likely Republican in her bid to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Instead, outside Democrats are abandoning her campaign in the air war and her path to victory is growing ever narrower. We shift the race from Leans Republican to Likely Republican.

RI-GOV: The first post-primary polls in Rhode Island have shown Democratic candidate Gina Raimondo closer than expected against Cranston Mayor Allan Fung. We certainly give Democrats the benefit of the doubt in a state like Rhode Island, but we’re moving this race from Safe Democratic to Likely Democratic.

 

Gubernatorial Ratings as of September 29
Gubernatorial Ratings as of September 29

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Senate Map as of September 29
Senate Map as of September 29

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Senate Ratings as of September 29
Senate Ratings as of September 29

 

 

Published by JP Meredith

John Meredith is a contributor to The Politic from New York, NY. Contact him at john.meredith@yale.edu.

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