Sabato's Crystal Ball

Statehouse Rock, 2014: Can Republicans Sustain Their Gains?

Larry J. Sabato and Geoffrey Skelley, U.Va. Center for Politics December 6th, 2012

One way or another, the fiscal cliff dilemma is going to produce a larger, wealthier federal government. Either going off the cliff pumps hundreds of billions in new tax revenues into the U.S. Treasury via the end of the Bush tax cuts, or avoiding the fiscal cliff pumps hundreds of billions in new tax revenues into the U.S. Treasury via additional taxes. So Washington, with this new honey pot of money, will be the place to be for the foreseeable future, right?

Not a chance. If there’s an unhappier, less productive, more partisan, more gridlocked governing place than the nation’s capital, it escapes our notice.

The statehouses are still where the action is. Politicians run for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House in order to talk about solving problems; as debating societies, they cannot be beat. Politicians run for governor to do something about those problems.

As usual, the political community will spend endless hours calculating the ups and downs of Senate seats for 2014, and the Crystal Ball is no different. But we really ought to focus more on the statehouses. That’s what we’ll do today.

A large majority of governors are now elected in the off-year midterm election, so 36 states will have gubernatorial battles in 2014. New Jersey and Virginia go first in 2013, and then Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi will follow in 2015. Just 11 states keep their elections for governor in the presidential year (two states, New Hampshire and Vermont, hold a gubernatorial election every two years). The idea is to keep the focus on state issues — and keep presidential coattails from affecting the results.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a presidential coattail effect in the off-year. Often, the popularity or unpopularity of the sitting White House incumbent will directly affect statehouse outcomes. For example, in President George W. Bush’s 2006 midterm, his fellow Republicans suffered greatly for Bush’s low poll ratings, and the GOP won just 16 of 36 gubernatorial contests. The Democrats added six net governorships. Positions were reversed in 2010, as President Obama struggled under the weight of a bad economy and the health care reform controversy. Democrats won a mere 13 of the 37 gubernatorial match-ups (there was one extra election after a Utah resignation). Republicans added a net six governorships in 2010 — the mirror image of 2006.

This chart gives you a sense of the ebb and flow of governorships over the years:

Chart 1: Party make-up of American governorships

In 2012 the GOP added one net governorship, that of North Carolina, the largest state of the 11 holding gubernatorial elections, bringing its total to 30 statehouses. (Democrats hold 19, with one, Rhode Island, held by an independent, Lincoln Chafee.) The real news of 2012 was that Republicans failed to switch three governorships they had targeted: Montana, New Hampshire and Washington.

Come 2014, the storyline can be summarized easily: Will Republicans be able to hold onto their big gains from 2010? Only 13 of the 36 governorships on the ballot are held by Democrats, while the GOP must defend 23.

With the exception of Republican-trending Arkansas, Republicans appear to have little chance of a takeover in most of the Democratic-held states coming up for election in 2014. But Democrats have decent-to-good odds in at least a few GOP-controlled statehouses.

The fly in the ointment for Democrats in 2014 is President Obama’s second midterm election — the so-called “sixth-year itch” that often turns ugly for the incumbent White House party. Maybe if the economy is doing better in ’14, the itch will be easy to scratch and Democratic prospects will be enhanced. On the other hand, if the economy is still sluggish, or if President Obama’s popularity is low for other reasons, Republicans will have good reason for optimism.

It’s obviously too soon to know the conditions and fundamentals for 2014, but it’s not too early to assess the situation at the starting gate in the 36 states with governorships on the ballot:

ALABAMA: First-term Gov. Robert Bentley (R) should easily win reelection in the heavily Republican Yellowhammer State if he makes it to November. However, intraparty disagreements among the GOP’s factions may lead to a primary challenge against Bentley by, among others, incoming state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

ALASKA: Will Gov. Sean Parnell (R) seek reelection or the Senate seat of freshman Mark Begich (D)? His second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R), recently announced he was forming an exploratory committee to run against Begich. So perhaps Parnell will be content to target another term in Juneau, where he would be heavily favored in the strongly Republican Last Frontier.

