LAS VEGAS - Democrats are expected to suffer losses this November because of an enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters. But the biggest consequences won't be in the Senate or the House, some are saying, but in the gubernatorial races.
The 37 governors' seats up for grabs "are the main event this year," Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, said today at Netroots Nation, the year's largest liberal conference. On top of that, they are the most important governors' races in a generation, he said.
What happens in those 37 races will impact redistricting set to take place across the country as a result of the 2010 census. In a number of those 37 states, governors have significant power in shaping the plan for redistricting.
"Even if we hold the House by five, 10, 15 votes," Democratic strategist Harold Ickes said, "[Republicans] think if they elect enough governors they can take the House of Representatives away from us by way of redistricting."
Governors' seats are up for grabs in large states like California, Texas and Florida.
"If you take states that big and start messing with demographic borders, you could change the state of politics for a decade," said Michael Lux, founder of the blog OpenLeft.com.
On top of that, the results of the gubernatorial races could have a serious impact on President Obama's chances for re-election in 2012; there's no question Republican governors in swing states will make it harder for the president's re-election campaign more challenging.
With so much at stake, Republican establishment is investing heavily in state and local races that impact redistricting.
Facing an uphill challenge, the Democrats need to close the enthusiasm gap, the strategists said, and focus on the difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates. The two parties have two very different visions, Daschle said, and "one is going to continue us on a path forward."
In Nevada, outgoing governor Jim Gibbons "should be the poster child for failed leadership," said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And Reid's opponent, former state attorney general and federal Judge Brian Sandoval, is "Gibbons in a nicer suit," Reid said.
Republican gubernatorial candidates are also strategically avoiding media scrutiny Reid said.
"There's a strategy across the country for the candidate to appear on Fox News every once in a while and say little else," he said. "My opponent, I'm getting a little worried about him. I haven't seen him since the primary."
He added, "We need a debate. Make them defend their positions."
More Hotsheet Coverage from Netroots Nation: