Governors Drive the Political Discussion

The GOP takeover of 2010 is being felt in the states and could give Republicans an advantage in 2012

Bev Perdue - AP Photo:Jim R. Bounds - banner.jpg

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue will be vulnerable in next year's election

Perhaps the most sweeping ramifications of Republican wins in 2010 have been felt in the states, where new governors are cutting budgets, revamping regulations and election laws, and reinventing a party that only recently seemed at the precipice of obscurity.

Indeed, governors are driving much of the political conversation. The protests over Wisconsin's new collective bargaining law, the tough new immigration laws in states seeking to catch up with Arizona, and the election-overhaul proposals in Florida are just part of the story. Serious budget shortfalls in at least 44 states are going to test the scientists who run the laboratories of democracy in ways that will fundamentally reshape government.

The governors themselves will have a big impact on the 2012 presidential contest. Their governance will send a powerful signal, but the very fact that almost a dozen governorships will be on the ballot is going to inject big money into key states. Those governors who do not have to seek reelection next year can donate their political organizations -- often the best existing machines in their states -- to their party's eventual nominee.

A party holding the governorship is an advantage in a presidential contest, though it doesn't guarantee a victory. The correlation between a governor's mansion and winning elections is much stronger when it comes to Senate contests. Since 1995, almost three quarters of the Senate seats Republicans have picked up have come in states that either had a Republican governor serving at the time or had a Republican gubernatorial candidate win the same day.

So while both Democratic and Republican presidential field organizations will benefit from having governors in charge in key states, the real impact of the GOP's 2010 gubernatorial victories could come in Senate races: In nine of the 11 states that hold governor elections in 2012, a Senate seat is also on the ballot.

Republicans would seem to have the upper hand. Of the 13 states rated toss-up or leaning toward one party or another by the Cook Political Report, eight have Republican governors. Those eight states -- Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia -- make up 118 electoral votes; that's more than enough, when added to each party's base vote, to push either side to the 270 required to win the presidency. Republicans are aiming for Senate seats in several states in which governorships are on the ballot, including in Montana, North Dakota, and Missouri.

What's more, Republicans will work hard to win the three toss-up or lean states that have Democratic governors seeking another term.

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue is one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the nation after a rocky first term. She will face a rematch against former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, whom she beat in 2008 by a slim margin of 50 percent to 47 percent. A poll taken in January by Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies for the conservative Civitas Institute showed McCrory leading by 15 points, though lately Perdue's high-profile fight with the Republican-held Legislature over the budget has her approval ratings on the rise.

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