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August 25, 2008

Dem Govs Talk '08, '10 Strategy

Three top officials of the Democratic Governors Association say their organization is looking ahead to 2010, when thirty-six states will vote for governor. Raising the stakes even higher, at least eighteen of those states will be open seat contests thanks to retirements and term limits.

Governors Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Brian Schweitzer of Montana and Martin O'Malley of Maryland told reporters and delegates today that governors matter in a larger, national context. "If Ted Strickland had been the governor of Ohio four years ago, George Bush wouldn't have been the president of the United States now," Schweitzer said.

This year, with eleven seats up for election, Democrats are optimistic about making at least some progress. The three pointed to Missouri, where Attorney General Jay Nixon is running ahead of Republican Rep. Kenny Hulshof, as the strongest pickup potential. Indiana and Vermont, two states in which lesser-known Democrats are running against well-positioned Republican incumbents, are longer shots.

Democrats seem most worried about races in North Carolina, where Governor Mike Easley is term-limited, and Washington, where Governor Christine Gregoire faces a tough challenge from her 2004 opponent, former State Senator Dino Rossi.

In North Carolina, Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue, the Democratic nominee, is polling barely ahead of Republican Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory. Almost every poll has showed the race within the margin of error.

Gregoire, who won her 2004 race by just 130 votes, is the most vulnerable of the four Democratic incumbents running for re-election this year (Manchin, Schweitzer and New Hampshire Governor John Lynch are the other three). "Chris is in a very competitive race," Schweitzer said. "We're watching it very carefully."

Manchin, who chairs the association of twenty-eight Democratic governors, said he expects to have at least twenty-nine governors after inauguration season, though that number could be as high as thirty-one if Indiana and Vermont pan out.

The DGA and their GOP counterparts have each raised far more money this year than in any earlier cycle. O'Malley, the DGA's finance chairman, said the organization would surpass $20 million raised for the year and would likely aim for "north of" $20 million next year in order to fund the plethora of races up in 2010.

Putting Schweitzer next to any other politicians is always good for a few laughs, and the outspoken Montanan didn't disappoint today. Asked about John McCain's recent, and politically ill-advised, suggestion that a water agreement between Colorado and other Western states be renegotiated, Schweitzer put the water issue in context for non-Westerners: "In the West, whiskey's for drinkin' and water's for fightin'," he said.

Schweitzer also said that if John McCain picks a governor as a running mate, someone with executive experience won't necessarily give him a leg up on a ticket led by two Democratic Senators. "Boy, that'd shake up the world if McCain picked another white guy to be his vice president," Schweitzer said, dismissing the potential for Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to give the Arizonan a boost. "They're not going to bump him up, they're not going to bump him down. They're just going to be a bump."