Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Despite a badly damaged Republican brand that won't be in the majority anytime soon, independent campaign analysts say the GOP may make gubernatorial and House gains during the 2009-2010 election cycle.

The reasons have more to do with political geography than with any forecasts about what the economic climate will look like this year and next, when the off-year and midterm elections will be influenced by whether the nation's economy responds to President Obama's stimulus programs.

Republicans will just have more opportunities than the Democrats next time around in the congressional and gubernatorial races.

Little attention is being paid to the governorship battlegrounds right now, but in the next two years, 38 states will hold gubernatorial elections. More Democratic seats will be at stake (21) than Republican seats (17).

More important, there will be more vulnerable Democratic governorships in this cycle in heavily Republican states than vulnerable Republican ones in Democratic states.

"It's way too early to handicap overall prospects, but Republicans could make significant gains in governorships in 2010," elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales wrote in the Rothenberg Political Report, which tracks the elections.

"Democrats must now defend in a number of GOP-leaning states (such as Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Tennessee) that they've held for six years but are coming open because of term limits," he says.

On the other hand, Republican chances of holding state houses appear bleak at this point in heavily Democratic California and smaller Democratic states like Hawaii and Rhode Island.

According to Rothenberg's preliminary count, three Democratic-held governorships leaned toward GOP takeovers (in Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming), and four other open Democratic seats (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia) were rated tossups.

On the Republican side, only five appeared up for grabs, including two tossups: South Dakota (open) and Nevada, where Gov Jim Gibbons "looks like he'll lose either in the primary or general election," Gonzales said.

In GOP-heavy Kansas, for example, the likely Republican nominee will be Sen. Sam Brownback, who is expected to be its next governor.

But Democrats have trouble elsewhere, too, in this year's only two gubernatorial contests in Virginia and New Jersey.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.