After a breathless summer of Republicans predicting massive gains in November's gubernatorial races, they should take a collective breath today. Despite powerful historic trends that favor the party out of power, each of today's races highlights why Democrats are on offense -- even in one of the worst political environments since 1994.
Democrats have even or better odds of winning each of the four key states on the ballot today, three of which are pick-up opportunities. Today's primaries offer critical early insights into the choice voters will face in November: move forward with a candidate focused on jobs and the economy or backward with a candidate who is more interested in playing politics and satisfying the out-of-touch demands of his party's fringe.
However today's elections play out, Democrats will be in better shape after voters go to the polls.
Colorado (open seat)
Perhaps no state better exemplifies the cost of the GOP civil war. The most important Republican in the race won't even be on today's ballot. Five-term former Congressman Tom Tancredo, a virulent mouthpiece of the radical right, is splitting his party's loyalties and running as a candidate of the American Constitution Party.
Tancredo was drawn into the race after the Keystone Kops antics of the official GOP contenders. Standard-bearer Scott McInnis was crippled with revelations of serial plagiarizing. Political neophyte and alleged campaign finance violator Dan Maes then drew even with the former Congressman in polling. The two are now neck-and-neck to be named the lesser of two evils.
Away from the GOP fray, Democratic Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, long an independent voice for commonsense solutions and job creation, is soaring in polls and his fundraising is far outpacing that of his divided GOP opponents.
While we expect this race will get closer in the coming weeks, Republicans face a long and difficult road ahead.
Connecticut (pick-up opportunity)
Voters in blue Connecticut aren't likely to find much of anything appealing in either GOP contender.
Republican frontrunner Tom Foley squandered a 25-point as news reports revealed that he laid off hundreds of employees and overstated his work in Iraq. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele offers a uniquely cynical and unattractive combination of conservatism and inaction. Fedele often touts his conservative beliefs, but did nothing to prevent a massive tax hike or stop government growth.
Democrats Ned Lamont and Dan Malloy have gone through a vigorous primary over the issues, and either starts with a lead over the damaged Republican nominee.
Georgia (pick-up opportunity)
The Georgia GOP run-off gave former Congressman Nathan Deal and "mama grizzly" Karen Handel a chance to elevate their race. Instead, they became chess pieces in a national proxy war between Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Next Gingrich, all the while heightening their vicious smears over ethics allegations and adherence to an out-of-touch radical ideology.
Multiple polls in the past several weeks show the race in a dead heat, as former Governor Roy Barnes tours the state offering his vision to create job and end the special interest focus at the Capitol. Republicans are fighting over tired social issues while Barnes is talking about putting Georgia back to work.
Minnesota (pick-up opportunity)
Any one of the Democrats on the ballot would defeat the GOP's radical nominee by double digits, according to all of the latest polling.
A virtual unknown, Republican Tom Emmer's debut has been rocky, as his extreme agenda comes to light. Amid one of the worst recessions our country has faced, Emmer suggested lowering wages for waiters and waitresses - even saying that they make $100,000 a year. His stumble resulted in this memorable town hall. Emmer's radial social views have led to a national embarrassment for Target Corp., as the company is facing a boycott after contributing $150,000 to elect him.
On top of Emmer's out-of-touch social agenda, he also promises to offer four more years of Tim Pawlenty's failed economic policies.
Emmer's fundraising has been anemic, and a staff shakeup appears to have made little difference in moving his numbers. As a fringe candidate trying to appeal to moderate Minnesota voters, we see little reason to believe that Emmer can turn the tide before November.
Even Republicans who have made it out of their primaries can't escape the demands of their fringe base this election cycle (we saw yet another example last week as Meg Whitman continued to bicker with primary opponent Steve Poizner two months after their primary.) We expect this trend to continue, especially with states like Florida remaining on the calendar.