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Republicans Will Win More Governorships (But Democrats Could Get More Votes)

Of the 37 governor’s races on Tuesday’s ballot, only 12 are in much degree of doubt. Democrats should win the races in New York and Arkansas and — barring abnormally bad polling — also those in California, New Hampshire and Maryland.

Republicans have a much longer list of likely or near-certain victories. Alphabetically, it goes: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. They are at least 90 percent favorites to win each of these races, according to the FiveThirtyEight forecasting model, although Nathan Deal’s race in Georgia may require a run-off.

Governor’s contests can often go overlooked when control of Congress is at stake, as it is tonight, but these wins will be extremely helpful to Republicans in a couple of ways. First, governors often have tremendous control over redistricting, which will take place throughout the country before the 2012 elections. Second, they will help Republicans, a party with few popular national figures, rebuild its bench. Some of the Republican governors that voters will elect today may become future presidential or vice presidential candidates.

Still, the performance of the Democratic  candidates for governor is likely to be more dignified, on the whole, than that of their Senate or House candidates. In fact, because of a series of fluky circumstances, Democratic candidates for governor may actually win more votes than their Republican counterparts.

One major reason why is the race here in New York. Polls differ on the margin by which Andrew Cuomo is likely to beat Carl P. Paladino — estimates range from 17 points to 35 — but it is probably going to to be substantial. If Mr. Cuomo’s win is in line with our model’s estimate — about 22 points — Democrats would net about 1 million votes in Republicans if turnout is close to 2006 levels.

Jerry Brown, meanwhile, may ultimately win by a fairly convincing margin over Meg Whitman in California — perhaps in the double digits — although some polls have shown Ms. Whitman slightly closing her deficit of late. A win by 8 points or so, which is what our model now predicts, would net the Democrats about 700,000 votes.

In Colorado, meanwhile, John Hickenlooper will inflate Democrats’ margins by gaining considerably more votes than thje Republican Dan Maes, who has lost essentially all of his to Tom Tancredo, the American Constitution party’s candidate. (The downside for Mr. Hickenlooper: Mr. Tancredo could in fact get enough votes to beat him.) That should net another 700,000 votes or so for Democrats.

That’s a pretty significant head start, even though Democrats figure to lose somewhere around two-thirds of tonight’s governors’ races over all. To achieve this purely honorary distinction — winning the governors’ popular vote — Democrats would need to curtail their losses in other large states where Republican candidates appear poised for victory, like Texas, Pennsylvania and Michigan. It would also help them, of course, to win the tight races in Florida and Ohio.

Still, the goal is within reach. If we apply this year’s FiveThirtyEight projections, and assume that the same number of people vote in each state as did in 2006, we project that Democratic candidates for governor will win about 31 million votes and the Republicans 32 million; another 3 million or so will go to third parties.


Among the dozen or so governor’s races that do remain close, most have not seen dramatic shifts in polling in recent days, but there are a couple of exceptions.

One is Connecticut, where the Republican Tom Foley has been making up his deficit with striking speed against Dan Malloy, the Democrat, and enters tonight with a narrow lead in three polls. Our model still shows Mr. Malloy as the slight favorite — perhaps wrongly so — but has Mr. Foley’s chances improved to 30 percent from about 16 percent just 48 hours ago. The one slight caution is that several of the polls that show Mr. Foley doing well, like Rasmussen Reports and Quinnipiac, have had something of a Republican lean this cycle. Also, we should be at least a little wary when we see movement this rapid in what would otherwise seem to be a fairly run-of-the-mill, two-way general election race; it can and does happen, but it isn’t all that common, and can occasionally reflect things like pollsters happening to have polled on a weekend rather than during the work week, voters having reached a stage where they feel so bombarded with information about the race that they are loathe to take a pollster’s phone call, or something similar. Still, Mr. Foley has an excellent chance to keep Connecticut’s governorship in Republican hands.

Another candidate who has been closing his margin of late — the Democrat Ted Strickland of Ohio — got somewhat mixed news yesterday, with one poll from Quinnipiac showing him trailing the Republican John Kasich by just 1 point, but another by the University of Cincinnati having him trailing by a more significant 4-point margin. What Mr. Strickland hasn’t really seen is very many polls actually putting him ahead, but he enters tonight with about a 1 in 4 chance of winning, according to the model.

John Kitzhaber, meanwhile, the Democratic nominee in Oregon, got another good poll yesterday from The Portland Tribune; the survey, which previously showed him trailing the Republican Chris Dudley by 2 points, now shows him ahead by 3. He is about a 70 percent favorite.

And the Florida governor’s race once again has a new leader: the Democrat Alex Sink, whom our model now projects to win by less than one-10th of a point in a race that has been amongst the tightest in the country all year. Ms. Sink has probably run the stronger campaign, but is swimming somewhat upstream against heavily Republican early voter turnout in the state and a Senate race in which the Republican Marco Rubio has pulled well ahead.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.