2006 ELECTIONS 'Super Bowl of governors races'

Thirty-six states will elect governors next year.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Money, ambition and hype are rising fast for a slew of governors races that voters will decide next year, with allegations in Florida of mismanaging money and charges flying over job losses and outsourcing in Michigan.
Presidential politics aside in this state where the first caucuses are held, most of the dozens of governors, gathered here for a long weekend, looked to 2006, when three out of every four states will elect their leaders.
"People recognize that 2006 is the Super Bowl of governors races," said Iowa's Tom Vilsack, a two-term Democratic governor who is not seeking re-election. "You've got governors races in all parts of the country; you've got them in very key, very critical states that will play a crucial role in 2008."
It's not just a numbers game, with two elections this fall and 36 a year later. Governors shape much of the nation's domestic policy and can play key roles in the presidential race, especially if it's close.
Currently, Republicans hold a majority of governors seats, 28-22. Democrats are defending both open seats this fall, in New Jersey and Virginia.
But next year, 24 of the 36 contests will be for seats now held by the GOP. All six of the term-limited seats are held by Republicans. Vilsack's retirement will create the lone open Democratic seat.
That makes the odds likelier that Republicans will lose seats. "There's no question the landscape is not favorable," said GOP Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who is deciding between seeking a second term or making a bid for the presidency.
Contested seats
The largest states will see contests. Florida has an open seat, since GOP Gov. Jeb Bush is term-limited. New York's three-term Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, is exploring a possible presidential bid while popular Democratic Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is raising millions for his shot at governor. California GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has seen his popularity numbers drop, giving Democrats hope.
Several freshmen governors will face tough tests, including Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a rising Democratic star. Dick DeVos, the son of a co-founder of Amway Corp. with a personal fortune at the ready, has said he will run.
And governors' impact on presidential politics is never out of the picture, with elections in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Colorado. National and issue-oriented groups are all strategizing.
"We're very focused on these governors races," Karen White, executive director of Emily's List, said from Washington. Her group works to elect pro-choice, Democratic women. "We'll help them with the resources they need early on and then with their races."
Her group expects to raise more than 2004, when it spent nearly $11 million. The Republican Governors Association aims to spend at least $30 million. Democrats didn't provide a number.
This weekend, governors cross party lines to focus on policy, with Medicaid and improving high school education atop their list. But it began with partisan fundraisers and meetings with political consultants.

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