Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Look at the 2007 Races

Now, that we are through one month of the year 2007, I intend to look at the three Gubernatorial contests which will be before the voters in three states once a month and discuss how I see those three races shaking out.

Kentucky Governor-

This is likely to be the most competitive and perhaps interesting of the three contests. It certainly will be crowded. Now, that the filing has recently closed in the Bluegrass State, with three Republican and seven, yes seven, Democrat tickets seeking the offices of Governor and Lt. Governor.

Incumbent Republican Ernie Fletcher remains highly vulnerable and GOP spirits were buoyed when former Congresswoman Ann Northup decided that she would seek the post, after much speculation that she was likely to pass. Also in the field is wealthy businessman Billy Harper, a county Board of Education chair. Harper is almost certain to finish a distant third, but his support could affect the overall outcome of the GOP primary in May. Defeating an incumbent in a primary is never easy, but much of the Republican establishment seems to be lining up behind Northup, as they consider her the best option for holding on to the Governorship. She may still have to work to get her name known in parts of the state beyond her Louisville Metro home base, but she should probably be considered at least a slight favorite to capture the nomination over Governor Fletcher.

As for the Democrats, there are certainly no shortage of men who want Fletcher’s job, but they may be thinking they have a few too many and the primary could be an ugly one. Of the seven total Democrat contenders, the main ones are former Lt. Governors Steve Beshear and Steve Henry, health care CEO Bruce Lunsford, state Treasurer Jonathan Miller, and State House Speaker Jody Miller. Some of those contenders also were able to recruit politically impressive running mates to join their ticket, who have held or currently hold statewide office.

With so many candidates running in both parties, there will be work needed to mend intra-party rifts once the nominees are decided in May. The party which does a better job at that task will probably have a leg up for November. The incumbent Governor is still in need of several breaks, and if he does somehow win the nomination, a weakened Democrat opponent may be his saving grace. Still though, on the basis of the fact that Northup has had so much previous success in the most Democrat favorable part of the state and her ability to paint herself as not being part of the various bipartisan scandals that have touched Frankfort in the past several years, would make her difficult to defeat statewide, if she runs a decent campaign.

February rating- Tossup (R)

Louisiana Governor-

Another very interesting race to watch is down in the Bayou, where embattled incumbent Democrat Governor Kathleen Blanco continues to push forward with what looks to be an uphill battle for reelection. In recent weeks, Blanco has ratcheted up the rhetoric against the federal government in an attempt to try to shift some of the burden of negative attention away from her role in dealing with Hurricane Katrina in 2005. With a filing deadline not until September, many Democrats still hope that a big name will emerge that could be successful in surpassing her as the top performing Democrat in the initial October round of voting in Louisiana’s unique jungle primary system. Currently, Blanco’s main Democrat opponent is State Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, but it looks like it would be difficult for him to pass Blanco in October.

While Republican State Senator Walter Boasso appears set to run for Governor, the far and away favorite of most Republicans in the state is Congressman Bobby Jindal, the 2003 nominee, who narrowly lost to Blanco. Jindal recently entered the race in a formal sense and some polls are showing him with a wide lead. If the Republican field is cleared of any other strong contenders, it is possible that Jindal could actually surpass 50 percent of the vote in the October jungle primary and avoid a runoff in November.

Jindal and the GOP have the edge in a state that may have lost a good deal of Democrat voters who were dispatched after the tragic storm, but there are still several months to go and worth watching to see who may jump in or jump out of this contest.

February rating- Leans Republican

Mississippi Governor-

The third contest looks like it will be the least competitive and the least interesting. Republican Governor Haley Barbour has remained mostly popular during his first term in office and appears to maintain a solid edge in this very conservative state. Democrats continue to hold out hope that they can recruit a strong challenger into this race, and much speculation continues to focus on former Governor Ray Mabus, who was defeated in a quest for a second term back in 1991. The way things stand at the moment, Barbour’s main Democrat opponent would be a former State Senator named Bill Renick.

February rating- Likely Republican