It may be a statewide race, but this year’s Georgia gubernatorial election is going to get a lot of national attention.
Both the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association say they already are involved in the partisan duel between former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, and former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, a Republican.
Nationally, the groups have reported raising record amounts of money this year to make sure their parties snag the top job in states across the country.
Even the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee — groups that normally stick with federal offices — are getting involved in gubernatorial races.
Observers chalk up the national interest to an acute concern over the hand that will guide the drawing of congressional districts.
Governors elected this year will have at least some influence in how congressional lines are drawn in next year’s post-census redistricting process, said Denise Roth Barber, research director for the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
In 2011, Georgia stands to gain another congressional district, which would be its 14th. Whether that seat will go to a Democratic or Republican area of the state is at stake.
“The control of congress is at stake,” Barber said. “The redistricting is what’s going to then determine the control of Congress, so those who play at the federal level are now focused very much on the state races because of that.”
In November, the governors of 37 states will be chosen. In 24 of those states, the seat is open – including in Georgia, where Gov. Sonny Perdue has served two consecutive terms.
“There’s more up for grabs, if you will, than when an incumbent seeks re-election,” Barber said.
For the Democratic governors group, Georgia is a “top-tier pickup opportunity,” said Emily Bittner, director of communications for the association.
Bittner names eight other states with outgoing Republican governors that the DGA considers a priority. The group, Bittner says, plans to spend $50 million this year.
The number is substantially higher than the last equivalent election cycle when the Democratic Governors Association spent less than a third of that amount, she said.
“We have been planning for the last four years, saving money and saving resources, because we knew the stakes would be so high in 2010,” Bittner said.
And that’s just the way the money flows when the stakes are high, said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.
Levinthal says his group has noticed a “notable increase of money coming in and money going out” of the Democratic Governors Association.
And while Levinthal said the Republican Governors Association has spent slightly less than it has at this point in previous election cycles, the GOP group already is outspending its Democratic counterpart in media buys.
Already, the RGA has made it to Georgia’s airwaves with an advertisement that tries to yoke Barnes with President Barack Obama.
“We try to make our decisions about where we get involved in what states based on where we think we can have an impact,” said Tim Murtaugh, an RGA spokesman. “Georgia is clearly one where we think we can be of assistance to Nathan Deal’s campaign.”
Murtaugh doesn’t mention redistricting when he talks about the Republican Governors Association’s interest in Georgia’s gubernatorial race.
He says ensuring Georgia has a Republican governor is more about policies to foster economic growth by lowering taxes and making it “a better place to live, learn, work and raise a family.”