Democrats Poised to Make Gubernatorial Gains This week: Why the anti-incumbent mood among voters bodes very ill indeed for the GOP in this fall's 36 contests for governor; George Allen's vanishing White House dream; and more.

Democrats Poised to Make Gubernatorial Gains

The open Minnesota Senate race is now considered "Leaning Democratic." hide caption

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No Hawaii incumbent has ever been defeated for re-election, and that includes Neil Abercrombie. hide caption

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Fifteen years ago today, the Senate Judiciary Committee splits down the middle on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. hide caption

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Of the 36 contests for governor this year, Republicans are clearly at a disadvantage. For one thing, the GOP has more statehouses at stake (22) than do the Democrats (14). And in the 10 races where no incumbent is running --usually the best opportunity for a change in party -- Republicans currently hold nine of them.

As we did last week with the Senate races, here's a list of this year's gubernatorial candidates (incumbent in BOLD). Of course, all ratings are subject to change. For more detailed information, go to the NPR interactive map:

ALABAMA: Bob Riley (R) vs. Lucy Baxley (D) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

ALASKA: Sarah Palin (R) vs. Tony Knowles (D) – LEANS REPUBLICAN (Frank Murkowski (R) defeated in primary)

ARIZONA: Janet Napolitano (D) vs. Len Munsil (R) – DEMOCRAT FAVORED

ARKANSAS: Asa Hutchinson (R) vs. Mike Beebe (D) – DEMOCRAT FAVORED (Mike Huckabee (R) term limited)

CALIFORNIA: Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) vs. Phil Angelides (D) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

COLORADO: Bob Beauprez (R) vs. Bill Ritter (D) – LEANS DEMOCRATIC (Bill Owens (R) term limited)

CONNECTICUT: Jodi Rell (R) vs. John DeStefano (D) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

FLORIDA: Charlie Crist (R) vs. Jim Davis (D) – LEANS REPUBLICAN (Jeb Bush (R) term limited)

GEORGIA: Sonny Perdue (R) vs. Mark Taylor (D) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

HAWAII: Linda Lingle (R) vs. Randy Iwase (D) – SAFE REPUBLICAN

IDAHO: Butch Otter (R) vs. Jerry Brady (D) – SAFE REPUBLICAN (Jim Risch (R) retiring)*

ILLINOIS: Rod Blagojevich (D) vs. Judy Baar Topinka (R) – LEANS DEMOCRATIC

IOWA: Chet Culver (D) vs. Jim Nussle (R) – TOSSUP (Tom Vilsack (D) retiring)

KANSAS: Kathleen Sebelius (D) vs. Jim Barnett (R) – DEMOCRAT FAVORED

MAINE: John Baldacci (D) vs. Chandler Woodcock (R) – LEANS DEMOCRATIC

MARYLAND: Bob Ehlrich (R) vs. Martin O'Malley (D) – LEANS DEMOCRATIC

MASSACHUSETTS: Kerry Healey (R) vs. Deval Patrick (D) – LEANS DEMOCRATIC (Mitt Romney (R) retiring)

MICHIGAN: Jennifer Granholm (D) vs. Dick DeVos (R) – TOSSUP

MINNESOTA: Tim Pawlenty (R) vs. Mike Hatch (D) – LEANS REPUBLICAN

NEBRASKA: Dave Heineman (R) vs. David Hahn (D) – SAFE REPUBLICAN

NEVADA: Jim Gibbons (R) vs. Dina Titus (D) – TOSSUP (Kenny Guinn (R) term limited)

NEW HAMPSHIRE: John Lynch (D) vs. Jim Coburn (R) – SAFE DEMOCRATIC

NEW MEXICO: Bill Richardson (D) vs. John Dendahl (R) – SAFE DEMOCRATIC

NEW YORK: John Faso (R) vs. Eliot Spitzer (D) – SAFE DEMOCRATIC (George Pataki (R) retiring)

OHIO: Ken Blackwell (R) vs. Ted Strickland (D) – DEMOCRAT FAVORED (Bob Taft (R) term limited)

OKLAHOMA: Brad Henry (D) vs. Ernest Istook (R) – DEMOCRAT FAVORED

OREGON: Ted Kulongoski (D) vs. Ron Saxton (R) – TOSSUP

PENNSYLVANIA: Ed Rendell (D) vs. Lynn Swann (R) and Russ Diamond(Ind.) – DEMOCRAT FAVORED

RHODE ISLAND: Don Carcieri (R) vs. Charlie Fogarty (D) – LEANS REPUBLICAN

SOUTH CAROLINA: Mark Sanford (R) vs. Tommy Moore (D) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

SOUTH DAKOTA: Mike Rounds (R) vs. Jack Billion (D) – SAFE REPUBLICAN

TENNESSEE: Phil Bredesen (D) vs. Jim Bryson (R) – SAFE DEMOCRATIC

TEXAS: Rick Perry (R) vs. Chris Bell (D) vs. Kinky Friedman (I) vs. Carole Keeton Strayhorn (I) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

VERMONT: Jim Douglas (R) vs. Scudder Parker (D) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

WISCONSIN: Jim Doyle (D) vs. Mark Green (R) – TOSSUP

WYOMING: Dave Freudenthal (D) vs. Ray Hunkins (R) – SAFE DEMOCRATIC

*In Idaho, Risch became governor when incumbent Republican Dirk Kempthorne left to join the Bush Cabinet. Risch decided not to challenge Butch Otter for the GOP nomination.

SENATE RATINGS UPDATE: Some changes since last week.

HAWAII: No change in ratings -- it remains Safe Democratic -- just a clarification in the candidates. Sen. Daniel Akaka will be the Democratic nominee, having defeated Rep. Ed Case in the Sept. 23 primary. The Republican primary winner was former Vietnam POW Jerry Coffee -- who had pulled out of the race months ago following heart-bypass surgery. But the GOP establishment was hoping for a Coffee primary win, because then they could name his replacement. The new nominee is state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who is 72 years old.

MINNESOTA: The race between Amy Klobuchar (D) and Mark Kennedy (R) for the seat that Democratic incumbent Mark Dayton is vacating moves from Tossup to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

On to the questions:

Q: What does the latest flap involving Sen. George Allen (R-VA) do to his presidential aspirations? -- Alan Feld, Silver Spring, Md.

A: The gentlest way to put it is to say that Allen is no longer a serious contender for the nomination. And that's a shame, because he was on track of becoming the first Jewish African-American president in history. Seriously, I don't know what to make of all that's been happening to him. Does he have a history of using the "N" word? Or are we seeing the "Swift Boating" of George Allen? It's been a surreal month or so for him. And for everyone trying to figure out what's going on.

The question now worth asking is, if not Allen, who will conservatives rally around for 2008? Arizona Sen. John McCain and outgoing Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts have been making overtures to the right, but conservatives may need far more convincing. A dark horse the right might get excited about is Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, should he get into the race.

By the way, in last week's column, Mark Barabek of the Los Angeles Times asked about other potential presidential candidates who were ambushed on their way to a White House run. I mentioned a few: former Sens. Tom Daschle (D-SD), John Ashcroft (R-MO), and William Knowland (R-CA), and former Gov. Roy Barnes (D-GA).

Craig Shirley, the Republican consultant in Alexandria, Va.; Carl Leubsdorf, the Washington bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News; and David Kuhn of Rockville, Md., came up with one I had never thought of as having presidential ambitions: John Gilligan of Ohio, who was upset in his 1974 gubernatorial re-election campaign by ex-Gov. James Rhodes (R). Does anyone else remember Gilligan as a possible prez candidate? I have no memory of this at all.

Joel Goldstein, a law professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law, wonders if Averell Harriman would have pursued the presidency a third time, had he defeated Nelson Rockefeller in their 1958 New York gubernatorial contest. Harriman had earlier sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952 and '56. But Rockefeller's victory over Harriman ended his hopes -- and propelled Rocky to at least two serious presidential runs of his own. Joel also lists defeats for two candidates that could have -- but did not -- derail their chances of becoming president: Richard Nixon, who lost a 1962 California gubernatorial contest, six years before winning the White House; and Abraham Lincoln, who lost to Stephen Douglas in the 1858 Illinois Senate race, only to reverse the outcome when the two ran for president two years later.

