February 10, 2006

Democrats look for gains in governors’ races

By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats are positioned for gains
in governors' races in November and could capture governorships
in many big battleground states, giving the party an early edge
in the 2008 fight for the White House.

Republicans must defend 22 of the 36 governors' offices on
the ballot in November, including eight states where the
incumbent retired or is barred from running again. Democrats
defend 14 governorships but only one in which the incumbent is
not running.

The lopsided political map, along with a tough national
election climate for Republicans, put Democrats in a strong
position to pick up at least the four governorships needed for
a national majority. Republicans hold 28 governorships to 22
for Democrats.

"The math is not in our favor this year," said
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, chairman of the Republican
Governors' Association, who is stepping down this year ahead of
a potential 2008 presidential bid.

"Just looking at the math," he told Reuters. "We should
lose four to six spots. But we expect to do better than the
math would indicate."

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, chairman of the Democratic
Governors' Association and a candidate for re-election this
year, said he anticipated a net gain of five or six
governorships for his party.

"We think the states are the most fertile territory for
Democrats and winning a majority of governorships in 2006
enhances our chances for winning the presidential election in
2008," Richardson, another potential White House candidate,
told Reuters.

Among the biggest prizes in November's mid-term election,
when control of Congress also will be at stake, are open
governors' offices in Ohio, Florida, Massachusetts and New
York, where incumbent Republicans are retiring.

Governorships held by Republicans in the key swing states
of Nevada, Colorado and Arkansas, and the Democratic office in
Iowa, also are open and up for grabs.


"We have eight open seats and some of them are in places
where Democrats have a solid voter lead," Romney said. "New
York, Massachusetts, Ohio and even Arkansas, are places where
we have to overcome a blue tide. Those are more challenging
races for us."

Both parties crave the advantages offered by a sitting
governor, particularly in years with a presidential race.
Governors typically raise big money, muster a ready pool of
volunteers and generate heavy local media coverage for national

A popular governor can be worth two percentage points or
more to a viable White House candidate, analysts say, giving
Democrats a sterling opportunity to lay the groundwork for

"It's not just the numbers that matter, it's the places,"
said Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of
Virginia, pointing to the big swing states up for grabs in
November. "The Democrats can set themselves up nicely for the
2008 presidential contest, assuming they nominate an electable

While national Republicans have suffered a series of recent
setbacks, including the loss of two governors' races last year,
scandals involving prominent party leaders and Bush's low
approval ratings, Romney said they should not effect governors'

"People choose their governor based on state issues, not
national issues," Romney said. "While the national attitude may
color things at the margin, overwhelmingly governor's races are
decided by the campaigns of the candidates themselves."

Incumbent Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faces a
tough re-election race in Democratic-leaning California, as do
Republicans Bob Ehrlich in Maryland and Tim Pawlenty in

Democratic incumbents Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania, Jennifer
Granholm in Michigan and Jim Doyle in Wisconsin also have
potentially close elections, although their home states are

Richardson pointed to six popular Democratic governors
favored to win easy re-election in Republican-leaning states --
Kansas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Tennessee, Wyoming and himself in
New Mexico -- as evidence of Democratic growth in red states.

"The Congress and the White House appear to be in
gridlock," Richardson said. "The Democratic Party has to
rebuild itself not from Washington down but from the states up.
We have to be competitive in red states."