Sabatos Crystal Ball

Governor 2006: The Democrats’ Most Promising Field of Battle?

Larry J. Sabato, Director, U.Va. Center for Politics April 28th, 2005


Partisan redistricting almost everywhere keeps the House of Representatives from demonstrating much of a political trend, unless the winds of change are hurricane-force. Senate contests are frequently idiosyncratic, distorted by the intense effects of incumbency and the massive spending of the wealthy. Moreover, only a third of the states feature Senate match-ups in any given election year, so the national trends are often muted. That leaves the Governorships, very special offices where the governmental rubber hits the road. If the political terrain favors the Democrats in 2006–if there’s at least a mild “Sixth Year Itch”–the Governorships are likely to prove to be the most fertile territory for the Democrats. Incumbency appears to matter less in the chief executive category, and voters will more often change parties in their statehouses–if only to signal that “it’s time for a change.”

It is still ridiculously early, so we refuse to do more than “lean” any governorship to one party or the other, even when we think it is clear one side will win. Still, take a look at our review of the 38 Governor contests in 2005 and 2006. Democrats have a fair to good shot at taking over statehouses in Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and maybe Hawaii. Republicans have a decent shot at taking over only Iowa, Virginia, and maybe Kansas. Again, it is early. This list will change many times. States not currently listed will be added, for both parties. Other states on the list today will be dropped as conditions change. And by no means will the opposition party actually succeed in taking over Governorships in all, or even most, of the states we have mentioned above.

Having attached all these cautions, the Democrats can reasonably target nine states to the Republicans’ three. Democrats might capture a mega-state or two (New York and Florida), while it is difficult to see where the GOP can gain in the highly-populated states. Yes, California–where Arnold holds sway–counts for a lot, but our argument holds as this election cycle gets fully underway.

Democrats can take some joy in the gubernatorial outlook. Republicans will be far more pleased with their prospects in the Senate and House races (covered in both past and future Crystal Balls).

Stay tuned for next week’s installment of the Crystal Ball, in which we will look back as far as 1942 and see how gubernatorial candidates from the same party as the President have fared. You may be surprised at the some of the results from the last 60+ years!

In the meantime, the Crystal Ball has added all-new commentary to each gubernatorial race in 2005 and 2006. Below you will find excerpts from several key states, but you can read them all on the Crystal Ball website here (for 2005) and here (for 2006):