Another question from last week that got a good response was from David Mark. He wanted to know whether, if Ben Cardin (D) -- who has served in Congress for 20 years -- wins this year's Maryland Senate race, he would be the person with the longest tenure in the House who went on to win in the upper body. I had no idea, and threw the question up to the readership.

Lots of fun stuff came in from Bruce MacNeil, Maureen Meyer, Mark Richard, Lori Glover, Drew Pritt, Al Eisele and the aforementioned Carl Leubsdorf. But only Dewie Gaul came up with the man who came within six months of the 20-year mark: Oscar Underwood (D-AL). Underwood was first elected to the House in 1894, but his term was interrupted in June of 1896, when his election was successfully contested by Truman Aldrich (R). Aldrich didn't run in the 1896 general election; that's when Underwood resumed his House career, which he maintained until his election to the Senate in 1914.

House members who had served 18 years before their election to the Senate include current Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and former Sen. Mark Andrews (R-ND).

Al Eisele of The Hill newspaper said Don Ritchie, the assistant Senate historian, pointed out that Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri did the opposite: He served 20 years in the Senate before serving one term in the House.

Q: In your comments about the Akaka-Case Democratic Senate primary in Hawaii that appeared in the Sept. 22 column, you wrote, "If God intervened before a primary did, GOP Gov. Linda Lingle would be in position to name a Republican to the Senate." Not so. In Hawaii, state law requires that a replacement U.S. senator be from the same party as the one who has vacated his seat. So while Gov. Lingle could name a political dud to the vacant seat, and having one of our senators leave office early could create some fireworks down the road, the short-term prospects would not affect the balance of power in Congress. -- Maka Fox, Honolulu, Hawaii (similarly, Dave Iacobucci and Gary Nielsen)

A: Thank you for the correction; it's amazing the stuff I learn from this column! Maka, by the way, writes the "Political Eye" column for the Honolulu Weekly.

Q: I am an Australian living in England and I love listening to your "Political Junkie" segment on TOTN and reading your column. I love learning about U.S. politics and you clearly explain the issues and personalities in a clear and entertaining way. By the way, in your "Hawaii trivia" of last week, you said that no incumbent member of Congress from the state has ever lost re-election. What about Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D)? Didn't he lose to Republican Pat Saiki in the 1986 general election? -- Barry Yau, University of Warwick in Coventry (similarly, Steve Ury of Los Angeles, Calif.)

A: No. What happened is that Abercrombie won a special election for a vacant House seat in September of 1986. But on the same day, Abercrombie lost the Democratic primary for the same seat. So while he was able to serve from September '86 to January '87, he never had the opportunity to run for the full term, because he lost the primary on the same day he won the special election. In November of that year, Saiki defeated Mufi Hannemann, who had beaten Abercrombie in the September primary, becoming the first and only Republican to win a House race in Hawaii.

Q: How can you say that Congressman Ed Case's decision to challenge Sen. Akaka in the primary wasn't ideological? He tried to sell it as generational for his own opportunistic purposes, and you bought it. Look at their voting records! Look at their donors! -- D. Kimball, Honolulu, Haw.

A: You are right that Case was far more conservative than Akaka on a myriad of issues, notably the war and economic policy. It's not a question of me "buying into" Case's salesmanship; it's pretty easy to make the case that the challenge is generational, especially when you are 53 and your opponent is nearly 30 years older. Actually, more than ideology or age, it may have been Case's ambition that ultimately was the deciding factor. He's a man in a hurry: He ran for governor in the 2002 Democratic primary, then jumped into the special House race when incumbent Patsy Mink (D) died later that year; he apparently didn't want to wait until 2010, when the seat of Sen. Dan Inouye (D), 86 years old by then, would be up.