ARIZONA: Gov. Jan Brewer (R) would like to seek another term, but it’s doubtful the courts will give the OK. According to Arizona’s Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R), she’s probably term-limited. Of course, his opinion may reflect more than simply one reading of the state constitution: Bennett has an exploratory committee putting together his own gubernatorial run. Besides Bennett, there are plenty of other Republican hopefuls, including state Attorney General Tom Horne and failed 2012 Senate candidate Wil Cardon. On the Democratic side, 2012 Senate candidate Richard Carmona, who lost in a fairly close race to Sen.-elect Jeff Flake (R), might be convinced to take a shot at winning the governorship. Democrats might also turn to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton or state Rep. Chad Campbell.

ARKANSAS: One suspects that retiring two-term Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe will be succeeded by a Republican. Already, state voters have elevated several GOP nominees to the governorship in modern times, from Winthrop Rockefeller to Frank White to Mike Huckabee. Recently, the Razorback State has been completing its transition to a solidly GOP state, most recently with its thrashing of President Obama in 2012 combined with the Republican takeover of both houses of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. With Rep. Tim Griffin’s recent announcement that he would not run for the Senate or governor, the likely Republican frontrunners are Rep. Steve Womack, Rep.-elect Tom Cotton and Lt. Gov. Mark Darr. The leading Democrat to hold back the Republican wave is state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who has already announced his intention to run. Ex-Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who failed to defeat former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) in the 2010 Democratic Senate primary, may also be interested. Another name to watch might be state Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter (D).

CALIFORNIA: Gov. Jerry Brown (D) gives every sign of becoming California’s only four-term governor –with the two parallel tenures separated by nearly three decades. (There is now a two-term limit, but it doesn’t apply to Brown because his earlier terms were served from 1975-1983, before the current limit was enacted.) The real contest — if there is one — will be in the party primary. The truly sad fact for Republicans is that the nation’s largest state is out of reach for them. Their close association with evangelical Christians and right-wing positions on immigration, abortion and gay rights means the GOP cannot be even vaguely competitive in a state Republicans once dominated.

COLORADO: Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is in good shape at this point to seek a second term. He is personally popular and the state is trending Democratic thanks to a growing Hispanic vote.

CONNECTICUT: Gov. Dan Malloy (D) was barely elected in 2010, and he has never been especially popular. He’ll have to fight hard to hold onto his office in a rematch with Tom Foley (R), who nearly defeated him the last time and recently announced his intention to run again, and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney are also possibilities.

FLORIDA: This one will be worth the price of a ringside seat. Gov. Rick Scott (R) won in 2010 because of his enormous personal expenditures and because he had the right letter next to his name on the ballot. But as the Sunshine State proved in both 2008 and 2012, Florida can swing Democratic. That won’t be a cinch because 2014 is a lower-turnout midterm year, yet Scott has never attained anything approaching broad popularity. His brusque business-like approach and his lack of grounding in politics has hurt him. Still, it will be up to the Democrats to make the case against him. Oddly, it may fall to former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist to do it. Crist turned independent toward the end of his one four-year gubernatorial term as he unsuccessfully sought a U.S. Senate seat in 2010 (losing to now-Sen. Marco Rubio). Having backed President Obama, Crist is an all-but-announced Democrat who would sorely like to get back to the mansion he left. Will Democrats let him be their nominee? The Democrat who lost to Scott in 2010, Alex Sink, wants to try again. Her ’10 campaign was described as a disaster by national party officials, but the party base is loyal. Outgoing state Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich (D) is an announced candidate, as well. We’ll see what happens — and whether Scott faces a serious primary challenge.

GEORGIA: Gov. Nathan Deal (R) narrowly won his party primary in 2010, and a lingering congressional scandal from his U.S. House tenure made many think he was a one-termer. Yet the Peach State’s Republican leanings and a conventionally conservative tenure may leave Deal in place come 2014. He certainly starts out as the clear favorite.

HAWAII: Another former House member of long standing, Neil Abercrombie (D), sought and won the Aloha State’s governorship in 2010, but Abercrombie has had a rocky tenure due to some problematic administrative decisions and a grating personal style. With only so-so popularity, we’ll see whether there is a primary challenge. This overwhelmingly Democratic state can occasionally elect a Republican governor, such as two-termer Linda Lingle (2002-2010), but the conditions must be just right.

IDAHO: Can you say “Governor Butch Otter (R)” again?

