The off-year gubernatorial contests are often the first real opportunity for a party out of power to get back some momentum. That is especially true for Republicans this year, when everything else has gone sour: The GOP lost an almost-sure-thing House seat in a heavily Republican New York district vacated by now-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; and the Republicans might lose another seat with the departure of House Republican John McHugh (N.Y.) to the Obama administration.
Virginia has been trending blue, but the combination of an open contest for governor, a strong consensus Republican nominee and a hotly contested Democratic primary gives state Republicans real hopes of winning back a seat that has eluded them for the past two gubernatorial elections. In New Jersey, a bad economy has contributed to poor numbers for incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine, leaving the GOP well positioned.
Twin victories, coming just as the serious fundraising for the 2010 midterm congressional and state legislative elections is ramping up, and just as the key candidate recruitment season is underway, would be a big boost. Conversely, losing one or both would reinforce the image of the GOP as a party on the wane, unable to build a coalition beyond its bedrock right fringe. For the Democrats, losing two prime statehouses would be painful, but no cause for alarm or reason to fear that their party base--growing handsomely among young voters, Hispanics and Asians, and overwhelmingly strong with African Americans--is in danger of shrinking.
Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at AEI.