Q: In your roundup of the Hawaii primary, you mentioned octogenarian Sens. Akaka and Inouye. Are they the oldest senatorial delegation in history? -- Art Kallen, Alexandria, Va.

A: No. In 2002, the combined ages of South Carolina Sens. Strom Thurmond (R) and Fritz Hollings (D) came to 180 years. That is 16 years more than the current Dan duo from Hawaii.

MEET THE CHALLENGERS: This week, Democratic challengers to Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri and Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington. Meet Claire McCaskill and Darcy Burner.

Claire McCaskill

McCASKILL has been twice elected Missouri's state auditor, in 1998 and 2002. Prior to that, she served in the state legislature and county government. In 2004 she challenged Gov. Bob Holden, a fellow Democrat, in the primary and won, 52-45 percent. It was the first time in state history that a governor was denied renomination in a primary. In the general election that year, she narrowly lost to Republican Matt Blunt.

Democrats have won only one Senate race in Missouri in the past quarter-century, and that was when the late Mel Carnahan, who had perished not long before in a plane crash, ousted GOP incumbent John Ashcroft in 2000. Jim Talent defeated Carnahan's widow, who had been appointed to the seat, in 2002 . If anything, the state has become even more Republican since then.

But the national anti-GOP mood and the falling job ratings for Gov. Blunt have given McCaskill a boost. What will determine this race are the rural voters. McCaskill will carry St. Louis and Kansas City; the question is whether a Democratic wave can spread to the vast middle of the state.

One issue that the McCaskill camp feels is in their favor is stem-cell research. A November ballot measure calls for expanding the research. McCaskill strongly supports it; Talent, after some initial hesitation that gave his conservative backers the willies, opposes it. (The COOL button refers to a part of the 2002 farm bill known as "country of origin labeling," which would let consumers know where their meat comes from. McCaskill supports it; Talent once did but no longer does.)

The most recent polls had Talent up by four or five points. The race is considered a TOSSUP.


BURNER is a former Microsoft executive who is making her first run for office. She is trying to portray Reichert, a freshman who was narrowly elected in Washington's 8th Congressional District in 2004, as a Bush clone, especially on Iraq. But on that issue, her Web site says only that she "supports holding the Bush administration accountable by demanding a plan to secure Iraq without an indefinite commitment of U.S. troops." She also differs from Reichert on stem-cell research (she supports it) and increasing the minimum wage (she's for it).

Reichert is best known for his time as the King County sheriff, when he helped capture Gary Ridgway, the notorious Green River serial killer. The district, in the Seattle suburbs, is Republican -- but less so in recent years. John Kerry narrowly carried it in 2004.

SEND US YOUR BUTTONS! To get your candidate in the "Meet the Challengers" section, all you need do is send his or her 2006 campaign buttons to Political Junkie, 635 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20001. If nothing else, it will make Ken Rudin's collection very happy.

IF IT'S WEDNESDAY, IT'S "POLITICAL JUNKIE" ON THE AIR: Remember, not only can you read "Political Junkie" each week, but you can hear it, too. Tune in to NPR's Talk of the Nation, a call-in program, every Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern, for a half-hour on politics. This week's show: Bill Clinton gets mad, what's going on with George Allen, and a special visit from Katherine Harris. Check local listings; if your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, then you may as well forget about sending in a contribution until they do. (Wait, I can't say that. Maybe just threaten them.)

WILL THE PODCAST CONTINUE AFTER THE ELECTION? There are less than six weeks to go before the election, and the NPR suits upstairs need to be convinced that "It's All Politics," our weekly podcast, is worth continuing. I know that if we can double our listenership, to 18 people, we will be on our way! New edition of the podcast goes up every Thursday at noon.

Please … If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, don't forget to include your city and state.

This Day in Political History: The Senate Judiciary Committee splits on the nomination of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. The vote is 7-7, with every Democrat -- except for Arizona's Dennis DeConcini -- voting no. And this vote comes two weeks before the emotional Anita Hill testimony, in which she accuses Thomas of sexual impropriety (Sept. 27, 1991).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: