Saturday, November 1, 2008

Final gubernatorial ratings: Two races left to watch

Gubernatorial races were never going to be the hottest item of the 2008 cycle, but for a while we at least had four highly competitive races to follow. No longer: Democrat Jay Nixon and Republican Mitch Daniels have gained a decisive edge in Missouri and Indiana and they should coast in their respective governor's mansion with ease.

That leaves us with two toss-up gubernatorial races - but what toss-ups they are! In North Carolina, Beverly Perdue and Pat McCrory are locked in one of the most unpredictable races in the country; Perdue has not been able to benefit from Barack Obama and Kay Hagan's coattails, leading to a startling situation in which North Carolina Democrats seem less likely to hold the governor's mansion than to win the presidential and senatorial races! What has happened to the Tar Heel State?

In Washington, the rematch between Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi is proving to be just as acrimonious as the bruising recounts that settled their first contests. In fact, given that Democrats seem unlikely to lose a Senate seat and that no other Democratic Governor is vulnerable, Gregoire is the most endangered Democratic incumbent to hold statewide office in the country. That she has been unable to put the race away in this pro-Democratic environment is a testament to how weak a position she is in electorally. In a neutral environment, Rossi would likely be ahead, but Obama's coattails could be too much for the Republican to overcome.

While I might still make changes to House ratings and will certainly update my Senate rankings before Tuesday, this will be the final gubernatorial ratings for 2008... That's how close we are to Election Day!

The full ratings are available here. Below are descriptions of the three races whose rating I am changing: Missouri, Indiana and Vermont.

Indiana, lean Republican to likely Republican
: Governor Mitch Daniels has been on the Democrats' target list for years and rightly so: his unpopularity was a crucial factor in the GOP's collapse in 2006 (when three of their House incumbents lost). The one obstacle to a Daniels loss was the state's heavily conservative lean and the fact that he would benefit from the GOP's presidential coattails. Who could have predicted that the exact opposite would happen? Democrats are unexpectedly competitive at the federal level and they have been unable to translate that into gains at the gubernatorial level. (A similar situation is unfolding in North Carolina.)

Former representative Jill Long Thompson has not had the money to compete with Daniels, she had to go off the air for a while in the fall and close campaign offices, meaning that she has no organization but Obama's to rely on in the state's more conservative regions. And the very same polls that have Obama and McCain in a dead heat show Daniels leading by wide margins. An upset is still possible - particularly if Democratic turnout is much higher than expected - but Daniels is far stronger than anyone could have expected a few months ago.

Missouri, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Attorney General Jay Nixon was always expected to win this race, but the ease with which he is stream-rolling Republican congressman Kenny Hulshof is remarkable given that Missouri is certainly no easy state for Democrats to win in. Nixon's lead in polls typically exceeds 15%, and Hulshof's best efforts to dismiss him as too far to the left have not made a dent in polls.

Vermont, safe to likely Republican: In this three-way race in which independent candidate Anthony Pollina could very well come ahead of Democratic nominee Gay Symington, Republican Governor Jim Douglas is guaranteed to finish first. Yet, a quirk in state law complicates the situation: If no candidate crosses 50%, the election will be thrown into the legislature, controlled by Democrats. The legislature is likely to follow the will of voters and elect whichever candidate comes out on top (as they did in 2002), but nothing prevents them from seating Symington.