WASHINGTON – A political tail wind boosting their prospects, Republicans have significant opportunities to gain governorships across the Great Lakes and Midwest this fall. But the GOP is struggling with internal fights in a handful of primaries, giving Democrats hope of snatching a few big states.
The outcome of a whopping 37 races will determine control of several heavily populated states ahead of the every-decade redrawing of congressional and legislative boundaries.
With a fundraising advantage, a favorable political landscape and victories in New Jersey and Virginia last fall, Republicans are aiming to emerge from November controlling at least 30 states. They argue that it would make it hard for Obama to win re-election.
Democrats privately say they likely will lose states; Republicans are virtually assured of winning Democrat-held open seats in Kansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Wyoming. And polls show Iowa Gov. Chet Culver in such serious trouble that he’s widely expected to lose to former Gov. Terry Branstad, favored in the GOP primary.
Republicans have mounted strong challenges to other Democrats across the Midwest and the Great Lakes – and Democrats acknowledge that states in that region will be among the toughest to win given that they have suffered the brunt of the recession.
And they have their work cut out for them in: Ohio, where Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland faces former GOP Rep. John Kasich; Pennsylvania, where Democrat Dan Onorato, the Allegheny County chief executive, faces GOP Attorney General Tom Corbett to succeed the outgoing Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell; and Wisconsin, where Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle is retiring. Milwaukee’s Democratic mayor, Tom Barrett, will run against whoever emerges from a crowded GOP primary in September.
For all the dreariness, there are bright spots for Democrats.
In California, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, backed by Republicans like Newt Gingrich, is being dragged to the right by Steve Poizner in a race that’s grown increasingly nasty. And in Florida, Attorney General Bill McCollum is tangling daily with conservative businessman Rick Scott, a health care industry executive who made national headlines by opposing Obama’s health care law.
Nevada’s conservative Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, whose job approval ratings are low following a messy, public divorce, may not make it through his primary – and that’d be just fine for GOP leaders who think he’d lose in the fall. Republican judge Brian Sandoval is favored to beat Gibbons; the victor will face Democrat Rory Reid, the son of embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Elsewhere, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s standing has improved markedly, and Democrats are virtually assured of holding New York after successfully recruiting Andrew Cuomo.