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December 16, 2009

     Democrats See A GOP Free New England in 2011: Everyone, including D.C.'s Political Report, has been talking about the prospects of Republicans picking congressional seats currently held by retiring Democratic members of Congress. What has not been mentioned as much is the opportunity retiring Republican governors have given Democrats. Democrats already hold a slim majority of the governor's mansions across the country. But in three New England states, incumbent Republican governors are leaving states which tend to vote Democratic. Jim Douglas (R-VT), Jodi Rell (R-CT) and Don Carcieri (R-RI) are leaving office in 2011.

     Republicans best chance of retaining one of these seats is in Vermont. Lieutenant Governor Brian E. Dubie (R-VT), who has faced competitive contests every two years in office, is the likely Republican nominee. Democrats will choose their candidate in a primary. Five well-known and highly qualified Democrats are competing for the honor: state Senator Susan J. Bartlett (D-VT), former state Senator Matt Dunne (D-VT), Secretary of State Deborah L. Markowitz (D-VT), former Lieutenant Governor Douglas A. "Doug" Racine (D-VT) and state Senator Peter Shumlin (D-VT). Of the five, only Sue Bartlett has never run a statewide race before. Dubie defeated Dunn in 2006 and Shumlin in 2002 but the race for governor this year cannot be predicted on these earlier contests.

     In Connecticut, the popular incumbent M. Jodi Rell (R-CT), who would have been the favorite to win a third term, announced that she would not run for re-election. Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele (R-CT), who was elected on Rell's ticket, immediately announced that he would seek to continue Rell's record of accomplishments. But Fedele does not have a clear path to the Republican nomination. Former ambassador Tom Foley (R-CT) dropped out of the race for U.S. Senate and announced his intention to seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Also likely to join the fray is state Representative Lawrence F. Cafero, Jr. (R-CT), the minority leader in the state's legislature. Whoever win the nomination will become the underdog to the Democratic nominee. The only advantage for the Republicans comes from the prospect that the Democrats will also have a competitive nomination contest. Former state House Speaker James A. Amann (D-CT), Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D-CT), 2006 Senate nominee Ned Lamont (D-CT), the town of Ridgefield's First Selectman Rudy Marconi (D-CT), state Senator Gary D. LeBeau (D-CT) and former Stamford Mayor Dannel P. Malloy (D-CT) are running.

     Finally, in Rhode Island Republicans haven't even been able to field a candidate to replace Don Carcieri (R-CT) who is barred from seeking a third term as Governor. Their only announced candidate, businessman Riordan Smith (R-RI), dropped out of the race after several frustrating weeks of courting support for his candidacy. Smith concluded that his "limited political experience and political network in Rhode Island" would keep him "from running a fully competitive campaign." The Rhode Island GOP is now scrambling to find someone willing to carry the party banner. Complicating things for them is the independent candidacy of former U.S. Senator Lincoln D. "Linc" Chafee (I-CT). Chafee lost his re-election campaign in 2006 due in large part to the weakness of Republican brand. He has since left the party and endorsed Barack Obama (D-IL) for president last year. Chafee remains popular with the, albeit small, socially moderate wing of the GOP.

     Democrats are anxious to recapture the Governor's Mansion in Rhode Island. Despite the very liberal electorate, Democrats have not won a gubernatorial contest in the Ocean State since 1992 when then Governor Bruce Sundlun (D-RI) was seeking re-election. They are expected to have strong field of primary candidates.

     (The general election could also see two minor party candidates in addition to Chafee. Robert J. Healey Jr. (I-RI) has resurrected his Cool Moose Party and the newly established Rhode Island Moderate Party is looking for a candidate to run.)

     Democrats currently hold New England's other governorships. In New Hampshire, John Lynch (D-NH) is favored to win re-election. It is hard to gage the race in Maine because, as of now, more than twenty candidates have announced their intentions to run in the 2010 gubernatorial election. Most political observers, however, give the Democrats the edge in retaining the office currently held by term-limited Governor John E. Baldacci (D-ME).

     Massachusetts could provide Republicans a slim chance to pick-up a governorship currently held by a Democrat. Incumbent Deval L. Patrick (D-MA) has struggled during his first term. The frontrunner for the Republican nomination is Harvard Pilgrim CEO Charles D. Baker (R-MA). But Baker has never held an important elected office and has little experience as a candidate. Moreover, the Republican establishment in Massachusetts is also in shambles. The party holds fewer than two dozen seats in the state legislatures. The GOP's hope is that an independent candidacy by state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill (I-MA) will strip enough Democratic votes away from Patrick to allow Baker to win with a plurality. Some polls, however, have Cahill running ahead of Baker, with the potential GOP nominee coming in third place.

     Victories in these New England states will likely offset Democratic loses in places like Oklahoma and Wyoming. After the 2010 mid-term election this region of the country, which once made up the bedrock of the Republican party, will be dominated by Democrats. It is possible for the first time in history for all six New England states to have Democratic governors at the same time.

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