While you've been focused on the presidential contest, you may have completely missed the fact that there are governors' races today too. So in case you’re just tuning in, here’s what you need to know about today’s least-noticed races. We spoke with a senior Democrat involved in the campaign, who gave us his take:
Montana -- One of the most watched races, it's a tossup to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer. The race pits Democratic state Attorney General Steve Bullock against former GOP congressman Rick Hill. Hill has a narrow lead in the polls, but has been embroiled in a campaign finance scandal that could hurt him. “I feel very good to even be in a 50-50 position in Montana,” our Democratic source said of the state that will go strong for Romney.
Washington -- Another tossup. Liberal Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee faces off against state Attorney General Rob McKenna (perhaps best known for doing the “Gangnam Style” dance). Polls show Inslee with a tiny lead, but it’s “tighter than I would like,” our Democrat said. In perhaps a bit of expectations lowering, he noted that while Washington seems liberal, the state has plenty of independents and said they may want to demonstrate their independence by voting Obama but against Democrats down ballot.
New Hampshire -- The Democratic Governors Association spent more money here than in any other state and they feel confident about their chances. Democratic Gov. John Lynch is retiring, leaving Democrat Maggie Hassan, the former majority leader of the state House, against Republican Ovide Lamontagne, a Tea Party activist who lost the GOP Senate primary in the state in 2010. Polls show Hassan up. “We’re going to win New Hampshire, and we’re going to outspend the [Republican Governors Association] RGA to win it, and that’s the story,” the democratic official said.
West Virginia -- This was a race where Republicans were expected to make a big play, given the conservative nature of the state, but ended up letting incumbent Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin run away with it.
North Carolina -- The state seemed competitive for a moment when Obama was stronger, but has since slipped out of reach for Democrats, according to most analysts. “We were never going to win North Carolina,” our source said.
Indiana -- Another state that could have been competitive for Democrats in a more favorable year. Some polls show Republican Rep. Mike Pence, who was a fixture on cable news after Republicans took the House in 2010, up by low double digits. Democrats say Pence was vulnerable, but they didn’t have the resources to overcome his war chest. “If I had RGA money, I would be playing in Indiana ... But I didn’t,” the Democratic official said. Still, there’s a chance Richard Mourdock, the state's Republican Senate candidate’s comments on rape could swing things unexpectedly and make this a “sleeper race," he said.
Missouri -- Incumbent Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon should cruise to victory here.
North Dakota -- A safe one for Republicans, where incumbent Gov. Jack Dalrymple is leading by over 30 points.
Utah -- Another super-safe GOP seat, with Gov. Gary Herbert up almost 40 points.
Vermont -- No sweat for popular incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is leading his Republican opponent by 30-plus points.
Delaware -- Another safe Dem seat, where incumbent Gov. Jack Markell is so strong there hasn't even been any polling.
American Samoa -- Tossup! Six independent candidates duke it out today and no knows what's going to happen.
Overall, the Democratic official said his party is doing far better than anyone expected it would be two years ago because the RGA dropped the ball. “This was a year of missed opportunities for Republicans,” he said, noting they have $30 million in the bank that they never spent. “They weren’t in it to win it." Democrats spent “every penny” they had and even “sold the furniture,” he joked. Part of this is a quirk in the way the two parties fundraise. Republican heavyweights like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie often raise money for the RGA, but it gets siloed off so that only they can use it, which hurts lesser-known Republicans.
Looking forward, 2013 will have two high-profile races. In Virginia’s open race next year, Democrats expect state Attorney General Cuccinelli will run against Democratic strategist Terry McAuliffe or Sen. Mark Warner, both of whom they think have a very good shot. In New Jersey, where Christie is expected to run again, many expect Newark Mayor Cory Booker to mount a bid.