Election Day this year will set the course for job policy, health care reforms and school spending -- not to mention taxes. And that's not just in the run for president. Eleven states will pick governors next month, and the contests allow domestic issues to get some attention as money pours into the campaigns and the races heat up.
Experts see particularly hot contests in Indiana, Missouri, Montana and Washington state.
Democrats are defending six seats and Republicans five. Two incumbents have already lost -- bounced by their own parties during primaries. Three chose not to run -- after bruising terms in Montana and Washington, and revelations of an extramarital affair in West Virginia.
"I don't know where to start to say how important these races are," said Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, chairman of the Democratic Governors Assn., which expects to spend up to $8 million on the contests. "What happens in states becomes ultimately the model for what happens on the federal level."
Campaign strategists and party officials see Missouri as one of the top races, where Democratic state Auditor Claire McCaskill is vying with GOP Secretary of State Matt Blunt. Democrats in the critical presidential swing state dumped incumbent Gov. Bob Holden after one term.
Other races are in Indiana, Montana, Washington, New Hampshire, Delaware, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia. Currently, Republicans control 28 governorships and Democrats 22.