Daily Kos Elections is pleased to announce our first set of gubernatorial race ratings for the 2013-14 election cycle. Democrats are defending 14 seats, while 24 Republican seats are up for re-election, including two next month. Given this disparity, more Republican governorships are vulnerable overall than Democratic ones.
Our full chart rating the competitiveness of each contest is below (with Democratic seats shaded in blue and Republican seats in red), along with a description of our ratings categories and an explanation for why we've rated each race the way we have.
Here's how we define our ratings categories:
Safe: Barring unforeseeable developments, one party is certain to win.Below the fold are brief explanations of our initial ratings, grouped by category of competitiveness and following our chart from left to right and then downward.
Race to Watch: A foreseeable but as-yet unrealized development has the chance to make an otherwise "Safe" race potentially competitive (such as an incumbent retirement), or an incumbent faces a potentially competitive primary.
Likely: One party has a strong advantage and is likely to win, though the race has the potential to become more competitive.
Lean: One party has an identifiable advantage, but an upset victory is possible for the other party.
Tossup: Both (or all) parties have a strong (though not necessarily perfectly equal) chance of winning.
• Massachusetts — OPEN (D): With Gov. Deval Patrick choosing not to seek a third term, a big pile of Democrats has lined up to replace him. A recent PPP poll showed state Attorney General Martha Coakley in a commanding position to win both the Democratic primary and the general election against likely Republican nominee Charlie Baker, who fell 6 points short in 2010. If Baker couldn't prevail with the wind at his back during a GOP wave year, it seems unlikely he'll do better in 2014 in solidly blue Massachusetts, regardless of whom the Democrats nominate.
• Maryland — OPEN (D): The race to fill term-limited Gov. Martin O'Malley's seat almost certainly won't be competitive, so we're just slotting this contest in at Likely D because it's our habit to do so with open seat races when we're more than a year out from Election Day. Democrats have a serious primary on their hands, though, between Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (O'Malley's choice as successor), state Attorney General Doug Gansler, and state Delegate Heather Mizeur.
• Minnesota — Mark Dayton (D): Despite one of the narrowest—and luckiest—victories of 2010, Dayton is well-positioned to earn a second term. Polls have shown him popular, and he probably benefited from the contrast with the extremist Republican legislature that voters ushered in in 2010 and quickly booted out in 2012. Several Republicans have jumped into the primary, but they're all B-listers.
• New Hampshire — Maggie Hassan (D): Hassan (like her next-door neighbor, Peter Shumlin in Vermont) is already up for re-election next year; she won her first term last year by a surprisingly large 12 point margin. That impressive victory seems to have thrown New Hampshire Republicans into disarray, and they don't have a single candidate running.
• Oregon — John Kitzhaber (D): Kitzhaber is another Democrat whom fortune favored with a tight win in 2010. He hasn't announced 2014 plans yet, but signs point to another run. Republicans have come up all but empty on the recruitment front this time, though the race could become more competitive if Kitz were to retire.
• Rhode Island — OPEN (D): The biggest news in the Rhode Island gubernatorial race came earlier this year, when independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who'd once been a Republican, announced he would join the Democratic Party. That eliminated the possibility of a three-way race that could potentially hand Republicans a plurality victory. Chafee, one of the most unpopular governors in the nation, ultimately decided not to seek re-election. That leaves Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo to battle it out in the Democratic primary, though neither has formally launched a campaign.
• Colorado — John Hickenlooper (D): Earlier this year, Colorado Republicans were reluctant to openly criticize Hickenlooper, who was riding high in the polls thanks to his post-partisan style. But things have since changed. Democrats re-took the legislature last year, and Republicans have done an effective job portraying the new laws that have been passed (and signed by the governor) as examples of liberal over-reach. Hickenlooper has also earned a great deal of criticism for granting an indefinite stay to a death row inmate earlier this year.
Hick is lucky, though, that Republicans are set to have a very divisive primary, with Secretary of State Scott Gessler, the establishment choice, battling it out with anti-immigrant zealot Tom Tancredo. Democrats have also out-organized the GOP in Colorado over the last decade, and the state is trending blue. This one could wind up being very competitive, though.
• Connecticut — Dan Malloy (D): Malloy, yet another 2010 squeaker winner, inherited serious budget problems when he came into office, and he chose to resolve them by relying largely on tax hikes rather than spending cuts. That difficult choice has hurt him in the polls, though Connecticut's clear Democratic lean provides a buffer. Malloy hasn't actually declared for a second term, but if he does, he could face a rematch with wealthy former Ambassador Tom Foley. A number of other Republicans are running or considering bids, though, so we may see the primary yield a different nominee.
• Illinois — Pat Quinn (D): "Ugh" is the only way to sum up the Democratic position in Illinois. In a state this blue, Republicans shouldn't even have a chance, but they do, thanks to Quinn's unpopularity. Quinn not only barely won the general last time, but he narrowly scraped his way out of the primary, too, after inheriting this seat from impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. This time, it looked like Quinn wouldn't survive a primary, but somehow, his top challengers all dropped out. That's made him the de facto nominee once again.
Quinn's suffered both thanks to legislation he has pushed through (most prominently an income tax hike) as well as legislation he's failed to advance (namely, public pension reform), leading to "Quinn fatigue" in a state not known for loving its governors. Republicans sense an opportunity in this, and four serious contenders have entered the fray. If Democrats are lucky, the GOP will once again nominate a damaged candidate, as they did in 2010. We haven't seen much reliable polling, though, and "Lean D" may in fact be generous toward Quinn.
• Maine — Paul LePage (R): If the deeply disliked LePage manages to serve another term, it'll only happen because independent attorney Eliot Cutler once again splits the left-leaning vote. But Maine Democrats have grown wise to Cutler, and they've recruited their strongest possible candidate, Rep. Mike Michaud. Recent polls have shown Michaud in the lead, even in a three-way race, with Cutler fading to third place. If this were a two-way between Michaud and LePage, it wouldn't even be a contest. LePage has been cagey about whether he'll even seek a second term, and a retirement can't be ruled out.
• Pennsylvania — Tom Corbett (R): If there's one incumbent governor who's close to being a dead man walking, it's Corbett, who still hasn't formally declared whether he'll run again. Thanks to his massive cuts to education funding and his mishandling of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, Corbett's found himself in disastrous shape in the polls and already far behind his potential opponents. So tempting is this pickup opportunity that several prominent Democrats have entered the primary, which Corbett can only hope turns bloody. The frontrunner is Rep. Allyson Schwartz.
• Virginia — OPEN (R): Former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe may not be the most inspiring nominee, but he can thank Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for turning off independents and frightening Democrats into action. McAuliffe's outraised Cuccinelli by a wide margin, and his attacks portraying Cuccinelli as an unethical extremist have landed with much greater punch than the somewhat inscrutable GOP criticisms of McAuliffe's business dealings.
An unbroken string of polls has shown McAuliffe with leads in the mid-to-high single digits, and with little time ahead of this November's election, Republicans appear to be panicking. Democratic turnout in off years is typically disappointing, so this race is by no means a lock. But what had been a tossup for most of the year has now turned into a small but real advantage for McAuliffe.
• Arkansas — OPEN (D): With Gov. Mike Beebe forced out by term limits, Arkansas poses the most difficult defensive hold for Democrats this cycle, given the state's rapid red trend at both the local and federal level. Republicans have coalesced around ex-Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who got hammered by Beebe when this seat was last open in 2006. Democrats, however, did well on the recruiting front, luring a former congressman of their own back into the game, Mike Ross. Ross's conservative Blue Dog credentials suit him well for this race, and he gives his party their best chance to keep this seat.
• Florida — Rick Scott (R): The narrowest Republican gubernatorial victory of 2010 belongs to Scott, whose personal negatives nearly counteracted that year's huge GOP advantage. Democrats are hopeful that party-switching ex-Gov. Charlie Crist will try to unseat the man who replaced him, and polls have shown him manhandling Scott, including a recent one from PPP that had him up a dozen. But Scott has extraordinary personal wealth while Crist has considerable negatives of his own, and turnout in this diverse state will be a real worry for Democrats. If we were judging by early polling alone, this race might be Lean D, but Crist still hasn't signed up to run and after him the bench thins out quickly, so we're staying cautious for now.
• Michigan — Rick Snyder (R): While Snyder campaigned as a business-oriented moderate, he took a harshly conservative turn during last year's lame duck session of the legislature and signed a so-called "right to work" law that severely undermined the ability of workers to organize labor unions. That immediately tanked his approval ratings, and polls have generally shown him in weak shape against his likely Democratic opponent, ex-Rep. Mark Schauer, though Snyder's numbers have since recovered somewhat. Snyder still hasn't made up his mind about seeking a second term, though he's currently running ads to fluff his accomplishments.
• Arizona — OPEN (R): Arizona often seems just out of reach for Democrats, and it proved frustrating for the party on the presidential level in 2012, with Mitt Romney performing as well as native son John McCain had four years earlier. But they held the governorship for two terms last decade, and now that Gov. Jan Brewer is departing thanks to term limits, Republicans face a crowded primary to succeed her. Democrats, meanwhile, appear to have united around Fred DuVal, a former chair of the Arizona Board of Regents. Thanks to the difficult demographics, though, DuVal would need a few breaks to pull off an upset here.
• Ohio — John Kasich (R): Despite a rocky start to his tenure, Kasich has recovered better than some other Rust Belt Republicans first elected in 2010, such as Rick Snyder and Tom Corbett. But what little polling there's been has still shown some softness for the governor, and Democrats have rallied around Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, a young and energetic reformer. But Kasich's incumbency and Ohio's Republican lean, especially in midterm years, will make this a challenging race for Fitz.
• South Carolina — Nikki Haley (R): The Palmetto State provided one of the most surprising gubernatorial results in 2010, with Haley beating Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen by just four points—a remarkably small win for a Republican running in a red state in a GOP wave year. Now Sheheen is seeking a rematch, though this time, Haley's in the position of incumbent. She's also further removed from her associations with Mark Sanford, who was her political mentor and has, in any event, at least partly rehabilitated his image with his return to Congress earlier this year. But Haley's feuded with legislators in her own party, and her weak performance three years ago should give Republicans pause.
• Alaska — Sean Parnell (R): Democratic chances of a pickup in Alaska are remote, but they're somewhat greater than zero thanks to former Valdez Mayor Bill Walker, a Republican who took a third of the vote in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2010 but decided to run as an independent this cycle due to his anger over a bill cutting taxes for oil companies. A similar right-wing split allowed Democrat Tony Knowles to win a narrow plurality in 1994. We'll keep an eye on this race, just in case Walker should somehow peel enough votes away from Parnell, and Democrats should manage to run a sufficiently strong campaign. (Former Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation executive director Byron Mallot is the only declared candidate so far.)
• Iowa — Terry Branstad (R): Swingish Iowa is poised to split its vote next year, with Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley favored for the open Senate seat and Branstad likely to win re-election to an astounding sixth term as governor (though he took a long break between the fourth and fifth). Branstad hasn't formally declared his intentions yet, but he's given strong indications he'll try to extend his record-setting tenure. Two Democrats are currently battling it out in the primary, state Rep. Tyler Olson and state Sen. Jack Hatch; if the party's nominee winds up having a shot, it'll come by exploiting Branstad fatigue. But Branstad, who isn't a firebreather, remains popular despite Iowa's light blue tilt and will be hard to dislodge.
• Kansas — Sam Brownback (R): Kansas is another distant longshot for Democrats, but Brownback, an exemplar of the state Republican Party's arch-conservative wing, came into office unpopular and remains that way. Democrats have landed a credible candidate in state House Minority Leader Paul Davis, and many moderate Republicans remain incensed at last year's successful purge by conservatives, with some openly helping Davis. A Davis win would be an upset for the ages, but Brownback's poor standing means it can't be ruled out.
• Nebraska — OPEN (R): Nebraska's gubernatorial contest (an open one, thanks to Gov. Dave Heineman getting termed out) is probably the Republican equivalent of Maryland on our race ratings chart. Democrats actually have a couple of decent candidates running here, and Republicans have a multi-way primary that's likely to open up some deep wounds, but the state's demographics are all but certain to keep this one in the red column. We include the seat here out of an abundance of caution.
• New Mexico — Susana Martinez (R): Martinez had the good fortune to run in 2010, winning a big victory when the governor's mansion became open. Since then, she's successfully cultivated a moderate profile, and a Democratic-controlled legislature has largely kept her from doing anything that might undermine that image—important, in light blue New Mexico. Martinez has yet to declare her re-election plans, while two Democrats have announced bids and several more are still considering. But Martinez has given no indication she won't run again, and this race is not likely to offer a compelling opportunity to her opponents.
• Nevada — Brian Sandoval (R): Sandoval's situation shares many similarities with Martinez's: a Hispanic Republican, elected to an open seat in the Southwest in 2010, kept in line by a Democratic legislature and largely popular as a result. Sandoval, however, has taken a hit over an ugly scandal in which Nevada mental hospitals gave ill patients one-way Greyhound tickets to California, in an attempt to dump the most vulnerable wards of the state on their neighbor. But it hasn't been enough to induce any Democrats to run, and only Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak is looking at a bid.
• Texas — OPEN (R): Explosive growth in Texas' Hispanic population means that one day, the state will be competitive for Democrats, but that day is still a ways off. Texas is still very red, and most white voters remain staunchly Republican. That demographic edge gives state Attorney General Greg Abbott, the GOP frontrunner, a big built-in advantage over his likely Democratic opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis, who electrified progressives with her nationally famous filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in the legislature earlier this year.
Davis is almost certainly the strongest candidate Democrats could put forth, but the math for her is difficult. Abbott already has over $20 million in the bank, and he hasn't worn out his welcome with Texans, unlike incumbent Gov. Rick Perry, who decided not to seek a fourth term. Tea partier Debra Medina, who took almost a fifth of the vote in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary, recently said she might run again as an independent, which could split the right-leaning vote and allow Davis to slip through. But without outside intervention—whether a Medina third-party bid or an Abbott implosion—Davis' task, while not impossible, will nevertheless be exceedingly difficult.
• Wisconsin — Scott Walker (R): Progressives' failed attempt last year to recall Walker seems to have scared off nearly all potential challengers in next year's regularly scheduled election. It's not that Walker is especially well-liked, but Wisconsin is a very evenly split state, and Walker maintains just enough support to appear daunting. He has ready access to massive sums of money, and he inspires a great deal of passion among his conservative supporters. Democrats are hoping that Madison school board member Mary Burke will run, and that she'll use her considerable personal wealth to even the playing field. But Walker's already polling close to the 50 percent mark, making him a tough target in a midterm year.
Races to Watch:
• California — Jerry Brown (D): Like many of the other governors listed here, Brown hasn't yet announced his plans for 2014. Unlike nearly all the rest, though, there's at least some reason to think Brown might not seek re-election, given his age (75). If Brown declines to run, an intense fight to succeed him among Democrats will likely ensue. But Republicans don't stand a chance regardless of whom they face.
• New York — Andrew Cuomo (D): Cuomo managed to win in a landslide in 2010, despite the intense GOP wave that hurt New York Democrats further downballot, and despite a wealthy opponent who self-funded lavishly. Republicans don't have anyone capable of making this race competitive, or even a warm body. Cuomo hasn't officially declared for a second term, but there's no doubt he'll seek one.
• Hawaii — Neil Abercrombie (D): Abercrombie's biggest threat was a primary challenge from Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, but she opted to run for Senate instead. State Sen. David Ige did wind up jumping in to the Democratic contest, but he has a minimal profile and little money. There are currently no Republicans running.
• Vermont — Peter Shumlin (D): Vermont governors have to seek re-election biennially, so Shumlin already has two victories to his credit, his most recent by 20 points. Though Republicans held this seat for eight years before Shumlin became governor, they're only likely to be competitive if a strong third-party challenge from the state's Progressive Party splits the left-leaning vote. That hasn't materialized, though Shumlin has not formally announced his re-election plans yet.
• Alabama — Robert Bentley (R): There may be no state Democratic Party in worse shape than Alabama's. While it's possible that Bentley, who has always been viewed with suspicion by the GOP establishment, could lose a primary challenge (if a serious one were to materialize), Republicans have a lock on this seat no matter whom they nominate.
• Georgia — Nathan Deal (R): Georgia Democrats are heavily focused on the state's open seat Senate and thus Deal has largely gotten a pass. He hasn't announced plans to seek a second term yet, though it would be surprising if he opted out. Former state Sen. Connie Stokes is running for the Democrats; one day soon, the party will be in a position to compete for this seat, but not this cycle.
• Idaho — Butch Otter (R): When Rep. Raul Labrador declined to run in the GOP primary earlier this year, Otter avoided his most serious potential challenger. However, he still hasn't decided whether to seek a third term, though signs point to another run. Should he decline, Lt. Gov. Brad Little would likely have the inside track. Democrats have no shot here.
• New Jersey — Chris Christie (R): As political hypotheticals go, the 2013 New Jersey governor's race offers some juicy ones. What if Hurricane Sandy hadn't struck the state? What if Christie had botched the response? In either scenario, we might have a competitive race right now. But it did, and he didn't, and Christie's job approval ratings have remained stubbornly high almost a year later. Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono trails by anywhere from 20 to 30 or more points in all public polling, and her fundraising has understandably lagged as a result. The final score may narrow, but thanks to a remarkable set of circumstances, a Republican governor is a lock to win re-election in blue New Jersey.
• Oklahoma — Mary Fallin (R): Fallin, in her first term should cruise to re-election, unless the man she succeeded, former Democratic Gov. Brad Henry, were to seek his old job once again. In a recent interview, Henry called a comeback "unlikely" though he did not rule it out; however, even he would have a very hard time beating Fallin.
• South Dakota — Dennis Daugaard (R): I just checked our tags: We haven't written about this seat since 2010, and it's not hard to see why. Daugaard won his first term in a blowout three years ago, and Democrats don't have anyone running against him. He hasn't announced for re-election yet but there's no reason to think he won't.
• Tennessee — Bill Haslam (R): Haslam's family's business, the truck stop chain Pilot Flying J, is the target of an ongoing federal inquiry over fraud allegations that has already seen several employees plead guilty. But Haslam, a former president of the company, hasn't been directly implicated, and it's unlikely that the investigation will harm his re-election chances in heavily Republican Tennessee, especially since no Democratic challengers have emerged.
• Wyoming — Matt Mead (R): Mead hasn't formally declared for a second term but likely will. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill has said she intends to primary Mead, who effectively removed her from her responsibilities after widespread allegations of bizarre behavior on Hill's part. Neither she nor Democrats will pose an obstacle to Mead's re-election.