Democrats See Chances for Gains in Governor Races

WASHINGTON (AP) -

Democrats, facing fewer opportunities to pick up seats in the Senate and House, see a more fertile playing field in the three dozen governors’ races across the country this year. As a bonus, there’s even the potential of scoring an early knockout against a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender or two.

In campaigns with broad presidential implications, Democrats see encouraging signs in their fight against Republicans’ hold of 29 of the nation’s 50 governor’s mansions. Republicans will have a large map to defend — the GOP controls 22 of the 36 seats up for election, including six in states that Obama carried twice: Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin and Maine.

Part of the strategy aims to undercut a group of prominent Republican governors first elected in 2010 who have presided over improving economies and billed themselves as reformers in contrast to the dysfunction in Congress. Democrats have sought to tarnish New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was re-elected last year, as he deals with home-state scandals, and hope to extend the scrutiny to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. All three are potential contenders for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

Walker is facing voters for the third time in four years. He escaped a recall election in 2012, when Democrats and unions sought revenge after a bitter fight over collective bargaining rights for state workers.

In the investigation involving his former aides, Walker was never charged with any wrongdoing. The probe closed last year with convictions against six of his former aides and associates. A second investigation is ongoing and reportedly looking into fundraising and other activities by Walker’s campaign and conservative groups.

Democrats say their candidates need to explain the benefits of the health-care law, noting that Obama would benefit from more allies in the states. The president’s health-care overhaul was largely implemented in states with Democratic governors while their GOP counterparts tried to block it in court. Many Republican governors also opposed expanding Medicaid or creating their own statewide exchanges.