Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The increasing number of Democratic governorships that are in trouble suggests the Republicans could end up winning more races in this year's elections than previously expected.

Despite the generic congressional polls showing that more voters will vote Democratic in November (though by a margin that has shrunk in the past several weeks), the bigger story may turn out to be that the GOP will recapture some pivotal statehouses in the Midwest and elsewhere that will boost their chances in the presidential election two years from now.

Republicans control a majority of the nation's governorships -- 28 to 22 -- including the four biggest electoral states of California, Texas, Florida and New York. But the large number of GOP governorships at stake in the fall -- 22 out of the 36 seats up for grabs -- has put them at a disadvantage this time around.

Making the GOP's 2006 challenge tougher: they have eight open seats to defend, most due to term limits, to the Democrats' one. It's usually easier to win an open seat than to beat an incumbent.

The Democrats need to win a net four more governorships to capture the majority of statehouses and they are clearly favored in several states -- with New York being the most likely turnover. Republicans do not have a heavyweight candidate there and Democratic state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is a shoo-in to replace retiring Republican George Pataki.

The other big three, Texas, Florida and California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has made a comeback, will likely remain in the GOP's column.

Democrats say they will pick up seats in heavily Democratic states like Arkansas, Maryland and Massachusetts, but Republicans are much more competitive in all of them, while Democrats there are either divided or far from shoo-ins.

In Ohio, where scandals have made retiring GOP Gov. Bob Taft, the nation's most unpopular governor, Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is running slightly behind Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland. But recent polls show Blackwell could win a large share of the black vote, the core of the Democrats' political base.

Meanwhile, the GOP's focus has turned to four other major states where Democrats have not been doing well and suffer from poor job approval scores. Among them:

Nowhere is the political climate more favorable to the Republicans than in Michigan. Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, once a rising star in her party, has been struggling to overcome the fallout from a weak economy devastated by the auto industry's massive layoffs and a bitter stalemate in the Republican legislature.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.