ILLINOIS: There is no more unpopular Democratic governor in America than Pat Quinn of Illinois. Barely elected in 2010, Quinn has managed to sink steadily in the two years since. A Republican might actually win in Obama’s own state — if Quinn reaches the November election. That seems doubtful unless Quinn has multiple primary opponents that split up the large anti-Quinn vote. Democrats pondering a primary challenge include Attorney General Lisa Madigan and ex-White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, both of whom lead Quinn in hypothetical matchups, according to Public Policy Polling. Republicans hoping that Quinn survives so that they can take him on in the fall include Rep. Aaron Schock, who is certain to have the best abs of any candidate, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and 2010 nominee state Sen. Bill Brady.

IOWA: One of the most durable political figures in America governs Iowa. Terry Branstad (R) served for 16 years from 1983 to 1999; then remarkably, he returned in 2010 to defeat one-term Gov. Chet Culver (D) by nearly 10 points. Branstad gives every indication of running for his sixth nonconsecutive four-year term. Not surprisingly, Branstad is already the Hawkeye State’s longest serving chief executive; he also holds the country’s modern record for statehouse mastery. The Democrats most often mentioned as Branstad’s possible opponent in 2014 are Culver, state Sen. Jack Hatch and perhaps Rep. Bruce Braley, but our November money is on Branstad. Analysts have lost a lot of cash betting against him for decades.

KANSAS: Former U.S. senator and now-Gov. Sam Brownback (R) may be Kansas’s most conservative governor in modern times, and he has led a purge of moderates from his own party in the state legislature. From fiscal to social issues, voters know what they are getting with Brownback, and they’re likely to get four more years in 2014. The Kansas party of Bob Dole is gone, replaced by a conservatism that is indistinguishable from other Red states in this polarized era. Barring some kind of unexpectedly potent primary challenge, Brownback ought to be very safe in ruby Red Jayhawk country.

MAINE: Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage is certainly one of the most controversial governors in America. Nominated in a seven-way primary in 2010 with just 38% of the vote, and then elected in November against a Democrat and prominent independent with, again, only 38%, LePage has had an unforgettable tenure. He has complained about labor unions and state employees’ alleged laziness, the inappropriateness of Martin Luther King Day, the wrongheadedness of some environmental regulations, and plenty of other topics. All of this has been popular with his base, but his problem is that his base is a distinct minority. His reelection will be a surprise in moderate Maine, but of course it all depends on the quality and number of his opponents. Maine likes independents, having just elected Angus King, a former two-term independent governor, to the U.S. Senate as an independent, and independent Eliot Cutler nearly defeated LePage in 2010. Who knows what will happen in this quirky state? Cutler may launch another independent bid while Democrats may turn to either Reps. Chellie Pingree or Mike Michaud or perhaps Pingree’s daughter, former Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree, among a laundry list of other possibilities.

MARYLAND: Two-term Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley is term-limited and has presidential ambitions. He will want to insure that his office passes to a fellow Democrat, and it shouldn’t be hard to manage in this heavily Democratic state. O’Malley’s most likely Democratic successors are Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler or state Comptroller Peter Franchot. Republicans may run energetic but failed 2012 Senate candidate Dan Bongino, Frederick County Commissioner Blaine Young or Harford County Executive David Craig.

MASSACHUSETTS: Gov. Deval Patrick (D), while eligible to run again, has said he will not seek a third term in 2014. If that holds, then the Bay State’s race for governor is bound to be lively. Already, Republicans hope that soon-to-be-ex-Sen. Scott Brown will run, though if Sen. John Kerry joins Obama’s Cabinet, Brown may prefer to seek a return to the Senate. Voters are not hesitant to install GOP governors in this often monolithically Democratic state, since many like the balance a Republican provides to a heavily Democratic legislature. Another GOP hopeful might be former state senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, who ran a superb campaign and narrowly lost to Rep. John Tierney (D) in November. State Attorney General Martha Coakley (D), who fumbled away Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat to Scott Brown in early 2010, may want to rehabilitate her career with a gubernatorial candidacy (though she might be interested in another shot at the Senate). But other Democrats, such as scandal-tinged Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, Newton Mayor Setti Warren and perhaps some of the past and present members of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation might also consider the race.

