Thirty-six states choose governors in the November elections. Winning one of these races can take years of paying political dues and a grueling nomination battle.
Incumbents are tough to beat, particularly when the economy is on the upswing as it is this year.
Most of the 28 incumbents trying for another term will get it with little trouble; a few others have reason to sweat. Seven states have open races where the person in charge, but not necessarily the ruling party, will change. And one governor, Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie, fell in a Democratic primary.
Five things to know about governors' races:
1. PARTY POWER
It's more than just party bragging rights on the line. Governors flex considerable muscle when it comes to raising or cutting taxes, strengthening or weakening labor unions and extending or easing restrictions on abortion, gay marriage and guns.
Twenty-two states run by Republicans have governors' offices at stake; in 14 others, a Democrat is now at the helm.
The GOP can sleepwalk to victory in state such as Alabama and Wyoming, where heavily Republican voter bases provide a huge advantage. Democrats have slam-dunk territory, too, mainly along the coasts.
National interest group money is flooding into competitive states, with the Republican Governors Association and Democratic Governors Association primed to spend tens of millions of dollars each to tip races.
Expect the contest in Florida to be the most costly. Republican Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Democrat who once led the state as a Republican, have already drawn more than $60 million in combined campaign cash.
2. TROUBLE WATCH
Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Pa., is on the shakiest ground because of an uproar over cuts to education spending and several verbal gaffes. He has trailed Democratic businessman Tom Wolf throughout.
In Illinois, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is being pushed hard by businessman Bruce Rauner in a race where voter mood's been soured by high unemployment and the aftertaste of corruption during Democratic rule.
In Kansas, some in Gov. Sam Brownback's Republican Party are uneasy over his aggressive tax slashing. Several notable GOP moderates back Democratic rival Paul Davis, a veteran legislator.
In Maine, blunt-talking Republican Gov. Paul LePage's combative style is an issue in his race against Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, who made national headlines himself by disclosing he's gay.
3. FIRST THIS, THEN ... ?
For several governors, a November win means more than one more term in the executive mansion. Any hope of trading up to the White House depends on it.
Republicans Nikki Haley of South Carolina, John Kasich of Ohio, Susan Martinez of New Mexico, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Scott Walker of Wisconsin could forget any shot at the presidency or vice presidency if they lose. The same goes for New York's Andrew Cuomo and Colorado's John Hickenlooper for the Democrats.
Walker faces the stiffest challenge. He is in a tight contest with business executive Mary Burke in his third statewide race in four years after a failed recall effort.
Even though New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie isn't on the ballot, the prospective presidential candidate has a big stake in the fall outcome. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie could be judged on how his party fares.
4. BIG-STATE BLOWOUTS?
Barring dramatic late-season turns, the governors of the nation's two most populous states could be headed for walkovers. California's Jerry Brown and New York's Cuomo, both Democrats, look to be in command of races for new terms. While Texas Gov. Rick Perry is stepping away, his Republican Party is well-positioned to keep a mansion it has held for two decades with the GOP nominee, Attorney General Greg Abbott, well ahead.
5. MILESTONE MEN
Iowa Republican Terry Branstad, already the nation's longest-tenured governor, would add to his longevity with an unprecedented sixth four-year term.
At 67, Branstad is also among a crew of retirement-age incumbents giving it another run. Brown (76), Idaho's Butch Otter (72), Georgia's Nathan Deal (72), Alabama's Robert Bentley (71), Minnesota's Mark Dayton (67) and Oregon's John Kitzhaber (67) are either the oldest-ever governor in their states or nearing the mark.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ Labor Day kicks off a two-month sprint toward Election Day. This story is part of a package that sets the stage for the November elections.