Two months ago, we launched a new feature at Daily Kos Elections with our inaugural edition of the U.S. Senate "power rankings", a list of the ten most intriguing and competitive Senate races that everyone will be paying attention to come November. Last month, we followed up with a new set of power rankings for the three dozen or so gubernatorial races which will determine the chief executives of roughly three-fourths of the states in the Union.
This weekend, we take a bit more expansive view of things, with the maiden edition of the Daily Kos Elections Power Rankings for all 50 states. The competitiveness of the Senate and gubernatorial elections factor in here, as well. But they are supplemented by an examination of competitive U.S. House races, as well as casting an eye on the often overlooked (but no less critical) battles for the control of state legislative chambers across the country.
So, without further fanfare, if you head across the jump, you will find the ten states that, top to bottom, offer the most intriguing menu for the electoral junkie come November the 4th.
For those interested in the criteria, a full explanation is at the close of this summary of the top ten. Also, for those interested in having a little fun, our now customary quiz for the true election misfits in the crowd is as follows: there are a total of 11 states that have, at least at this moment, now apparently competitive contests. Try to identify as many as you can. Fun fact: two of those 11 states have at least ten electoral votes for president, so we aren't just talking about the smaller states in the Union.
Nor, as you will see, are the top ten states in the power rankings confined to just the "big states" in terms of population. As you will see, big things will come in small packages, come Election Day.
With that in mind, here is the list:
#10—ILLINOIS (18 points—Six competitive contests)
Few states had a more dramatic couple of cycles, in terms of competitiveness and flux, than the Land of Lincoln. After two coin-flip statewide races in 2010 (where the Democrats escaped with the control of the governor's mansion, but narrowly lost a tight U.S. Senate race), a rare Democratic-friendly remap led to a drubbing of several GOP U.S. House incumbents in 2012.
In 2014, the aforementioned gubernatorial escape artist (Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn) is back to see if he has another narrow win in him, and several of those first-term Democrats face competitive contests. For Democrats, their hope here is to hold onto that governorship (though polls on that are mixed, at best), and to hold steady in the U.S. House. In a dream scenario, the Democrats could even net a U.S. House seat here, as freshman Republican Rodney Davis is facing a tough re-election against Democrat Ann Callis.
#9—CALIFORNIA (18 points—Ten competitive contests)
California lacks a U.S. Senate race, and their gubernatorial race has yet to show signs of real competitiveness. Meanwhile, the only intrigue in the state legislature deal with the ability to maintain Democratic supermajorities, as their control of both chambers is assured for the foreseeable future.
So how did California make its way into the top ten? Because, courtesy of the state's independent commission, the state of play in the House will be largely defined by the Golden State. Democrats, as elsewhere, do not have a ton of opportunities for inroads here. But they have some, and their ability to make some headway in California, coupled with their ability to defend no less than a half dozen imperiled seats of their own in the state, will speak volumes about whether this cycle preps them well for 2016, or digs them into a deeper hole.
#8—ARIZONA (19 points—Five competitive contests)
I will be the first to admit it: the inclusion of Arizona in the top ten was a genuine surprise. And, admittedly, it might be a score that is a little bit inflated. Arizona got credit for a competitive state legislative chamber, because it will only take a small shift in the state Senate for the Democrats to seize control. Alas, a microanalysis of the contests in Arizona's upper chamber of the lege make it a bit tough to see where they cobble together the small handful of seats that they need. Not impossible, mind you, but less tempting a target than you would ordinarily consider a 17-13 GOP edge.
But that lone chamber of the lege is not the only reason why Arizona made the cut. You have two coin-flip U.S. House races (unfortunately for Democrats, both are being defended by their incumbents: Ann Kirkpatrick and Ron Barber). At the same time, you have one of the real sleeper races of the year: a largely undefined (as yet) gubernatorial race where polls have shown that the likely Democratic nominee (Fred DuVal) with a legitimate chance to snare the upset, especially if the late-developing GOP primary (scheduled for August) gets a little fugly.
#7—NEW HAMPSHIRE (19 points—Six competitive contests)
The unique nature of New Hampshire, as it happens, almost permanently nets them points for the competitiveness of the state legislature. With roughly a shit-ton seats in the state House (actually, the real number is 400) and just 24 in the state Senate, both of them are subject to flipping in virtually every election. This time around, with Democrats sitting in the vicinity of around 225 seats in the House, and down just 13-11 in the Senate, both chambers are something close to a coin flip.
Of course, that's not why most of the political press is casting an eye northward. For them, the Granite State is all about Shaheen-Brown. And while it is intriguing to see the former
Massachusetts extreme Southern New Hampshire Republican vie to see if he has a political second act in his new home, I'd actually put that one behind not just the showdown for control of the state lege, but also the two U.S. House races, which (as always) promise to be very closely contested.
#6—MINNESOTA (19 points—Eight competitive contests)
Minnesota's inclusion on the list, quite frankly, is more about volume than anything else. As it happens, there is nary a tossup in the fairly broad list of competitive contests in the state, which is certainly a departure from recent history, when the state has been responsible for some of the closest contests in the nation.
Two of those very narrow winners, as it happens, are seeking re-election this year. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Democratic Sen. Al Franken are not absolute locks for re-election, but one has to think they're in a better position now than they were in 2010 and 2008, respectively. There are also four House seats that could be worth watching (with the Duluth-area showdown between freshman Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan and GOP businessman Stewart Mills in MN-08 appearing to be the most competitive of the bunch). Finally, while the Democrats have majorities in both legislative chambers that appear pretty sound, the GOP has held sway there in the very recent past, and a competitive battle for control cannot be completely discounted.
