WASHINGTON — Voters today select governors in more than two-thirds of the states, the largest-ever number of gubernatorial races on the ballot. Republicans seek large statehouse gains to match a hoped-for sweep in Congress.
Democrats are bracing for losses but looking for some consolation prizes amid the expected rubble: perhaps a win by Democrat Jerry Brown to get his old job back in California, the nation’s most populous state; an expected win by Democrat Andrew Cuomo in second-most-populous New York to keep in Democratic hands the seat once held by father Mario.
But clearly, this Election Day is not one Democrats are savoring, with anti-incumbent fever running rampant and unemployment stuck for months at near 10 percent.
Historically, the party holding the White House has lost around five governorships in the first midterm election after a new president takes office. Analysts in both parties expect Democratic casualties to be higher this year. Republicans anticipate a net pickup of at least six and possibly as many as 12. Democrats hope losses could be held to half that.
Republicans are eyeing potential gains of governorships now held by Democrats across a wide swath of the industrial Midwest and Great Lakes, from Iowa to Pennsylvania. In addition to having some of the nation’s highest jobless rates, many of these rust-belt states have traditionally been presidential swing states.
The GOP has been fighting hard to increase its foothold in New England, traditionally Democratic turf but this year very much in play. Republicans seek to claim governorships now held by Democrats in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine and to extend GOP reigns in Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut.
Some 37 governorships are on the line. Why so many? It is a coincidental combination of the usual rotation plus races to fill unexpired terms and some states changing their election cycles.
Of these races, 24 are for “open” seats, ones in which no incumbent is running. Some incumbents are term-limited; others decided not to run in such hard economic times.
In Florida, Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist decided to run for the Senate.
Florida’s was among the hardest-fought races in the country, with both parties spending millions on the race between Republican businessman Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink, the state’s chief financial officer. Another closely watched race, and one of the fiercest, is in Ohio, where Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland is battling for a second term against Republican Jon Kasich, a former chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Many incumbents who chose to run, as did Strickland, face stiff competition. Democratic Govs. Chet Culver of Iowa and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts are among this year’s endangered Democratic incumbents.
In California, Democrat Brown, currently the attorney general, is in a fierce battle with billionaire Republican Meg Whitman. The former CEO of eBay poured more than $150 million of her own money into the campaign, making it the most expensive nonpresidential race in the nation’s history.
There are now 26 Democratic governors and 24 Republicans.
Governors are directly in the line of fire in high unemployment states, and many have already been casualties of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Unlike the federal government, most states can’t borrow to spend or print money.
That’s resulted in higher taxes and layoffs across the nation. In the budget year that ended in September, 29 states increased taxes by a total of $24 billion, the largest amount in more than 30 years, according to the bipartisan National Governors Association
That hasn’t led to an atmosphere conducive to incumbents seeking re-election; or for members of the party that now controls the White House and both houses of Congress.