- The Afghanistan-Iraq segment of Sen. Barack Obama‘s foreign trip was an unqualified success. He committed no blunder as Republicans had hoped he would, and had the good luck to play into the Iraqi government’s negotiations for a U.S. treaty—making it seem as though the Iraqis endorsed his withdrawal plans. The visit increased Republican defeatism and Democratic triumphalism.
- The response by Republicans is that any time the inexperienced Obama enters the realm of Iraq policy he has entered into Sen. John McCain‘s area of expertise. But this may be a case of whistling past the graveyard.
- The problem for McCain is that Obama can now say that there is a difference of only months between his proposal for withdrawal and that of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The danger for Obama is that he has strayed far from his strict and simple 16-month withdrawal pan, which was instrumental in defeating Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Obama also is plagued by not admitting that the Surge, which he opposed, is the reason that Iraq is secure enough for him to visit.
- Obama has known since the beginning of his campaign what was needed to bridge the Iraq demands of Democratic primary voters and general election voters: a convincing argument that withdrawal can be done honorably and safely. As Obama puts it, we need to be "as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in." The "al-Maliki endorsement" greatly bolsters Obama on this score.
- As Obama prepared to arrive in Baghdad, the McCain campaign leaked to us word that he would name his vice presidential candidate this week. As we go to press, this seems most unlikely, and appears a clumsy attempt by McCain aides to create a buzz in the midst of Obama’s triumphal tour.
- The identity of McCain’s running mate, whenever he is named, still is unknown. But former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney now leads all speculation. He is getting a boost from private polls that show his presence on the ticket puts McCain ahead in Michigan—changing that state from Blue to Red,
- The McCain candidacy appears constricted and wooden, while Obama’s is expansive and effective. The McCain hope still is that inherent public doubt about Obama’s ability to be President in a dangerous world will persist.
Overview: Eleven states hold gubernatorial elections this year with three of them open-seat races. The economy promises to be the central concern of voters this year, which is bad news for the incumbent parties. In 2002, the last time economic woes were the top issue, voters appeared to take it out on their state leadership as the incumbent party lost in a majority of the races.
The 11 seats up this year are split: 6 Democrats and 5 Republicans. This week, we do a brief overview of these contests. We foresee a pretty good year for Democrats.
Delaware: Two-term Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) is precluded by term limits from seeking a third term, spurring a GOP scramble for a candidate and a competitive Democratic primary.
"Next-in-line" for the job would be Lt. Gov. John Carney (D), who served eight years as No. 2 to Minner, who had served eight years as No. 2 to her predecessor, now-Sen. Tom Carper (D).
Republicans, meanwhile, have failed to field a top-tier candidate. The three men currently in the race are all former GOP primary losers, and none is a current office-holder. Republican leaders have settled on former judge Bill Lee (R), as their favorite.
Some body blows in the Democratic contest could give Republicans a chance, but the eventual Democratic nominee will be better funded and better positioned to win. Likely Democratic Retention.
Indiana: Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), a top target for Democrats this year, looks like he might escape a tough battle. In his favor, Republicans feel Democrats picked the wrong candidate in former Rep. Jill Long Thompson (D), who defeated architect James Schellinger (D).
In late June, a Bellwether Research poll of 1,000 likely voters gave Daniels a 50-to-36 lead over Thompson (margin of error: +/- 3%). Since then, Daniels has announced that he balanced the budget in Fiscal Year 2008, which just ended.
Thompson could certainly make a surge, but Daniels looks strong now. Leaning Republican Retention.
Missouri: Gov. Matt Blunt (R) has decided not to seek a second term, spelling trouble for the struggling Missouri GOP.
Democrats have settled on a strong candidate in Atty. Gen. Jay Nixon (D). The August 5 GOP primary will pit Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R) against state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R). Although Hulshof is pretty conservative, Steelman has succeeded in casting this race as a battle of Machine-versus-Reformer, as the party establishment has lined up behind Hulshof.
If Hulshof wins, he will likely suffer from Steelman’s attacks on his cooperation with the Washington GOP’s porkfest; if Steelman wins, she will suffer from intraparty enmity earned by criticizing Gov. Blunt and the GOP establishment.
Democrats in the Show-Me State are motivated, and Obama could drive up black turnout in Kansas City and St. Louis, two cities famous for their liberal approach to voting security—which favors Democrats. Early polls show Nixon leading both GOP candidates. Leaning Democratic Takeover.
Montana: This will be a good year in Montana for Democrats, Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) included. Last year, Democrats picked up a U.S. Senate seat, and this year Sen. Max Baucus (D) is safe. Schweitzer, meanwhile, drew low-profile State Senator Roy Brown (R) as his opposition.
Schweitzer has a 71% approval rating, according to a recent Rasmussen poll, and he led Brown 61% to 32%. Likely Democratic Retention.
New Hampshire: Gov. John Lynch (D) looks safe for a third two-year term. The Granite State will probably bounce back a bit from the Democratic landslide of 2006, but Lynch likely won’t be touched. He led State Sen. Mike Kenney (R) 60% to 27% in a poll released Tuesday. Republican money and energy here will be dedicated to Sen. John Sununu‘s (R) reelection bid and trying to recoup 2006 losses in the state legislative elections. Likely Democratic Retention.
North Carolina: The most competitive open-seat gubernatorial contest will be in North Carolina this year. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R) battles Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue (D) in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Mike Easley (D).
North Carolina is a definitively conservative state, but Easley tapped into that cultural conservatism expertly—he’s driven (and crashed on) NASCAR tracks at about 175 miles per hour. Perdue won’t be able to do this, but McCrory isn’t the ideal candidate for the NASCAR vote, either, coming from Charlotte.
Polls show a dead-heat, which is bad news for Perdue, who has stronger name recognition, and good news for McCrory, a Republican in the South in a presidential year.
But Perdue has a huge cash advantage. If she can capture the inflated African-American vote in this presidential year, she should win. Many of the wealthy white Charlotte moderates who formed McCrory’s base probably supported Obama in Democratic presidential primary.
The Tar Heel State elected only two GOP governors last century. Leaning Democratic Retention.
North Dakota: Republicans are worrying about the Plains states this year, but North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven (R) is the heavy favorite over State Sen. Tim Mathern (D). Hoeven leads by 40 points in a recent Rasmussen poll (500 likely voters) and posted an 80% favorability rating. Likely Republican Retention.
Utah: Perhaps the only place on the map where Republicans are still safe Gov. John Huntsman (R) is the heavy favorite over consultant Bob Springmeyer (D). Likely Republican Retention.
Vermont: Gov. Jim Douglas (R) may have been the Republican rooting hardest for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) in the presidential primaries. This liberal-filled state will likely see record-high turnout this November thanks to Obama’s presence on the ballot. This will help State House Speaker Gaye Symington (D).
Vermont, along with North Carolina and Washington, promises the most excitement among governor races this year. Put another way: Douglas is perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent governor in 2008.
In Douglas’s favor, liberal Anthony Pollina is once again running as a third-party candidate, this time as an independent. Pollina says he is reaching out to conservatives as well as liberals, and he probably won’t match the 10% he garnered in 2000. Still, Symington will need to run a very strong race to beat Douglas. Leaning Republican Retention.
Washington: Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) and former State Sen. Dino Rossi (R) both face primary opposition, but they are very likely headed to a repeat of their razor-thin, disputed 2004 election. Four years ago, Gregoire defeated Rossi by 131 votes amid charges of fraud and clear evidence of error.
This year, early polls suggest a contest just as close. Gregoire, as the incumbent, has to be considered the slight favorite, especially considering a high likely turnout thanks to Obama. Washington’s economy, however, has been struggling with the rest of the country this year. Leaning Democratic Retention.
West Virginia: Republican hopes to capture this governorship rested on an early Robert Byrd (D) retirement from the Senate, compelling Gov. Joe Manchin(D) to seek that Senate seat. But Byrd is still in Washington and Manchin is running for reelection. A pro-life Democrat in a conservative Democratic state, Manchin should have little trouble with former State Sen. Russ Weeks (R). Likely Democratic Retention.