House and Senate choices reflect the attitude about voters toward Washington. Votes for governor tend to be a more personal, and oftentimes more politically revealing.
Look at California. Two female, Republican former tech CEOs are running for statewide office, and while voters may be open to the idea of a Republican senator to bring Washington into balance, they seem to have decided rather sharply that they want a Democrat, and a rather liberal one at that, governing the state.
Or consider West Virginia, where the conflict is embodied in the person of Joe Manchin. Mountain State voters so much like their moderate Democrat governor that they may deny him the chance to go to the Senate. Republicans have been rather blatant on the question, urging voters to keep Manchin "in Charleston" which will also "send a message to Obama."
Especially in tidal elections like this one, gubernatorial races are generally better barometers of a state's true political character. National trends may tip close contests, but governor's races are generally intensely local in character.
Gubernatorial races also show us regional splits within parties. Mike Beebe of Arkansas probably has less in common on policy issues with Jerry Brown of California than Brown does with Republican opponent Meg Whitman, but Beebe and Brown will both likely win as Democrats this fall. That's a warning sign for their party.
This year, there are 37 governorships on the ballot - 16 currently held by Republicans, 19 currently held by Democrats and one currently held by independent Charlie Crist of Florida.
With post-Census redistricting and a presidential election looming, the winners of these contests will have a great deal to say about what future cycles look like.
There are 11 Republican governorships unlikely to go Democratic this year, including, Utah, Nebraska, Idaho, Alaska, South Dakota, South Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and Texas.
Similarly, there are five Democratic-held governorships that are very unlikely to budge: New Hampshire, Maryland, Colorado, New York and Arkansas. In all three other than New York, there are incumbent Democratic governors seeking reelection in Democrat-leaning states. In overwhelmingly Democratic New York, the state Republican Party continues to be very poor at picking candidates, even after two consecutive scandal-soaked Democratic chief executives.
These races, though, may still be of interest, especially those that affect other contests. For example, the direly unsuccessful gubernatorial candidacy of Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, may hurt his father's reelection chances. Or the thrashing Republican John Snyder is getting ready to dish out in Michigan may help tip an extra House seat or two to the GOP. Nothing takes the wind out of a state party's sails like the foreknowledge of a big defeat for governor, especially in a place like Michigan where a Democrat has been in control in Lansing since 2002. Michigan is perhaps the best case study for how the enthusiasm gap is sinking down ballot Democrats.
Colorado is something of a special case this year, as the GOP nominee, Dan Maes, has stumbled from the outset and is being trounced in the polls not just by Democrat John Hickenlooper, but by American Constitution Party standard bearer Tom Tancredo. It's a good year for Colorado Republicans and a better Republican candidate almost certainly would have won.
Tancredo, who is still a Republican but running what began as a protest candidacy against Maes, says he can compete. And while Republicans like Rep. Doug Lamborn and others are endorsing Tancredo, it's hard to imagine that Maes won't draw enough generic Republican support to give Hickenlooper a victory.
Blue to Red
There are 11 governorships currently held by Democrats that seem almost certain to swing to the GOP. Some are returning to their political roots, like Wyoming, Tennessee and Kansas, after dabbling with Democrats. Oklahoma is in the process of completing a switch to bright-red Republican.
Others are true swing states where local woes and national trends are conspiring in Republicans' favor, like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa. These are instances where the same dynamics that are hurting national Democrats in Washington are hurting statehouse Democrats too.
In Ohio, we see the national versus local theme play out again as incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland has been able to stay in the race with Republican challenger John Kasich while Strickland's Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher is getting blown out in his Senate bid.
Democratic states Michigan and Illinois seem assured to go Republican this year because of high dissatisfaction with existing Democratic administrations. In Michigan, it's economic collapse. In Illinois it's a bad economy and pernicious corruption.
New Mexico mostly seems to be a referendum on outgoing Democratic governor Bill Richardson, who is leaving office with low job approval, charges of corruption against many in his administration and a poor economy. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish seems unable to outrun Richardson's negatives in her races against Republican Susanna Martinez.
Red to Blue
Democrats seem likely to snag five governorships from Republicans. These are all blue states that managed to elect Republicans in recent years who are now term-limited or retiring. This category includes Rhode Island, Minnesota, Connecticut, California and Hawaii.
It's no surprise to see Democrats winning in all of these states, but for Republicans it's somewhat frustrating to see independent candidacies by former Republicans jeopardizing their chances.