MICHIGAN: Gov. Rick Snyder (R) was one of the big surprises of 2010. This businessman with no political experience managed to win in a Democratic state that was tired of being at the bottom economically. Whether voters think anything has changed may determine Snyder’s success or failure in his reelection bid. Snyder’s poll ratings were subpar at first, but gradually they have been moving up — PPP recently found him leading 47%-41% against a generic Democrat. As for likely Democratic opponents, they would include Snyder’s 2010 opponent Virg Bernero, Rep. Gary Peters, former Rep. Mark Schauer and Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer.

MINNESOTA: After a narrow victory in 2010, Gov. Mark Dayton (D) appears to be on firmer ground as he prepares to seek a second term. Regaining control of both houses of the state legislature in 2012 should enable Dayton to broaden his list of achievements. The burden is on the Republicans, who often nominate candidates too far outside the Minnesota mainstream, to come up with an acceptable candidate. Dayton’s 2010 opponent Tom Emmer could be interested, as could the man Emmer beat out for the GOP nomination, ex-state Rep. Marty Seifert. It’s possible that former Sen. Norm Coleman might be interested in another statewide run. Now ensconced in a lucrative Beltway association executive’s post, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty has already made it clear he has no plans to run for anything in 2014.

NEBRASKA: Gov. Dave Heineman (R) is term-limited, and he is supporting his lieutenant governor, Rick Sheehy (R), to succeed him. But Sheehy has strong opposition for the GOP nomination in Mike Flood, speaker of the state legislature. Whoever wins the party nod is likely to become governor. Nebraska used to elect moderate Democratic governors with some frequency, but polarization has affected the Cornhusker State, too. The corn and wheat are yellow and brown, but Nebraska is now deeply Red.

NEVADA: National Republicans may not have figured out how badly they need more Hispanic support, but the Nevada GOP did, two years ago, when it nominated a Latino, Brian Sandoval, for the governorship. Gov. Sandoval is one of the few popular Republicans in this Democratic-leaning swing state that voted twice for President Obama, and polling indicates that he is an early favorite to win a second term. So far, there’s little indication as to who might challenge Sandoval from the Democratic side.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: We’ll have to see how newly elected Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) fares in office, but we rather doubt she’ll be turned out after a single two-year term. The Granite State’s status as the last truly competitive Northeastern enclave is still solid, but there has been more of a Democratic tilt of late. GOP conservative positions on social issues do not mesh well with the “Live Free or Die” ethos embraced by this libertarian state.

NEW JERSEY (2013): Gov. Chris Christie (R) may have upset Romney Republicans with his warm embrace of President Obama during the storm-ravaged closing days of the 2012 campaign, but he just might have insured his reelection. Christie’s ratings have soared, with Democrats and independents jumping on the bandwagon. Yes, New Jersey is heavily Democratic and a year is a long time. But if Newark Mayor Cory Booker does not challenge Christie (and he is now expected to run for the Senate in 2014), the Democratic nominee, possibly state Senate President Stephen Sweeney or state Sen. Barbara Buono, will face an uphill climb.

NEW MEXICO: Just as in Nevada, Republicans elected a Hispanic leader in 2010, Gov. Susana Martinez. This is a Democratic state but so far Martinez has done well enough to maintain her popularity in advance of a reelection bid. Republicans desperately need a Latina like Martinez as a national spokesperson. The party sees a bright future for her and can be expected to back her financially and in other ways. Still, no contest for a Republican in the Land of Enchantment is easy these days, so we’ll watch what the Democrats do. State Attorney General Gary King (D) may be looking to move up the office chain in Sante Fe.

NEW YORK: Not only is the Republican Party mostly moribund in the Empire State (outside the State Senate), but Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s popularity is sky-high. He should have an easy reelection as he eyes a possible presidential bid in 2016.

OHIO: For a long while, it looked as though Gov. John Kasich (R) would be a one-termer, but his popularity has gradually recovered along with the Ohio economy. He will start the 2014 campaign as at least a slight favorite. His predecessor, Democrat Ted Strickland (D), wants revenge for Kasich’s defeat of him in 2010, and other Democrats such as federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director (and former state Attorney General) Richard Cordray, Rep. Tim Ryan, and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald might also be considering runs. Our early bet is on a Kasich continuation.

OKLAHOMA: Gov. Mary Fallin (R) governs a state that twice denied Barack Obama victory in a single county. She’s the incumbent, she’s a Republican, she’s anti-Obama, and she’ll likely be reelected to a second term.

