Members of Congress looking to ascend the political food chain — and leave Washington, D.C. — will have a plethora of opportunities in 2014.
There are 36 gubernatorial races this cycle, providing ambitious members frustrated with Congressional gridlock or the commute to Capitol Hill the perfect avenue for a promotion.
The map of seats in cycle reveals especially bountiful opportunities for Democrats. This is the class of governors first elected in the 2010 Republican wave, many of whom are seeking re-election in competitive states and possibly in a much more neutral political environment.
Democratic strategists noted the following gubernatorial races as their top targets: Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania. President Barack Obama won all of these states last month.
Republicans occupy 22 of those governors’ mansions, so the GOP will mostly play defense. Still, the GOP could have a few unique opportunities in traditional Democratic territory such as Illinois, or in a competitive state such as New Hampshire.
Below is a breakdown of the races where there are members worth watching as potential gubernatorial candidates this cycle:
Potential Democratic Candidates
Iowa: Rep. Bruce Braley, D, has kept mum about his future plans since comfortably winning a fourth term last month. But an Iowa Democrat close to the congressman noted “he’s seeing what’s shaking out here” to decide whether to challenge Gov. Terry E. Branstad, a Republican.
Braley has eyed a statewide bid for a while: He started doing public events outside the 1st District more than a year ago. But Democrats also point to Braley as the most obvious candidate to succeed Sen. Tom Harkin, who may retire in 2014. It would be an easier contest than challenging Branstad, who remains relatively popular compared to other governors on the list of top targets.
Maine: Democrats talk up Rep. Michael H. Michaud as a potential challenger to the controversial, tea-party-backed Gov. Paul R. Le- Page, a Republican.
There’s probably going to be an independent in this race, businessman Eliot Cutler, which could complicate Michaud’s path to victory. But would he give up his new spot as the ranking member on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee for a three-way race? A source said that’s the greater factor in his decision.
When asked about his interest in the race, a Michaud spokesman said the congressman is focused on his new committee role “and the job at hand, like the fiscal cliff and other immediate issues.”
Michigan: Rep. Gary Peters is the Democrat in the best position to run statewide in 2014 — the question is, for which office? A favorite of organized labor, Peters blasted first-term GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, for ramming a right-to-work bill through the state’s lame-duck session last week.
Like Braley, Peters’ decision could hinge on what happens in the Senate. If Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., retires, Peters clears the primary field to succeed him in a less challenging, open-seat race. Peters’ allies aren’t doing much to stop statewide speculation either.
“Gary Peters is committed to fighting for Michigan’s families in whichever platform he’s most effective in,” a source close to Peters said.
Pennsylvania: At least two Democratic members haven’t ruled out challenging unpopular Gov. Tom Corbett.
Most notably, recently re-elected Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., has refused to rule out challenging the Republican. Democrats say Casey would clear the primary field if he decides to follow in the footsteps of his father, a popular former two-term governor of the Keystone State.
Additionally, Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, recently hired a finance director with statewide experience, stoking speculation she’s also looking at running for governor. Schwartz didn’t tamp down that speculation in a statement from her spokeswoman Dec. 7. But Democratic sources say she has always eyed the seat held by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., in 2016, instead.
Potential Republican Candidates
Illinois: Rep. Aaron Schock has been putting feelers out about running for governor for at least a year. He recently met with the Republican Governors Association about a potential bid.
Illinois is a Democratic stronghold, but Gov. Pat Quinn has some of the worst approval ratings in the country. Quinn’s vulnerability means the second-term congressman isn’t the only Republican eyeing a bid. The local GOP expects a large primary field that could include outgoing Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., too.
Schock allies noted the congressman has not made a decision. What’s more, he has a sweet fall-back position if he decides against running for governor: He represents a safe House district and boasts a coveted seat on the Ways and Means Committee.
New Hampshire: Rep. Frank Guinta lost re-election but has no shortage of options for a comeback in 2014. New Hampshire has a gubernatorial contest every two years, plus Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., is running for her first re-election.
Guinta told Roll Call recently that he’s looking at both statewide offices, including challenging newly elected Gov. Maggie Hassan. But he’ll have company in the GOP primary for governor: Several other local Republicans are looking at the race.
There are gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia next year, and local Democrats are floating at least one House member to run in the Garden State. Local Democratic leaders tout Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., D-N.J., as a potential “compromise” nominee to challenge Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, according to a report in The Bergen Record. Pascrell’s top aide released a statement to the newspaper saying the congressman “has always been willing to listen to party leaders about what is in the best interests of our party and our state.”
It would be unusual for a 75-year-old congressman to eye the governor’s mansion — especially after he just won a Member-versus-Member race.
In any case, potential Democratic candidates await a decision from popular Newark Mayor Cory Booker on the gubernatorial race before the field solidifies.
Abby Livingston contributed to this report.