Report

How the Economy May Sway 2010 Governors' Races

The tax hikes that so many states levied to plug holes in their recession-ravaged budgets this year could endanger a few incumbent governors' careers in 2010 when 37 gubernatorial contests are at stake.

The defeat Nov. 3 of one-term New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D), who signed nearly $1 billion in tax increases this year after pledging earlier to cut property taxes, could be a bellwether.  Experts caution against reading too much into one race. But a look back at the last big gubernatorial election year to fall in the midst of a state budget crisis—in 2002—showed voters were in a mood for change.

Four sitting governors were ousted in 2002, and party control flipped in 18 of the 36 governor's seats on the ballot. The GOP lost the governor's mansion in 10 states, while the Democrats lost in eight. Two open seats held by Independents went in 2002 to a Democrat and a Republican. Turnabouts occurred even where the incumbent's party traditionally had been strong, including Georgia, Kansas, Maryland and Tennessee. The handling of the economic downturn was a major factor in many of the 2002 races.

In that election, 22 seats were open, compared to 21 gubernatorial races without incumbents competing in 2010 — a number that still could change if more governors decide not to seek another term. Just last week, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut opted against seeking re-election. She took over in 2004 after GOP Gov. John Rowland stepped down to face corruption charges, and she was elected outright two years later.

Read the full report Economy to Sway 2010 Gov Races on Stateline.org