#5—MICHIGAN (22 points—Seven competitive contests)
Most of the attention in Michigan, as readers of our two other power rankings already knew, is centered on those gubernatorial and U.S. Senate contests that have been more or less solidified since the winter. And for good reason: the gubernatorial race has tons of potential, and while Democratic Senate hopeful Gary Peters has edged ahead of Republican Terri Lynn Land in the most recent polling, that one is still very much a priority for both the DSCC and the NRSC.
As has been the case in the past couple of cycles, the state also houses a handful of competitive U.S. House races. Primaries here, candidly, will go a long way toward determining just how competitive the House landscape in Michigan will be. If there is a ray of light for Democrats here, it is that they are entirely on offense in Michigan: all four competitive races are currently held by Republicans. Also, Republicans control the state lege (hence the fairly brutal gerrymander here), but that control, in the House at least, is close enough to be an alluring target for the Democrats.
#4—NEW YORK (23 points—Eight competitive contests)
New York makes the list despite having no statewide race that promises, on the surface, to be truly captivating. However, as readers here at Daily Kos Elections already know, that may not be the case for long. There is the pending question (which will be resolved, in all probability, this weekend) of whether the Working Families Party will spurn Cuomo and offer their own candidate for governor. If that happens, recent polling has shown that Cuomo's current polling lead, which stands at roughly 30 points over Republican Rob Astorino, will be cut by more than half. And even if he is shed of the headache of the WFP issue, he still may have another headache awaiting him, as his handpicked choice for Lt. Governor (former Congresswoman Kathy Hochul) may well receive a primary challenger to her left.
Elsewhere, there is a lot to grab the attention of election junkies. The Empire State has more tossup U.S. House races than any other state in the nation: three. The bad news for Democrats? They hold two of them (Tim Bishop's Long Island seat in NY-01, and the upstate seat in NY-21 held by the retiring Bill Owens). The good news for Democrats? Though it is a tossup, it is becoming harder and harder to see how Staten Island's Mike Grimm wins in NY-11, seeing how he continues to politically disintegrate. Meanwhile, the most interesting electoral story of them all in New York may well be the control of the state Senate, which is only in Republican hands courtesy of a renegade band of "Democrats" that bolted the caucus in a power-sharing arrangement. Not only are Democrats looking to earn a clean majority this time around, but they are also targeting some members of the so-called "IDC" (Independent Democratic Conference) with high-profile primary challenges. This one is going to get fun a long time before November.
#3—ARKANSAS (24 points—Five competitive contests)
After a few cycles of only mild interest (the big headline here in 2012 was the claiming of the state legislature by the GOP for the first time since shortly after the Earth cooled, or something), Arkansas suddenly becomes the hot destination for races this Fall.
At the top of the list are a pair of tossup statewide battles. In the battle for control of the U.S. Senate, arguably one of the most-watched races involves incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, as he has to defend his seat against GOP "rising star" Tom Cotton. Meanwhile, the term-limited exit of popular Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe sets the stage for a coin-flip battle between two former members of the House: Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson. Add to that a pair of Republican-held open House seats where Democrats recruited quite well (AR-02 and AR-04), and very narrow GOP control of the state House, where Republicans won't have the benefit of an unpopular Democratic president atop the ticket this time, and there is a ton on the table to attract attention in Arkansas.
#2—IOWA (24 points—Eight competitive contests)
Iowa has enough "holy crap" electoral intrigue that it was actually the subject of a piece a month ago. Yes, folks, any political reporter who waits until 2016 (err ... okay ... 2015) to worry about Iowa is missing the point. Big time.
Simply put, in 2014, Iowa has it all. A race that could be categorized as a sleeper (the gubernatorial race, where longtime GOP Gov. Terry Branstad could be in for the race of his life), plus a close race that everyone already has on their radar (the open-seat U.S. Senate race to replace veteran Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin). In addition, every single House seat in the state is competitive, to some extent. Add to that the fact that either state legislative chamber can flip with just four seats or less changing hands, and you have political junkie paradise, right there near the center of the country.
#1—COLORADO (27 points—Six competitive contests)
Come November, Colorado, like Iowa, promises to have a little bit of everything to attract the attention of the electoral observer. If the battle for control of the U.S. Senate is the biggest headline of the evening, Colorado may well have the closest contest on the docket. It is hard to find a poll between incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and challenger Cory Gardner (who represents the easternmost part of the state in the U.S. House) that doesn't rate the race as a tossup. Meanwhile, there is also a very interesting gubernatorial contest on tap (preceded by a pretty interesting GOP primary to establish the identity of the challenger to sitting Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is seen as the slight favorite for November).
Downballot, there is a lot of action on tap. One could make a compelling argument that the best pickup opportunity for the Democrats in the nation can be found in Colorado's 6th district, where veteran GOP Rep. Mike Coffman has to contend with Democratic former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff. And while Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, those majorities are far from overwhelming. What's more: recall elections in 2013 shaved the state Senate majority down to a single seat. That is a battle that will be well worth watching over the next few months.
Criteria:For those eager to see how well they know the truly uncompetitive electoral environments, here is your answer to our quiz question. The eleven states that failed to log a single point in this month's power rankings are: Alabama, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming.
The criteria for the state power rankings was based on a fairly simple point system. States were awarded points on the following basis (race ratings were culled from our DKE ratings for the House, Senate, and gubernatorial races):
- 8 points for a gubernatorial/U.S. Senate race deemed a tossup.
- 5 points for a "competitive" state legislature
- 4 points for a gubernatorial/U.S. Senate race deemed as "leaning" to a party.
- 4 points for a U.S. House race deemed a tossup.
- 2 points for a gubernatorial/U.S. Senate race deemed as "likely" for a party.
- 2 points for a U.S. House race deemed as "leaning" to a party.
- 1 point for a U.S. House race deemed as "likely" for a party.