In the States, an Even Fight
By Louis Jacobson, Special to Stateline
Even though Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama could have long coattails in congressional races on Nov. 4, his party has more limited opportunities for takeovers further down the ballot, including gubernatorial, legislative and attorney general contests.
According to most analysts, Obama is on the verge of reshaping the red-blue electoral map, likely seizing between eight and 12 states won by President Bush in 2004. The Democrats may take as many as nine additional seats in the U.S. Senate and 25 to 30 seats in the House.
But unlike 2006, when the Democrats scored major gains in the states, the Democrats are unlikely to shift many state-based seats, according to the final state election analysis by Out There this year.
Currently, the Democrats control 28 governorships while the Republicans control 22. But given the large proportion of this year's 11 gubernatorial contests that are seen as safe for the incumbent party, the playing field for potential gains is small.
That field consists of a likely Democratic takeover of a Republican-held open seat in Missouri (the contest between Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon and Republican U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof), plus barnburners in North Carolina (where Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue is battling Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican, for a Democratic-held open seat) and in Washington state (where Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire is in a tight race for a second term against Republican former state Sen. Dino Rossi).
Two other gubernatorial seats might switch parties, but are less likely to do so. They are the reelection bids of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), who's facing former U.S. Rep. Jill Long-Thompson (D), and Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R), who is facing state House Speaker Gaye Symington (D) and Anthony Pollina (Independent).
Ultimately, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans seem poised to net more than one gubernatorial seat on Nov. 4.
While both parties have more opportunities to flip state legislative chambers than they do governorships, the Democrats are probably looking at modest gains, most likely between one to four chambers.
That's because likely Democratic takeovers - such as those of the Delaware House and New York Senate - could be canceled out by GOP flips of the state Senate in Montana and takeovers of the tied Senates in Oklahoma and Tennessee. In all, the Democrats have 11 chambers in play, while the Republicans have 12. The Democrats currently control 30 state Houses, compared to 19 for the Republicans, and 27 state Senates to 20 for the GOP. (Two Senate chambers are tied, and Nebraska's unicameral legislature is nonpartisan.)
As for the 11 attorney general races, the balance hinges on the results of two open-seat contests (for Democratic-held positions in Missouri and Montana, both of which could go either way), as well as the vulnerable seat held by West Viriginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D).
The only addition to the list of vulnerable attorney general seats since "Out There" last rated them on Oct. 1 is the race in Indiana. The open seat vacated by Steve Carter (R) has become more competitive in recent weeks, with Democrat Linda Pence riding the "change" theme in a state that could vote Democratic for president for the first time since 1964. Pence faces Carter's chief deputy attorney general, Greg Zoeller (R).
Overall, the Democrats hold a 31-19 lead in attorney general offices and 27-16 in those that are popularly elected.
The most extensive ratings changes by Out There in recent weeks have come in the presidential race. With this column, the ratings of eight presidential "purple" states and one congressional district have shifted - all in Obama's direction. Based on interviews with several dozen national and state-based experts, Out There determined states to be Safe Democratic, Likely Democratic, Lean Democratic, Toss-Up, Lean Republican, Likely Republican or Safe Republican.
Three states that had been in the toss-up camp - Nevada, Colorado and Virginia - are switched to Lean Democratic. In the case of Nevada and Colorado, it's because of early voting numbers leaning heavily Democratic, while in the case of Virginia, it is due to a string of Democratic leads in polls. In addition, in Maine, where electoral votes are awarded by congressional district, the 2 nd District also moves from toss-up to Lean Democratic.
Two states that had been rated as Lean Democratic - Maine (the state as a whole and the 1 st District) as well as Minnesota - now shift to Likely Democratic, based on a succession of double-digit poll leads for Obama.
Meanwhile, recent poll numbers have led Out There to shift Georgia and Arizona from Likely Republican to Lean Republican and shift South Dakota from Safe Republican to Likely Republican.
The additions to the Obama side of the ledger mean that he now has 291 electoral votes leaning in his direction - up from 263 a week ago, and, most importantly, more than the 270 needed to win the presidency. By contrast, Republican nominee John McCain has 163 electoral votes, the same as last week. Another 84 are in the toss-up category.
|Battleground states: Republican to Democratic|
Louis Jacobson is the editor of CongressNow , an online publication launched in 2007 that covers legislation and policy in Congress and is affiliated with Roll Call newspaper in Washington, D.C. Jacobson originated the "Out There" column in 2004 as a feature for Roll Call, where he served as deputy editor. Earlier, Jacobson spent 11 years with National Journal covering lobbying, politics and policy, and served as a contributing writer for two of its affiliates , CongressDaily and Government Executive . He also was a contributing writer to The Almanac of American Politics and has done political handicapping of state legislatures for both The Rothenberg Political Report and The Cook Political Report.