Elections for governor could provide some good news for Democrats this fall, giving them the chance to regain ground in a few states where the party has had good fortune recently.
It's not hard to imagine that even as Democrats suffer losses at the congressional level, they could gain some ground in the states.
At this early stage, Republicans are expected to hold control of the House and pick up seats in the Senate — maybe even win a majority in the Senate.
But the GOP has fewer opportunities when it comes to statehouses. Republicans dominated state elections back in 2010, leaving them few openings this year. (Governors serve four-year terms everywhere but Vermont and New Hampshire.)
Republicans gained six governorships in 2010. They have a 29 to 21 edge over Democrats overall.
There are 36 governorships up for grabs this year. Over the coming weeks, NPR will be looking at the most competitive and compelling races among them.
"You had a lot of Republicans win governorships in 2010 and some of them are going to be vulnerable, particularly in those blueish-leaning states," says Justin Phillips, co-author of The Power of American Governors.
But Phillips says there might not be as many vulnerable Republicans as some observers had expected a couple of years ago.
There are governors who pushed controversial programs early in their terms, but have since moderated their message. They may also benefit from President Obama's current unpopularity, Phillips says.
"Democrats will probably hold maybe one or two more governorships next year than they do now, but I wouldn't expect there to be a huge turnover, or for the Democrats to hold more governorships than Republicans next year," says Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the University of Virginia's political website Crystal Ball.
A Lot Like 1986
Kondik compares this year to 1986. Then as now, many senators of the president's party were vulnerable. In fact, Democrats took control of the Senate that year, ousting a number of Republicans who had been elected along with President Ronald Reagan in 1980.
But Republicans gained governorships that year. And something similar might happen this fall.
Several Democratic senators elected from red states such as Alaska and Arkansas during Obama's big win in 2008 are looking vulnerable. But there are Republicans serving as governor in no fewer than 10 states that Obama carried in both his presidential elections.
Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe prevailed in one such state last year, breaking the commonwealth's longstanding practice of electing governors from the party that doesn't control the White House.
Several Republicans swept in with the GOP tide in 2010 might be washed away this year; the list of most vulnerable governors includes Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, Paul LePage of Maine and Rick Scott of Florida.
Rick Snyder of Michigan is also a Democratic target, but he appears to be in better shape. In fact, not all the blue and purple state Republicans are looking particularly vulnerable.
Some who pushed controversial programs early in their terms, such as John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, have had time to recover their footing and now look like favorites.
Able To Appear Moderate
Today's governors may be more partisan than their predecessors, but they still have the chance to craft a moderate image, focusing on big-picture issues such as the budget and jobs while leaving contentious social issues to legislators.
"We've seen just as many cases of governors making moderate turns," says Thad Kousser, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego. "Part of why [Democratic Gov.] Jerry Brown is not facing a major challenge is that he's really governed from the center in California."
Next door in Nevada, Republican Brian Sandoval's focus on education and health — including his embrace of the Affordable Care Act — has kept his approval ratings high in a state that twice voted for Obama. In fact, Democrats have yet to field an opponent against him.
Incumbent governors in general are tough to beat. Even as they made their gains in 2010, Republicans defeated only two incumbent Democrats (Chet Culver of Iowa and Ted Strickland of Ohio).
Not every governor has announced his or her plans yet, but more than 25 of them will be running for re-election this year.
A few sitting governors could run into difficulty, either because the economy remains weak in their states or because their own policies have proven to be unpopular.
Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, for instance, has managed to alienate even many members of his own party with his strongly conservative agenda. Several blue state Democratic incumbents could also be at risk, including Pat Quinn of Illinois, Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii and Dannel Malloy of Connecticut.
"Of the six states where there's likeliest to be turnover, three are Republicans and three are Democrats," Kondik says.
Republicans have their eye on Arkansas, where popular incumbent Democrat Mike Beebe is prevented from running again by term limits. The state has been trending Republican — not only strongly opposing Obama, but giving control of the legislature to the GOP two years ago for the first time since the 19th century.
Arkansas is a place where an anti-Obama tide isn't the only Democratic worry — the attention and resources being devoted to a Senate race also could have a spillover effect on the governor's race.
But in most places, the governorship is a prominent enough position that candidates should be able to stand, or fall, on their own.
That's led some political observers to think this year's elections will end up reflecting the 50-50 divide in the country.
The conventional wisdom at this point is that Republicans will gain seats in Congress — as the party not controlling the White House nearly always does in mid-term elections.
But Democrats can cut against this grain by taking back a few governorships — which would be especially satisfying in big states like Pennsylvania and Florida.
Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has leaked large amounts of classified information about the agency's electronic surveillance programs, is speaking to the South By Southwest Interactive forum this hour.
We've embedded a video player and you can get to it here as well. We'll also update this post with highlights.
Snowden, who is wanted for prosecution in the U.S., is speaking from Russia, where he's been given temporary asylum.
Earlier today, All Tech Considered previewed his SXSW appearance.
Update at 12:45 p.m. ET. Another Question For Snowden From The Web. Who Are You To Decide?
"On what basis do you get to be the person to unilaterally decide what material remains classified & what gets released?" (Tweeted here.)
We'll watch to see if that's asked.
Update at 12:40 p.m. ET. Question From The Web. What About Crimea?
"What are you doing in Russia now that the Crimea situation is escalating?"
We'll watch to see if that's asked.
Update at 12:30 p.m. ET. Does Mass Surveillance Distract The Security Agencies?
Snowden argues that "we've actually had tremendous intelligence failures because we're monitoring the Internet ... everybody's communications, instead of the suspects' communications." His example: Tips about the brothers' accused in the Boston Marathon bombings may not have been thoroughly pursued because the surveillance programs were given priority.
Update at 12:25 p.m. ET. Says He's Not Weakening Nation's Security, NSA Is:
It's pointed out to Snowden that the NSA believes his revelations have harmed national security. His response? The NSA has "elevated offensive operations — that is, attacking — over the defense of our communications." And that, in Snowden's view, has made the nation less secure.
He makes the case that without a well-defended communications system, "our economy can't succeed."
Update at 12:15 p.m. ET. The Constitution As A Backdrop:
The background behind Snowden (presumably thanks to a "green screen" projection), is an image of the U.S. Constitution.
Note: NPR is not a SXSW sponsor, but our friends on the Music Desk are webcasting music from there and some NPR staff are appearing on some SXSW panels.
Wedding season is almost here, and that means wedding cake. But more couples are branching out to pies, cupcakes and even wedding cookies this spring.
Maybe that will inspire you to try your own hand in the kitchen. Sally McKenney is a self-described "sprinkle lover" and author of the new cookbook Sally's Baking Addiction based on her popular blog by the same name. She says baking doesn't have to be intimidating and wants her followers to experiment along with her.
She's become known for amping up familiar foods with recipes like brown sugar-glazed apple bread, cake-batter chocolate chip cookies and Nutella-stuffed cinnamon sugar muffins.
"I really just think about all the tastes and foods that I love, and I try to combine them in a new way so that readers can experiment in the kitchen, too," McKenney says.
One of the experiments that paid off is what she calls her "$5,000 cookie." Her Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cookies won a Nestle Toll House baking contest against other food bloggers in March 2013. And if stuffing caramel into a chocolate cookie sounds hard, read on to find out how she does it.
Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cookies
Prep time: 20 minutes. Total time: 2 hours, 50 minutes. Makes 16-17 cookies.
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (80 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (100 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (30 ml) milk
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips (or semisweet)
18 chocolate-coated caramel candies, such as Rolo
coarse sea salt
Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.
Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar together in a large bowl on medium speed until creamed, about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
With the mixer running on low, slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined. Add the milk. With a large spoon or rubber spatula, fold the chocolate chips into the dough. The dough will be heavy and sticky. Cover and chill for at least 1 to 2 hours.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator and allow to slightly soften at room temperature for 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.
Take 2 tablespoons of chilled dough, split in half and roll each into a ball with your hands. Stick a caramel into 1 ball of dough. Top the caramel with the other ball of dough and seal the sides so that the caramel is securely stuffed inside. See photo below for a visual. Repeat with the rest of the dough and caramel candies. Sprinkle each with sea salt before putting into the oven.
Bake for 12 to 13 minutes. Cookies will appear undone and very soft. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies stay fresh in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 7 days.
Sally's Tip: The trick to stuffing the caramel candy inside is to make sure the dough completely envelops it. Otherwise you'll have a leaking caramel mess on your cookie sheets!
Orthy is our World Cafe: Next band for our Sense of Place visit to Austin. We picked Orthy, whose two EPs touch on electronic dance music, to illustrate the breadth of the Austin music scene. The inspiration for Ian Orth, who is at the heart of this band, is his ongoing weekly dance party Learning Secrets. He established Learning Secrets to turn rock fans on to dance music and vice versa. The full Orthy plays live, sharing music from their latest EP, E.M.I.L.Y.