NEW YORK -- Democrats expect to take back the governor's office in New York this fall. And they have high hopes for Massachusetts, though Republicans have held that post for 15 years.
But Arkansas, held by Republicans for the past decade? Colorado, where Republicans were chosen in the last three presidential elections? Ohio, which has not elected a Democratic governor since 1986?
If the polls are accurate and a Democratic wave hits on Nov. 7, it seems poised to reach beyond Congress all the way to governor's mansions. With roughly a dozen seats in play, Democrats are well ahead or in a close contest in all of them. Nationwide, voters will elect 36 governors.
Democrats predict they will win a majority of governorships, reversing the GOP edge since 1994. Republicans, after years of celebrating their numerical advantage, now 28-22, are fighting to limit their losses.
"The math is troublesome and the overall environment is challenging for Republicans," said Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who visited at least five states in the past week to boost GOP gubernatorial hopefuls. "But we've got a number of really strong candidates who are fighting an uphill battle."
Political parties see national implications in governors' races. Strategists argue that an effective governor can help organize and promote the state party, which in turn can help deliver votes for Congress and the presidency. And governorships can cultivate future national leaders; four of the past five presidents have served as governor.
"Winning a majority of governorships is just as significant as us winning the House and Senate," said New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, head of the Democratic Governors Association. "That will help us in winning back the White House in '08."
Polls show Democrats well ahead in New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Arkansas, and Colorado, with close contests in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Maryland, and Nevada. That means Democrats are within reach of seven of the eight open seats where a Republican is leaving office. Only Idaho is looking solidly Republican.
In addition, Democrats are in the running to knock out two sitting Republican governors in Minnesota and Maryland. The only open Democratic seat, in Iowa, is too close to predict.
Republicans hoped to take seats held by Democrats in Michigan, Oregon, and Wisconsin.
In all three races, Democrats have pulled slightly ahead in recent weeks, though all remain close. The best news for the GOP is in California and Rhode Island, where Republican governors have pulled ahead.
Democrats need a net gain of four seats to win the narrowest of majorities with 26 governorships.
If Democrats end up with a majority, here is what it might mean in some of the states:
In Massachusetts, where Democrat Deval L. Patrick is ahead of Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey by more than 20 percentage points, the state would probably have one-party rule. Patrick has promised to cut inefficiencies in government, reduce gun crime, support a healthcare program the state recently approved, and pursue alternative energies.
In Ohio, Representative Ted Strickland, a Democrat with a commanding lead, has vowed to address the tax structure of school funding, an issue that Republicans in control of the Legislature have been unwilling to revisit, even though the state Supreme Court ruled the system unconstitutional.
In New York, Eliot Spitzer, well ahead in recent polls, has campaigned on raising school spending, closing hospitals to cut costs, and a promise not to raise taxes. With a GOP Senate and a Democratic Assembly, he will have to negotiate.