Favored Republican gubernatorial candidates were recently upended with the help of Tea Party advocates in primaries in Colorado and Florida. So no one is ruling out the possibility of upsets when voters in seven states go to the polls tomorrow (September 14), in the last big set of primaries of the 2010 election season.
Democrats already have presumed nominees for governor in open races in New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin, while incumbents are running in Maryland, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. That leaves all the drama to the Republican side , particularly in Wisconsin and New York.
After tomorrow, voters in all but one state will have decided their nominees for the 37 governorships that are up for grabs this November. Hawaii voters will go the polls September 18 to decide candidates for replacing Linda Lingle, a Republican who can't run again because of term limits.
Meanwhile in Vermont, voters cast their ballots two weeks ago, but the Democratic gubernatorial nomination was not settled until Friday. A recount in the five-way race showed state Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin won by 197 votes. He will face Republican Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie in November.
Two conservatives battle in Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination between Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former U.S. Representative Mark Neumann appears to have tightened in the past week.
"If Neumann wins, it would be a big upset," says Charles Franklin, co-developer of Pollster.com and a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Walker's recent decision to issue attack ads — after ignoring Neumann for much of the race — has political experts wondering if internal polling numbers show Walker's lead narrower than many think. "There's a mountain of speculation," Franklin says. The winner will face Democrat Tom Barrett , the mayor of Milwaukee, in November.
In New York, Carl Paladino , a wealthy Buffalo businessman, hopes that appealing to Tea Party voters will help him win the Republican nomination for governor over Rick Lazio , a former U.S. Congressman. Among likely GOP voters, Lazio leads 47-to-35 percent over Paladino, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll .
However, 18 percent polled said they were undecided. And 49 percent of those who did name a candidate told Quinnipiac their preference could waver. "With many of his supporters open to changing their minds, Rick Lazio has a shaky lead," Maurice Carroll, the director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a statement with the poll results. The winner will face Andrew Cuomo , the state attorney general, who in recent polls has had big leads over both Lazio and Paladino.
Meanwhile in Maryland, political newcomer Brian Murphy will find out if the surprise endorsement he received last month from Sarah Palin boosts his efforts to best former Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr . in the GOP primary.
In an August 24 poll by OpinionWorks, the first to ask about Maryland's GOP primary, 13 percent of likely GOP primary voters said they favored Murphy over Ehrlich, The (Baltimore) Sun reported. In a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than two to one, a Tea Party or Palin endorsement may hurt, not help him, experts say.
Year of upsets
The 2010 primary season already has seen its share of surprises. In Florida , Rick Scott, a wealthy former hospital executive and political outsider, stunned the Republican establishment by winning the party's nomination for governor last month.
Scott defeated Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a 20-year congressman who had the backing of national Republicans. During the campaign, the Republican Governors Association, which normally does not wade into its own party primaries, issued a rebuke of a Scott ad aimed at McCollum. The RGA's statement congratulating Scott for his victory was described by MSNBC as " tepid ." Scott will face Alex Sink, Florida's Democratic chief finance officer, in the November general election.
In Colorado, Dan Maes, a businessman with no political background, grabbed the GOP nomination for governor last month after beating former U.S. Representative Scott McInnis, thanks to Tea Party support. Maes will challenge Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, in November.
Meanwhile in Maine, Waterville Mayor Paul LePage , a favorite of many in the Tea Party movement, admitted being surprised that he beat out six other candidates to become the Republicans candidate for governor. This fall, he will face Democrat Libby Mitchell , the state Senate president, as well as three independents, including Eliot Cutler , a former Democrat who worked in the Carter administration.
Elsewhere on the last big primary day of 2010:
In New Hampshire, four candidates are running for the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Governor John Lynch ,who has a 55 percent job approval rating . John Stephen , the former Health and Human Services Commissioner, is considered the frontrunner. Also running is businessman Jack Kimball , a Navy veteran active in the Tea Party movement; Republican activist Karen Testerman ; and state Representative Frank Emiro .
In Rhode Island, John Robitaille , the former communications director for Republican Governor Carcieri, faces former state Representative Victor Moffitt for the GOP nomination. The winner will go against Democrat Frank Caprio , the state treasurer; Lincoln Chafee , a former Republican U.S. Senator who is running as an independent; and Ken Block of the Moderate Party.
In Massachusetts, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick already knows who he is running against: Republican Charlie Baker , a former health care executive , as well as State Treasurer Tim Cahill , who is running as an independent.
Delaware voters will also go to the polls, not to pick candidates for governor but for statehouse and federal races. One of the biggest races involves a former governor, U.S. Representative Mike Castle, who is running against Christine O'Donnell, a Tea Party candidate who also won Palin's endorsement.