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With midterm elections next year, several states are sure to experience some of the nastiest—and most competitive and expensive—gubernatorial races in the country. With partisan divisions ripping Congress, these states are looking for change.

The GOP is already preparing for the coming elections; this week marks the annual Republican Governors Association meeting, led by new chairman (and successful 2013 candidate) Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.

Here are six of the most interesting gubernatorial races that are sure to dominate headlines throughout the coming year.

Photo: League of Women Voters of California

Wisconsin

Scott Walkerr

Wisconsin’s 2014 gubernatorial race is expected to be one of the most competitive in the nation.

Republican Scott Walker is running for re-election against Democrat Mary Burke, and a Marquette Law School poll released in late October shows the incumbent with just a 2 percent lead.

Although Walker — who may be planning a 2016 presidential campaign — is more popular than Burke, the Democratic candidate may gain traction if she calls out Wisconsin’s continued struggle to produce more jobs. Nearly half (45 percent) of Wisconsin voters said they do not believe the state’s economy will change in the next year and 20 percent say they expect it will worsen.

It is still too early to tell how this election will turn out, but for now Walker should be concerned that a relatively unknown candidate trails so closely behind him.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Maine

Michaud

Earlier this month, Maine gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud (D) revealed he was gay in a column sent to the Bangor Daily, The Associated Press, and the Portland Press Herald.

The announcement – meant to put an end to rumors about the Democratic representative’s sexual orientation spread by his 2014 opponent, Governor Paul LePage (R) — is reflective of a race that could get nasty in the coming months.

Michaud and LePage are joined in the race by Independent Eliot Cutler, who trails in the polls. LePage is behind Michaud – 35 percent to 39 percent, according to PPP’s most recent poll – and has been since August. Though Cutler is not expected to win in 2014, he might be the reason LePage does; if liberals and moderates split their votes between Cutler and Michaud, LePage might find some wiggle room to take the election, similar to what happened in 2010.

Currently, Michaud and LePage are engaged in a battle over health care, after Michaud criticized the unsuccessful and costly administrative changes to the state’s Medicaid program that LePage authorized. LePage’s political advisor, Brent Littlefield, fired back that Michaud should “spend his time fixing Obamacare, for which he voted, before he criticizes a department of the state.”

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—Northeast Region via Flickr

Colorado

Hickenlooper

In Colorado, Democratic governor John Hickenlooper has maintained a narrow lead in the polls over his GOP challengers, who include Representative Tom Tancredo, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, State Senator Greg Brophy, and State Senate Majority Leader Mike Kopp.

Earlier this year, Hickenlooper’s popularity among constituents made the 2014 outcome seem predictable. That changed, however, after the state held controversial recall elections that ousted two Democratic senators who supported gun reform, and Hickenlooper supported an income tax hike.

A Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday shows Hickenlooper’s greatest lead over any of his challengers is only 6 points — he leads Brophy 44 percent to 38 percent. More alarming for Hickenlooper is the poll’s finding that 49 percent of Colorado voters now say they do not believe Hickenlooper deserves a second term.

With voters nearly split on Hickenlooper, Republicans might have a chance to steal this election by next year.

Photo: World Economic Forum via Flickr

Texas

Davis

This month, Republican attorney general Greg Abbott and Democratic state senator Wendy Davis announced their candidacies in the Texas gubernatorial race. Though there are two other candidates on both parties’ primary ballots – Reynaldo “Ray” Madrigal and Mike Martinez are running as Democrats, and Miriam Martinez and Lisa Fritsch are competing in the Republican primary – Abbott and Davis are already expected to dominate the race.

The contest is sure to be an interesting one, not only because Abbott and Davis are such different candidates, but also because Texas voters are changing with time. The latest poll released by Public Policy Polling shows Abbott leading Davis 50 percent to 35 percent, but that could change rapidly. Davis remains the more well-known candidate – a result of her 11-hour filibuster against an anti-abortion bill this summer.

Though Abbott is well funded and has the advantage of running in a conservative state, Davis has gained a lot of support from Democrats, and is determined to lead the charge to turn Texas blue.

Photo: TheTexasTribune via Flickr

Florida

Rick Scott

Florida’s gubernatorial election is distinct from all the others because the state’s former governor, Charlie Crist, declared he would challenge his successor, incumbent Rick Scott (R).

Although Crist was a Republican as governor, he is now competing for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

Democrats Farid Khavari and Nan Rich, and Republicans Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, Timothy Devine, and Joe Smith are also running, but Crist and Scott are currently the clear frontrunners to make the general election.

Crist, who only served one term, was popular among Florida voters and had approval ratings in the upper 50s and 60s during his tenure. That popularity seems to have spilled over into the 2014 race, because a new Quinnipiac poll released Thursday finds that Crist holds a 7-point lead over Scott, 47 percent to 40 percent.

He will, however, need to raise a lot of money to compete against Scott, who has already raised $19.3 million through his “Let’s Get to Work” electioneering organization.

Many already predict this costly race will be one of the most contentious in the country in 2014.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

South Carolina

N Haley

Already labeled a “war” by House Representative Jim Clyburn (D), the South Carolina gubernatorial race between incumbent Nikki Haley (R) and State Senator Vincent Sheheen (D) is heating up.

In the state’s last gubernatorial election, Sheheen lost to Haley – and recent polls show that he once again trails the current governor. A poll conducted by the Democratic Governors Association showed Haley leading 44 to 40 percent, while the GOP’s Harper Polling showed Haley leading by 9 points.

Yet with Haley’s popularity dipping into the low 40s in recent polls, the Democratic state senator may be able to win over South Carolinians. Sheheen is already attacking the state’s economy, and the 2012 hacking and theft of tax returns that upset thousands of South Carolina residents.

The candidates are sure to spend a lot of money leading up to their 2014 rematch; Sheheen has already raised $1 million and Haley has $3.2 million on hand.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr