Never mind the last-minute deal-making, the rush of adrenaline, the balloons dropping from the ceiling. Forget what Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and other leaders are bound to boast about this week.
The General Assembly session that ended a few hours ago wasn’t much to talk about. O’Malley no doubt would prefer to look ahead. So we’ll oblige.
He’s still got to govern, of course, but with legislators now high-tailing it out of Annapolis, O’Malley will have more time to devote to his gig as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
That job has already boosted his profile in Washington, D.C., and taken him to Virginia and New Jersey in recent weeks for Democratic fundraising dinners. Now he’ll work to help Democratic gubernatorial candidates from coast to coast – including in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state of New Hampshire, the fundraising powerhouse of Washington state, and critical battlegrounds like Missouri and North Carolina.
That’s not a bad itinerary for someone who is supposedly thinking about running for the White House in 2016. But his success at the DGA will be measured, to some extent, by the number of wins and losses Democrats rack up in the next two years, and it looks right now that the results will be decidedly mixed.
The 2011-2012 cycle doesn’t have nearly as many gubernatorial elections as the previous cycle – or the next one. But the stakes are still high, and O’Malley has plenty to gain – or lose – depending on the outcome. So what follows is a tip sheet on these races, and a look at what kind of role, if any, O’Malley might play.
A special election to fill the term of former Gov. Joe Manchin (D), who was elected to the Senate last November to replace the legendary Robert Byrd (D), is under way. Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is the nominal favorite in next month’s Democratic primary, but he faces several tough opponents in Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, an attractive former TV anchor; state Treasurer John Perdue; state Senate President Jeff Kessler; and state House Speaker Rick Thompson. Tomblin no doubt benefits from the split opposition.
The likely Republican nominee is former Secretary of State Betty Ireland, who will square off against the Democrat in October. The winner will have to run again, for a full term, in 2012.
West Virginia is a place where Democrats are doing increasingly poorly – especially their presidential nominees. But it’s close enough to Maryland for O’Malley to visit without too much difficulty – and to try to connect with blue collar voters, who still play an important role in White House elections.
Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is seeking re-election in another state that is increasingly hostile to Democrats. But he’s a savvy, battled-tested pol – and he’s close to Jim Cauley, a Kentucky native who was a member of the inner circle on O’Malley’s campaign for Baltimore mayor back in 1999. That’s a nice connection for O’Malley to have.
The likely Republican nominee is state Senate President David Williams, an establishment favorite who seems to be holding off a challenge from a tea party candidate in the GOP primary.
Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), already a full-blown national star, is an overwhelming favorite for re-election. To date, no Democrat has even filed to run against him. So there isn’t much reason for O’Malley to travel to New Orleans – unless he wants to party or hang out with David Simon.
In another Republican stronghold, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) is almost certain to succeed Gov. Haley Barbour (R). The nominal Democratic frontrunner is Johnny DuPree, the African-American mayor of Hattiesburg.
Gov. Jack Markell (D) is a heavy favorite for re-election, though it’s possible that Christine “I am not a Witch” O’Donnell (R) may run against him. Delaware is the kind of state where O’Malley can make some corporate friends if he’s interested in a national run.
Though Obama in 2008 became the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the Hoosier State since 1964, it’s widely assumed that arch-conservative U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R) is going to run for governor and win – unless he decides he’s having too much fun gutting the federal government and imposing his social views on the rest of the country. The likely Democratic contender, former state House Speaker John Gregg, is credible, but probably cannot match Pence’s firepower.
This is a state where O’Malley, if he campaigns, can make some valuable connections (and wow ’em at Notre Dame). But prospects for Democrats are still pretty grim.
In this classic bellwether state, Democrats hope they’ll continue to have Nixon to kick around – that’s Gov. Jay Nixon (D), who seems in decent shape to win a second term. Until last week, Republicans had high hopes for Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who’s been gearing up to take Nixon on. But he’s been buffeted by news accounts that he’s traveled excessively and stuck taxpayers with the bill.
Former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill (R) is the early favorite to replace popular Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who is term limited. Democrats are sorting out their field – their lone candidate so far is state Sen. Dave Wanzenried, who looks a little too professorial to go very far in Montana.
Can you imagine O’Malley campaigning in Montana? Stranger things have happened. The gubernatorial race in 2012 is almost certainly to be overshadowed by the epic Senate battle between incumbent Jon Tester (D) and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R).
If Gov. John Lynch decides to seek re-election, the Democrats will be well-positioned to hold the seat. If he doesn’t, several Republicans will be champing at the bit, and the Democrats don’t have an obvious successor yet. Watch how often O’Malley decides to visit the state for an early clue about his 2016 aspirations.
Gov. Bev Perdue (D) appears to be headed for a rematch with the man she defeated in 2008, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R), only early polls suggest that McCrory may get his revenge. The Obama campaign will be very active – Democrats believe that despite some set-backs in 2010, the Tar Heel State is trending their way. Obama was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the state since 1976, and his party is holding its national convention in Charlotte next year. That may be enough to save Perdue in the end.
O’Malley will of course be a mainstay at the convention, and there seems to be ample reason for him to return to the state. With major financial institutions, high tech companies, college campuses and a big African-American population, it seems like a logical place for any Democratic presidential contender to want to be.
North Dakota is the ultimate flyover country, the least visited state in the U.S. There’s little reason to believe O’Malley will be any different.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R), who ascended to the job when then-Gov. John Hoeven (R) was elected to the Senate last year, is a strong favorite for re-election. There is some talk that former U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy will run for the Democrats, which would make things interesting. But don’t count on it.
First-term Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), who took over in January after eight years of Republican rule, is promoting a very progressive agenda – including universal health care coverage and trying to shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant – that would probably not go down so well in most states. He seems safe for re-election now (governors in Vermont and New Hampshire are elected every two years); it would be interesting to know what O’Malley thinks of his record.
The state of Microsoft and Boeing is prime fundraising territory for any national political candidate, and it’s fairly reliable Democratic territory in most elections. The conventional wisdom is that two-term Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) won’t seek re-election, but she hasn’t said so definitively. U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee (D) is panting for a chance to run, and state Attorney General Rob McKenna seems like the strongest potential candidate for Republicans.
Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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