OREGON: Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) is yet another gubernatorial retread, having first served from 1995 to 2003 before returning for a third term as of 2011. Already Oregon’s longest-serving governor, Kitzhaber will likely seek and win a fourth in 2014. His very informal demeanor — he wears jeans and no necktie — and his non-political occupation, physician, appear to match up well with the Oregon electorate. And of course he’s a Democrat. Oregon used to be the most GOP-leaning of the West Coast states, but as in California and Washington, Republicans are an endangered species.

PENNSYLVANIA: The tradition in Pennsylvania, operative since 1954, is eight years of Democratic governors followed by eight years of Republican governors. No one stays long enough to get (too) corrupt. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is going to test that proposition in 2014. Elected in 2010, Corbett has not found his sea legs yet, and was caught up a bit in the awful Penn State sex abuse scandal — the old “what did he know, when did he know it, what did he do about it?” routine. Tradition dies hard, and Corbett may well pull out his reelection, but this is one to watch as Democrats try to find the right candidate. Among others, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, incoming state Attorney General Kathleen Kane and state Auditor General Jack Wagner may throw their Democratic hats in the ring; former state Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger is already in the race. Former Rep. and failed 2010 Senate nominee Joe Sestak (D) may also be interested. Corbett might also face a primary challenge; Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor (R) is considering a run.

RHODE ISLAND: Arguably the most Democratic state, Rhode Island has an independent governor, Lincoln Chafee, elected in a three-way race in 2010 with just 36% of the vote. Chafee was a former liberal GOP U.S. senator from the state who was defeated for reelection in 2006. Chafee endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, so his success two years later wasn’t ideological apostasy. This has been a rough time economically for Rhode Island, and Chafee hasn’t had an easy go of it. Poll ratings have been decidedly mixed, so Chafee’s survival, assuming he runs again, will depend upon the mix of candidates. On the Democratic side, former state Auditor Ernie Almonte has already announced while Treasurer Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and former state Attorney General Patrick Lynch could also be in the hunt for the Democratic nomination. On the GOP side, Portsmouth businessman and 2010 nominee John Robitaille and Brendan Doherty, who ran an aggressive campaign against harried Rep. David Cicilline (D) in November, could be two people to watch.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is a classic Tea Party executive who has pleased her base but had a controversial tenure overall; her most recent troubles involve a hacking incident that exposed up to 4.5 million state tax records. Narrowly elected in 2010, Haley is the Palmetto State’s first woman and Indian-American governor, and her middling approval rating suggests she’s vulnerable. It is not clear whether Haley will have a free pass in the GOP primary in 2014; factional politics are intense in the state’s GOP, in part because it is the dominant party and controls all significant elective positions. Treasurer Curtis Loftis (R) or state Sen. Tom Davis (R) might challenge Haley in a primary, and Haley’s 2010 general election opponent, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D), might make another run in 2014; his 47% wasn’t bad for a Democrat in South Carolina.

SOUTH DAKOTA: Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) succeeded a fellow Republican governor, Mike Rounds, in 2010, having served as Rounds’ lieutenant governor. Little has happened that would suggest Daugaard won’t be the strong favorite again in 2014.

TENNESSEE: A former mayor of Knoxville, Gov. Bill Haslam (R) won his first term in 2010 and has governed as a moderate-conservative more focused on economic matters than hot-button social issues. That hasn’t pleased all the members of his increasingly conservative state party, but on the whole, Haslam appears to be well positioned for a second term. Once a highly competitive place, the Volunteer State is now home mainly to Republicans; Democrats control little that matters, and President Obama couldn’t even crack 40% of the vote here in 2012.

TEXAS: Governor-for-Life Rick Perry will have his title tested in 2014. Already the longest-serving governor in Texas history, having succeeded President-elect George W. Bush in December 2000, Perry has indicated he will run for yet another term. It is possibly a stalling action, preventing lame-duck status, but then again, Perry also hankers after another run for president — which would be assisted for fundraising purposes by incumbency in Texas. Perry crashed and burned in his first presidential run earlier this year, and his brand of hardcore conservatism may not be what the national GOP needs more of. Even in Texas, the Republican natives are getting restless, and lots of ambitious GOP politicos want their turn at the governor’s mansion. There is talk of state Attorney General Greg Abbott challenging Perry in the party primary, and there may be others. Of course, Perry whipped a formidable foe in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary; retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison had been expected to defeat Perry and become the first Republican woman governor of Texas. (Ma Ferguson in the 1920s and then Ann Richards in the 1990s were the first and second Lone Star woman governors, both Democrats.) Instead, Rick Perry has outlasted all his foes — so far. And if he gets the Republican nomination again in 2014, he probably won’t have to worry about any Democrat in blood-Red Texas.

