Most of the national media attention in 2006 is focused on the battle to control Congress. However, there is another very important political battleground this year: the fight to control governors’ mansions around the country.

This particular battle will have enormous implications for the 2008 presidential election.

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Right now Republicans hold governorships in a number of swing states that went Republican in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. If Democrats are elected in some of these states, the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee will have key allies strategically placed that could help determine the outcome of the next presidential election.

Let’s take a look at some of these states and the potential outcomes.

Ohio: The Democratic nominee, Rep. Ted Strickland, has a wide margin over the Republican nominee, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Ohio, which currently has a Republican governor who is not running for re-election, was the key battleground in the 2004 presidential election, tipping the election to Bush. Democrats have carried Ohio in some successful presidential elections in the past.

Florida: Bush carried Florida in both 2000 and 2004 but it is generally considered to be the most competitive Southern state in presidential elections. The current Republican governor, Jeb Bush, is not running for re-election. The Democratic nominee, Rep. Jim Davis, is trailing but could win if the national Democratic tide is strong.

Arkansas: This is a state that Bush carried in both 2000 and 2004 but has a history of favoring Democrats for president in the past. The current Republican governor is term-limited and not running for re-election. The Democratic nominee, Attorney General Mike Beebe, is running a very strong race and is favored to win.

Colorado: This also is a state Bush carried twice but which has voted Democratic for president on occasion. The current Republican governor, Bill Owens, is term limited and thus not running for re-election. The Democratic nominee, Bill Ritter, is leading the Republican nominee, Rep. Bob Beauprez. The Democratic nominee for Beauprez’s Congressional seat, Ed Perlmutter, is running ahead and thus this could also be a double win for Democrats.

Nevada: This is a Southwestern state, which like Colorado, holds great potential for Democrats in a presidential year because of significant Hispanic population growth. The current Republican governor, Kenny Guinn, is not running for re-election. The Democratic nominee, Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, is in a close race with the Republican nominee, Rep. Jim Gibbons.

Additionally, there are other states where Democrats have a strong chance of winning the governorship that could play a significant role in 2008 presidential politics. These include the following:

Maryland: This is a state that normally goes Democratic in presidential years but currently has a Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich, who is running for re-election. Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, the Democratic nominee, is ahead in the polls. A Democratic win would solidify Maryland for the 2008 Democratic nominee.

Iowa: This is a state that currently has a Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack, who is not running for re-election. Iowa has gone Republican in the past two presidential elections but Democrats have carried the state in previous presidential campaigns. The Democratic nominee, Secretary of State Chet Culver, is leading the Republican nominee, Congressman Jim Nussle. Democrats are favored to win Nussle’s Congressional seat so this could also be double win for the Democratic Party.

Minnesota: This is a state that has narrowly gone Democratic in recent presidential years but which currently has a Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty. Gov. Pawlenty trails the Democratic nominee, Mike Hatch, in recent polls. A Democratic win would certainly boost the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee.

New York: A Democratic state with a Republican governor, George Pataki, who is not running for re-election. The Democratic nominee, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, is way ahead in the polls and a Democratic win here should totally take New York out of play for Republicans in 2008.

And then there are several current Democratic governors who are running for re-election in decidedly red states. Their victories won’t make these states any more likely to support a Democratic presidential ticket, but their wins will be a good sign of Democratic strength for the future. They include the following:

Kansas: Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is a real star for the party in a Republican state. She is heavily favored for re-election and could wind up on the 2008 Democratic ticket as vice president if the party nominates a man for president.

Tennessee: Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen is another real star for the party, holding office in an increasingly Republican state. He is also heavily favored for re-election and could be a dark horse candidate for president if others fall by the wayside.

And finally, there is the long-shot-of-the-year race. South Carolina incumbent Republican Gov. Mark Sanford is hugely unpopular in a very red state. He was named one of Time Magazine’s 5 Worst Governors and is in a close race with the Democratic nominee, State Sen. Tommy Moore.

The national press will continue to focus on the battle for control of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate but the fight to control governorships around the Nation is even more important for the 2008 election.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Welte and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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