Uncertainty is the hallmark of this year's gubernatorial races, and there is a wide collection where control could switch parties or a candidate could potentially surprise on election night. From perennial battleground states like Colorado and Florida to less-conventional locales like Alaska and Hawaii, an unusually large number of highly competitive campaigns are closing out their efforts, and more than a handful are too close to call.
Here are the governor's races to watch on Nov. 4:
Alaska (Republican Gov. Sean Parnell running for reelection)
Alaska was never expected to host another major race besides the U.S. Senate contest this year. But since independent Bill Walker and Democrat Byron Mallott merged their campaigns and created a "unity ticket" in early September, Parnell has found himself in a tough race against Walker, a former Republican who only recently dropped his party affiliation. Parnell has struggled to keep pace with attacks over his handling of a growing National Guard scandal and the state's new structure for oil and gas taxes, and the incumbent has been doubly vexed by a flood of advertising in the Alaska Senate race that has kept him from telling his own story on TV. Polls show the race a toss-up, but the state's Republican lean could yet protect Parnell.
Arizona (Republican Gov. Jan Brewer retiring)
State Treasurer and former Cold Stone Creamery CEO Doug Ducey is well positioned to succeed outgoing Gov. Brewer, but he has experienced a competitive contest against Democrat Fred DuVal, a former Clinton administration official who more recently chaired of the Arizona Board of Regents. Arizona's GOP lean offers the edge to Ducey, but DuVal took pains to position himself as a moderate who could appeal to the state's growing number of independent voters, making Ducey, who first had to emerge from an expensive and bitter Republican primary in August, have to fight for the seat.
Arkansas (Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe retiring)
Try as they might, outgoing Gov. Beebe and former President and Gov. Bill Clinton could not inject their own popularity into the campaign of Democrat Mike Ross, who struggled to run as a former member of Congress carrying the party label of an unpopular president. A win for former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, which polling indicates is likely, will solidify Republican gains in what was one of Democrats' last Southern political holdouts until the GOP took the state Legislature in 2012 for the first time since Reconstruction. A Hutchinson win would also mark a personal victory for the candidate, who has sought statewide office in Arkansas three times over the course of three decades, but never notched a win.
Colorado (Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper running for reelection)
Hickenlooper has faced an unexpectedly close race against former Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez, who has been aided by Rep. Cory Gardner's strong Senate campaign. Polls show a tight race and both parties are spending serious funds on their ground game, which will likely determine the outcome of both races. Hickenlooper's fate appears to be disconnected from the state's strong economic outlook; instead, Republicans are painting him as a weak leader after he reversed himself on the death penalty, offered conflicting accounts of his support for the state's new gun laws, and granted an execution reprieve to a convicted murderer.
Connecticut (Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy running for reelection)
Malloy has waged a spirited and aggressive bid to fend off a second challenge from his 2010 opponent, Republican Tom Foley, who lost on a tight vote in 2010. Polls place Connecticut among eight or so tied gubernatorial contests, and although the state's Democratic lean should benefit Malloy, there's no clear front-runner heading into Election Day. Malloy won by a razor-thin 6,408-vote margin in 2010, mostly by driving up his margins in the big three cities of Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport. What's at issue this time is mostly Malloy's handling of the state's struggling economy and whether he was able to offset serious discontent with his record by hitting Foley's conservative stances on gun control and typecasting the Republican as a wealthy millionaire out of touch with voters' daily concerns.
Florida (Republican Gov. Rick Scott running for reelection)
The nation's largest presidential battleground is living up to its reputation with another statewide nail-biter this year between Scott and former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now the Democratic nominee. Some in the state are speculating this could be a closer race than 2010, when Scott won by just 61,550 votes out of more than 5 million cast. The candidates have delivered competing messages on the condition of Florida's economy during their times in office while battling voter perceptions that neither is trustworthy. Democrats' biggest hope appears to be a smaller-than-usual GOP advantage in early ballot returns heading into Election Day, which could buoy them against Republicans' traditional turnout advantage in the state. Over $100 million has been spent on TV advertising in this state, and we still don't know who is going to win.
Georgia (Republican Gov. Nathan Deal running for reelection)
Despite the buzz, this race has been less about Democrat Jason Carter's family celebrity and more a referendum on Deal, including his administration's mishandling of an ethics investigation into his 2010 campaign, a vigorous debate over education funding, the Atlanta traffic meltdown after an unanticipated snowstorm earlier this year, and the state's stubbornly high unemployment rate. However, Deal has used Carter's age and comparatively short résumé to cast him as inexperienced, and the Democrat hasn't witnessed the same late momentum that could yet deliver a win for Democrat Michelle Nunn in the Senate race. This race then appears less likely to go to a runoff than the Senate contest. If it does, Carter would face the uniquely daunting task of getting voters to the polls in a December election held separately from the potential Senate runoff scheduled for January, likely sealing a reelection win for Deal.
Hawaii (Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie lost primary)
Despite the major questions surrounding this race after Abercrombie's stunning loss in his August primary, the Democrats' new candidate, state Sen. David Ige, appears well positioned to replace him. The Republican candidate, former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, has never led in a public poll—but the notoriously unreliable nature of Hawaii polling leaves a glimmer of hope for the second-time Republican nominee. Independent candidate Mufi Hannemann, a longtime Democrat, has consistently trailed, and if Ige does end up losing, the former Honolulu mayor will be sure to bear the brunt of the blame for a GOP pickup in President Obama's native state.
Illinois (Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn running for reelection)
Pat Quinn has been one of Democrats' most vulnerable incumbent governors for two straight elections now because of Illinois's troubled finances. But major investments from labor unions (some of which once hoped to defeat Quinn in a primary) and a hearty effort on Quinn's part to label Republican Bruce Rauner as an outsourcing, profiteering millionaire appear to be paying dividends in the deeply Democratic state. Polling has been sparse, but at least two recent surveys showed Quinn several percentage points ahead of Rauner, despite the $26.1 million of personal money the Republican poured into the race, making this the most expensive governor's race in Illinois history. Quinn had the thankless task in 2010 of running for a full term after taking over for impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but Quinn managed to pull off a narrow win by less than 1 percentage point even as Democrats lost the state's U.S Senate race. It would almost be characteristic of him to once again confound his many doubters on Election Day.
Kansas (Republican Gov. Sam Brownback running for reelection)
The late surge of Republican effort on behalf of embattled Sen. Pat Roberts may help boost a troubled Brownback at the very end. State revenue shortfalls and a budget deficit widely attributed to a package of Brownback tax cuts tanked his approval rating leading into the election, and those local issues have continued to do Brownback harm despite the favorable GOP electoral climate. Polls show Brownback to be extremely unpopular, including among moderate Republicans who have flocked to Democrat Paul Davis in unusual numbers. Despite a Democratic effort to unseat Brownback that started way back in 2013, Kansas's deep conservative lean, and its big Republican registration advantage, ensures he still has a chance to hold on.
Maine (Republican Gov. Paul LePage running for reelection)
Paul LePage's electoral hopes may rest on the performance of independent candidate Eliot Cutler. Cutler, the third-place candidate in a three-way race, held a last-minute press conference on Wednesday urging his supporters to vote for someone else if they don't think he can win, which pushed one prominent Mainer—independent Sen. Angus King—to switch his endorsement to the Democratic candidate, Rep. Mike Michaud. It's unclear how much of an impact Cutler's quasi-concession will have on Tuesday. Most polls show LePage and Michaud locked in a dead heat with Cutler trailing far behind—and his supporters more likely to back Michaud than the controversial Republican. If LePage does win, it could be unprecedented. No governor in the country's history has ever won election back-to-back with under 40 percent of the vote.
Maryland (Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley retiring)
Even a few months ago, few people were paying attention to this race; the Democratic primary was considered the main event, where Lt. Gov. (and O'Malley protégé) Anthony Brown staved off challengers and looked set on his way to becoming just the third African-American governor ever elected in the U.S. But Brown's administration of the state's disastrous new health care exchange and voters' displeasure with new taxes in the state, plus O'Malley's own declining approval ratings, have all combined to help make this a race. Republican Larry Hogan even released a late poll showing him ahead of Brown, whose campaign has been criticized by fellow Democrats. Brown never trailed an independent poll and Maryland leans Democratic, but this one is closer than most expected.
Massachusetts (Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick retiring)
The race in Massachusetts has seen some of the most dramatic swings of any governor's contest over the final months. Heading into the general election after the September primary, Attorney General Martha Coakley looked like she had a strong shot at political redemption after her stunning 2010 Senate loss to Scott Brown. But she exited the primary financially drained and up against a two-time GOP nominee, Charlie Baker, who ran a strong campaign in the mold of the state's past moderate Republican governors. Baker nabbed The Boston Globe's endorsement and a polling lead over the last two months, flipping the race to the point where a Coakley victory Tuesday would be considered an upset. Despite her reputation, Coakley may not have made any major mistakes; Baker has simply run a better (and better-funded) campaign. One thing that could still save Coakley? A big investment in field and turnout operations that could pay dividends given the state's wide Democratic registration advantage.
Michigan (Republican Gov. Rick Snyder running for reelection)
This race is still generally considered up for grabs, but Snyder has carved out more space for himself in public polls than most other incumbents in toss-up campaigns this year. However, Democrat Gary Peters's strength in the Senate race and heavy investments in the governor's race by labor unions and the Democratic Governors Association means Snyder can't take anything for granted. Michigan's economy has put Snyder in the difficult position of promising recovery will continue as opposed to having a stable situation to laud after four years, but he's won accolades for steering Detroit through bankruptcy. Most importantly, it's still not clear one-term former Rep. Mark Schauer, who emerged from obscurity to challenge Snyder, has what it takes to unseat the incumbent.
Pennsylvania (Republican Gov. Tom Corbett running for reelection)
Corbett's reelection prospects can be summarized easily: Recent stories have noted that he's closing the polling gap against Democrat Tom Wolf, but Corbett has still been down by double-digit margins. Corbett's has been among the most most unpopular incumbents in the country all year, and he's never quite been able to recover. If he loses Tuesday as is widely expected, Corbett will be the first Pennsylvania governor seeking reelection to lose.
Rhode Island (Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee retiring)
Democratic nominee Gina Raimondo has won accolades as a future Democratic star—but she has to get through a tougher-than-expected race against Allan Fung before that could come to pass. Fung has hung close in the polls partly because Democrats' base hasn't quite rallied around Raimondo, who as state treasurer spearheaded a pension reform measure and has faced vociferous opposition from public-sector labor unions ever since. Raimondo would actually be the first Democrat elected governor of Rhode Island since 1992. (Chafee, a former Republican, won as an independent in 2010 before becoming a Democrat while in office.) Fung would be the state's first Asian-American governor, and Raimondo would be its first woman chief executive.
Wisconsin (Republican Gov. Scott Walker running for reelection)
Democrat Mary Burke largely kept pace with Walker in the polls and in fundraising through the fall, which led as recently as last week to recent public infighting among Republicans, who appeared ready to start casting blame for a potential Walker loss. But the final Marquette Law School poll of the race found Walker leading Burke by 7 percentage points among likely voters, casting a major shadow of doubt over her ability to actually unseat the rising GOP star and potential 2016 presidential contender. Walker's always had a slight advantage as the incumbent, and Marquette's final poll confirms that despite his polarizing presence in the state capitol, one that sparked recall elections against him and Republican legislators in 2012, he'll still be tough to beat.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was running for reelection.
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