VERMONT: The only state other than New Hampshire that elects a governor every two years, the Green Mountain state tends to defer to its incumbents. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) easily won his second term in 2014, and assuming he runs again in 2014, he’ll be favored. Once a rock-ribbed Republican state, Vermont is now one of the most liberal and Democratic. Occasionally a Republican can win, as Gov. Jim Douglas did for several terms, but only moderate Republicans need apply.

VIRGINIA (2013): The candidates are falling like flies. First, former Gov. and current U.S. Sen. Mark Warner declined to run for governor again. Then Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), at one point the designated successor to Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), dropped out of the race, followed on Wednesday by ex-Rep. Tom Perriello’s (D) decision not to run. Apparently — barring other candidates entering or Bolling choosing to run as an independent, as he has hinted — the party nominees will be former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe (D) and state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R). Neither is the kind of contender who usually succeeds in becoming Virginia’s governor. McAuliffe lost the party gubernatorial primary handily four years ago, when he was expected to win. Mainly known for raising vast sums of political money from the wealthy and being close friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton, his connections to Virginia are few, and he has never held elective office. Meanwhile, Cuccinelli is about as conservative and Tea Party as a politician gets. A former state senator who won the AG’s post easily in 2009, Cuccinelli is a firebrand who has railed against abortion rights, gay rights and the existence of climate change. At the same time, he has positioned himself as a crusader for individual rights and consumer protection. One could argue that the Republican is favored, because turnout in 2013 will drop drastically from the high levels that twice delivered Virginia’s electoral votes to Barack Obama. Since 1977, Virginia has consistently voted for the gubernatorial candidate of the party opposite to the party holding the White House. And the last time a party held the Governor’s Mansion for just one four-year term was in the 1880s. The GOP only recaptured Richmond in 2009 after eight years of Democrats, so they are “due” another victory. But the Cuccinelli candidacy will test these rules of the road. The McAuliffe-Cuccinelli choice (if it turns out that way) is between two highly intelligent yet extremely ambitious and polarizing politicians, and it will leave many Virginians cold, because voters in this moderate state usually shy away from hard partisans and fire breathers. The only tradition that may be secure on account of this contest is Virginia’s last-in-the-nation gubernatorial term limit; it’s four years as governor and out, with no consecutive reelection permitted. Sometimes ancient constitutional provisions — this one dates to 1851 — come in handy.

WISCONSIN: It’s a tale of two parties in the Badger State, one (Republicans) doing better in off-year elections and the other (Democrats) dominating in presidential years. Months before President Obama easily carried Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) won his special recall election. With two successful gubernatorial elections under his belt, Walker is well established (if controversial) in his state, and one of the best-known governors in the country. He may well have 2016 presidential ambitions, but first another potentially grueling contest for governor awaits. Walker is the favorite but can take nothing for granted. Potential challengers include Rep. Ron Kind (D) and ex-Sen. Russ Feingold (D), but truthfully, it’s hard at this point to see a top-flight Democrat take the plunge after Walker survived the recall. One potential dark cloud for Walker is an ongoing investigation into some staffers from Walker’s time as Milwaukee County executive.

WYOMING: If Gov. Matt Mead (R) wants a second term, and we assume he does, he’s got it in this heavily Republican state.

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There are enough tantalizing dishes cooking in these 36 states to keep political junkies coming back to the table again and again for the next two years. New Jersey and Virginia are hefty appetizers in 2013, and Florida and Texas are filling entrees for 2014 — with plenty of side dishes for every regional taste. More than a few presidential candidates are on the menu too, the obvious ones for 2016 and potential contenders for 2020 and beyond. As you can tell, we’re hungry now and need to eat, but the Crystal Ball will revisit these races with you many times in coming months. Bon Appétit!