Democrats on defense in 2012 governors' races

By Beth Fouhy

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 26 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

— In Washington state, where two-term Democrat Christine Gregoire is stepping down, Rob McKenna, the popular GOP attorney general, is running to replace her. Washington has not elected a Republican governor in 30 years, but party leaders say McKenna is a good fit for the state which Obama won handily in 2008 and will likely do so again this time. Longtime Rep. Jay Inslee is expected to be the Democratic contender.

— In Montana, a conservative state where Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer is stepping down after two terms, Republicans are enthusiastic about their chances despite a June primary that has drawn at least 7 hopefuls so far. Former Rep. Rick Hill is considered a favorite. Attorney General Steve Bullock leads the Democratic field.

— In Missouri, where incumbent Democrat Jay Nixon is seeking re-election, Republicans hope the state's slow economic recovery and an expected tight presidential and senate contest could help their chances of recapturing the seat. Dave Spence, a wealthy Kansas City businessman, is among the candidates running in the August GOP primary.

— In West Virginia, a rematch is shaping up between incumbent Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican Bill Maloney, who came within 3 points of beating Tomblin in a 2011 special election despite almost no political experience and little name recognition. The RGA's McDonnell predicted Obama's presence at the top of the ticket this time was likely to drag down Tomblin. Obama lost the state to Republican John McCain in 2008 by 13 points.

— In North Carolina, where incumbent Democrat Bev Perdue is stepping down after a single rocky term, Republicans are enthusiastic about Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor who came within a few points of beating Perdue in 2008. Former Rep Bob Etheridge and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton are among the Democrats expected to compete in the May primary.

— In New Hampshire, where Democrat John Lynch is retiring, Republican conservative activists Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith are vying for the Republican nomination while former state Senate Majority Leader Maggie Hassan is a favorite in the Democratic primary. New Hampshire went heavily Republican in 2010 after a gradual Democratic shift in the prior decade. It's considered a swing state in this year's presidential contest and could even lean Republican if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the GOP nominee. Obama won the state handily in 2008.

Republicans also have a significant financial advantage in the 2012 contest. The RGA raised $44 million in 2011 and had nearly $27 million cash on hand in the group's most recent filing, while the Democrats raised $20 million and had about $12 million on hand.

Follow Beth Fouhy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bfouhy

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