In Minnesota, former GOP operative Tom Horner left the Republican Party complaining of radicalism and won the endorsement of the state's Independence Party, which has a platform that sounds like a dispatch from Lake Wobegon. With the backing of several prominent moderate Republicans, Horner has managed to poll consistently in the double digits, just enough to deny Republican state Rep. Tom Emmer a victory over Democratic nominee former Sen. Mark Dayton.
In Rhode Island, former Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee is running in second place, ahead of Republican John Robitaille, but the effect is the same: a split Republican vote and a Democratic victory. Chafee may consider it a distinction that President Obama has withheld his endorsement of the Democratic nominee out of deference to the GOP-bashing former senator, but Democrat Frank Caprio telling a radio host that when it comes to his endorsement Obama can "shove it" will probably go farther with Ocean State voters.
Of the 31 states that show clear leanings, Republicans have the edge in 22 contests, and Democrats are favored in 10, leaving six in the "toss-up" category.
Since the GOP has six incumbent governors who don't have to run this year, Republicans need to win three of the toss ups in order to reach the goal of 30 governorships laid out by Haley Barbour, head of the Republican Governors Association.
Democrats, meanwhile, have seven incumbent governors who aren't up for election this year and have the edge in 10 contests on the ballot. Even if they run the table in the toss-up category, Democrats would hold only 22 governorships, just one more than Republicans did after substantial back-to-back losses in 2006 and 2008.
The biggest prize in the toss-up category is Florida, which will likely add two seats in redistricting and be key to both parties 2012 plans. But this race may not be a toss-up for much longer.
Republican Rick Scott has mostly survived early questions about this conduct while leading a mega hospital chain that was busted for Medicare over-billing. Democrat Alex Sink, meanwhile, has gone from benign public office holder as the state's chief financial officer. Scrutiny of her investment decisions and awarding insurance licenses to felons have both damaged her reputation. Scott also got a belated endorsement from his foe in a bitter GOP primary, Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is fresh off his initial victory in a lawsuit to block the implementation of parts of President Obama's national health-care law.
The only Republican-held state in the toss-up category is Vermont, where incumbent Gov. Jim Douglas is retiring and Lt. Gov Brian Dubie is trying to hold the seat for the GOP.
Vermonters are an odd lot when it comes to state politics. They are quite conservative fiscally and very liberal socially, and both parties reflect those values. Douglas is a staunch supporter of civil unions for gay couples, while his Democratic predecessor, Howard Dean, takes pride in defeating every tax increase proposed in his tenure.
There's little polling in the state, but Dubie seems to have an advantage over state Democratic State Sen. Peter Shumlin. Of course, if any state in the Union would be impervious to a Republican wave, it would be Vermont.
There are three Democratic held seats in the toss-up column: Oregon, Massachusetts and Maine.
Republican Paul LePage seems likely to win in Maine. His mavericky and folksy style have given the Tea Party-backed GOPer a steady, if small lead over Democrat state Sen. Libby Mitchell.
But Independent candidate Eliot Cutler, an acolyte of Maine's longtime Senator Edmund Muskie, makes the race more complicated. Cutler seems to be drawing support from left (he is a staunch environmentalist) and right (he is a hard-line opponent of spending increases). But in the end, Cutler will likely do most harm to Mitchell.
Oregon seems to be a true dead heat between Republican former NBA player Chris Dudley and Democratic former governor John Kitzhaber. The two have been essentially tied in polls for weeks.
Oregon does all of its voting by mail, so the election essentially has already taken place. Ballots must be in the hands of election officials by Nov. 2, so many, if not most of them, have already been mailed.
The Democratic incumbent, Gov. Ted Kulongski, is wildly unpopular in this bluish-purple state, leading the party to return to two-term Kitzhaber, who left office in 2002. Dudley has worked hard to show that he is more than an extremely tall man with a famous name.
This can be expect to go right down to the wire.
In Massachusetts, the independent candidacy of state treasurer Tim Cahill has been the only thing saving incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick in his battle with Republican Charlie Baker.
Cahill bolted the Democratic Party complaining of fiscal liberalism and Patrick's tax policy. He was in tune with the state's sentiment and started out as a contender, leaving Baker, a hospital executive, out of luck.
But Cahill's candidacy has steadily lost steam, putting Patrick, whose job approval ratings remain poor amid anger over high taxes, back in peril. Political pros will be watching this race closely as Patrick, a client of David Axelrod and whose 2006 candidacy presaged Obama's 2008 run.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.