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Republicans Face Numbers Challenge in 2006 Governors Races

In 2006, nearly two dozen governors' offices now held by Republicans and more than a dozen others held by Democrats are going to be on state ballots. Those are odds sure to put Republicans on the defensive.

Some of the Republican Party's marquee governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, Bob Ehrlich in Maryland, George Pataki in New York, Mitt Romney in Massachusetts and Jeb Bush in Florida, are either sagging in the polls or not seeking re-election, leaving the GOP with an uphill battle next November.

Click in the video box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.

"My party, because we've been so successful in winning Democrat states, we have a lot more at stake in this next election," said Gov. Bill Owens, R-Colo., a former chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Thirty-six governorships are up for election next year. Out of those 36, 17 are considered competitive. Republicans will defend 14 of those while Democrats will try to keep hold of just three.

"Our main goal was to retain 13 incumbents up for re-election, and our other goal was to make sure that we capture four more to make us a total count of 26," said Gov. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., vice chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.

"That's our main goal. Anything above that — which we think are probable — is going to be extra icing on cake."

Experts expect New York Attorney Gen. Elliot Spitzer will win the state, turning it over to Democrats. Democrats also are looking to Florida and California for change since Jeb Bush isn't running again and Schwarzenegger is struggling.

After nearly a generation of GOP rule, Democrats also are considering Ohio a target with scandal and misinvested public funds tarnishing Republicans. The state is led by outgoing GOP Gov. Bob Taft.

"When you're looking at California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan — these are states that together have nearly half the people in the United States," said Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report.

While Democrats look elsewhere, Republicans want to see National Football League hall-of-famer Lynn Swann upset Democrat Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm shows positive progress in her race but could face problems due to concern over statewide job losses, particularly in the auto industry.

"Granholm is ahead in the polls, but she seems to be hovering around or below 50 percent, which is a possible danger sign for an incumbent," Barone said.

Republicans concede the national mood is more sour than positive, but they say that a strong economy will help them win voter confidence.

"National trends can shift rapidly," Owens said. "We're going to be running these races on state issues, but I think that the national trend could be positive by next year."

But Democrats say they believe President Bush's political weakness will persist and states with Republican governors will suffer from the perception of misguided one-party rule.

"If you're a Republican in a state with control in Washington and haven't gotten the job done, or it's not going as well as you want, or that you are kind of being led by that, then there's a lot of fallout from that," Manchin said.

One big myth is that governors elected two years before the next presidential race can deliver their state to the party's nominee. That almost never happens, but votes for governor often affect down-ballot races, such as those for the House and Senate. If a state shifts from Republican to Democrat, that could give added momentum to Democrats trying to win back the congressional majority.