There is still more than half a year to go 'til America's mid-term elections. Democrats are already expecting major gains, especially at the level of state governors. I am not, yet, convinced.
Four years ago the Democrats made net gains. Term limits and retirements meant that most of the open seats being contested were previously held by Republicans. The Democrats have the same advantage this year, but if that is all that happens, not much of significance can be read into it. Despite net gains in 2002 the Democrats failed to oust their key Republican targets. For instance, they targetted Jeb Bush in Florida. Instead their incumbents in the neighbouring states of Georgia and Alabama were both defeated. In fact the only full-term incumbents defeated in 2002 were Democrats. A large number of states changed parties, including deep red states like Oklahoma and Wyoming, but these were both open elections.
This year, the Democrats top targets are New York and Massachusetts - deep blue states with open elections. Ohio, a purple state with an open election and a scandal-hit Republican governor, is also high on Howard Dean\'s target list. Florida - an open election this year - is another top target. But the incumbent Republican governors most at risk are Bob Ehrlich and Arnold Schwarzeneggar - both anomalous Republican governors in staunchly Democrat states.
By far the best results for the Democrats four years ago were in the major industrial states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois. All three are swing states, but leaning to the Democrat side, having voted for both Gore and Kerry. But these incumbent Democrats, all seeking re-election, seem to be under threat this year. If incumbent Democrat governors in Democrat-leaning states cannot get re-elected this year, it will be a bad result indeed for the party.