Mississippi Republican Haley Barbour appears to be cruising toward easy re-election as governor this fall, but the political futures of two other southern governors - Kentucky's Ernie Fletcher and Louisiana's Kathleen Babineaux Blanco - remain in doubt, stalled by scandal and storms, respectively.
Blanco, a Democrat, already has dropped out of the running for a second term, battered by criticism of her performance following Hurricane Katrina. And Fletcher, a Republican, may be hard-pressed to win his own party's primary after being indicted last year for conspiracy.
Just three governorships are open this fall, compared to 36 last year. Democrats will try to build on 2006 victories that boosted their hold on governorships to 28 and gave the party control of 23 state legislatures. But it won't be easy.
In addition to the three governors' races, voters in Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia will elect state lawmakers.
Ernie Fletcher (R)
| Former U.S. Rep.
Anne Northup (R-Ky.)
In Kentucky , nine contenders are vying to boot out Fletcher, indicted last year on charges he illegally rewarded political friends with state jobs.
The governor's right-hand man, Lt. Gov. Steve Pence, decided not to seek statewide office and refused to run with Fletcher. Saying the governor's legal woes make him too vulnerable, Pence threw his support to chief GOP rival, Anne Northup.
Recent polls show Fletcher in a tight race with Northup, who represented Louisville in Congress for a decade until losing her re-election bid in November. In the battle for the GOP nomination May 22, both are ahead of wealthy businessman Billy Harper, Fletcher's campaign finance chairman in 2003.
Charges against Fletcher were dropped as part of an agreement with Attorney General Greg Stumbo, a Democrat who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Bruce Lunsford, a businessman and one of seven Democratic candidates for governor.
Jonathan Winburn, a political science professor at Western Kentucky University
at Bowling Green, predicted this year's race in the state could be the costliest. Harper, a Republican, has indicated he is willing to spend as much as $10 million of his own money on the race. Lunsford spent more than $8 million of his own money before dropping out of the 2003 governor's race.
Others on the Democratic side include former lieutenant governor Steve Henry, who was tied with Lunsford in an April poll and is married to Heather French Henry, a former Miss America. Steve Beshear, who served as the state's attorney general and its lieutenant governor in the 1980s, and Jody Richards, speaker of the Kentucky House, also are running.
Louisiana and Mississippi will be holding their first gubernatorial races since hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged parts of their states.
|U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.)
, Blanco's decision not to run leaves the field wide open, but two candidates have emerged as front-runners. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who narrowly lost to Blanco in 2003 and went on to capture a seat in Congress the following year, is expected to square off against Democrat John Breaux, who represented Louisiana in the U.S. House and Senate for 33 years and is now a Washington lobbyist.
But Breaux first will have to prove he's a "citizen" of Louisiana, as required by the state constitution. Republicans contend that Breaux has lived in Maryland for more than five years and is not eligible to run in Louisiana. Attorney General Charles Foti, a Democrat up for re-election this year, is expected to issue a decision soon.
|Former U.S. Sen.
John Breaux (D-La.)
Henry Robertson who heads the history and political science division at Louisiana College
in Pineville, La., said he expects Breaux will get the green light to run.
Blanco, named by Time magazine in 2005 one of the worst governors, was widely criticized for failing to get more help from Washington in the wake of Katrina and Rita. Whoever wins this fall will be expected to deliver more federal dollars to help rebuild New Orleans and for health care and education, Robertson said.
On this front, Breaux may have the upper hand as a long-time Washington insider who has demonstrated he can work with both parties. He reportedly was offered a cabinet position in President Bush's first term. But Jindal's youth, enthusiasm and high marks for his performance in helping his hurricane-ravaged district could trump Breaux's seniority advantage.
"Both have pluses. I'm pleased the state will have two good choices," Robertson said.
Other Democrats mulling a run in the Bayou State are former Attorney General Richard Ieyoub; Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, brother of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), and Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell. The primary is Oct. 20.
While Katrina derailed Blanco's bid for a second term, it enhanced Barbour's.
Haley Barbour (R)
In Mississippi ,
many observers think the only question is the size of Barbour's victory margin. "Haley has done nothing but shore up his base politically after Katrina," said Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State University's Stennis Institute of Government. "I don't think it will be close."
The Democrat with the deepest pockets is John Arthur Eaves Jr., a Jackson attorney. Others in the race include Bill Renick, a former mayor, state senator and chief of staff of former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove; former state representative Elmer "Louis" L. Fondren; and teacher William Bond Compton Jr. The primary is Aug. 7.
Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman, hopes his popularity will help other statewide GOP candidates, including lieutenant governor and secretary of state. "The issue is how much more ground Republicans can gain, not whether Barbour wins," Wiseman said.
Photos courtesy of candidates' official Web sites.