Half of US governor races still too close to call

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., Nov 8 (Reuters) - At least half of the dozen U.S. governorships being decided on Tuesday remain too close to call, though political experts agree both Republicans and Democrats could gain seats in states they would seem unlikely to win.

The razor-thin margins mirror a tightening of opinion polls in the U.S. presidential race and a number of U.S. Senate contests in the final days of an unpredictable election year.

SEE MORE: In-depth coverage of the 2016 election

Several of the gubernatorial match-ups "can be moved by the slightest breeze," said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at The Cook Political Report, which provides non-partisan election analysis. "Both parties right now won't even take a guess at what they're going to pick up."

She said the outcome of the vote is not expected to dramatically alter the 31-18 advantage Republicans have over Democrats in the states' executive offices. Alaska has an independent governor.

In this year's marquee race, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican, is fighting for a second four-year term against Democratic challenger Roy Cooper, the state's attorney general.

More on politics in North Carolina

10 PHOTOS
Protests against North Carolina transgender bathroom law
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Protests against North Carolina transgender bathroom law
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A display inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina features books by authors who support the repeal of HB2 on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A sign next to the men's bathroom inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina denounces North Carolina's HB2 legislation on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A bulletin board inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina features upcoming author visits and events scheduled for the bookstore on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
DURHAM, NC - MAY 10: The 'We Are Not This' slogan is posted at the entrances to Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 (HB2) that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
Elaine Martin, right, listens as Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Joaquin Carcano, center, the lead plaintiff in the case, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. Joaquin was born a woman and is now a man. Simone Bell with Lambda Law is at left; Chris Brook with the ACLU is at right. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
TO GO AFP STORY BY BRIGITTE DUSSEAU - Transgender delegates Jamie Shier (L) and Janice Covington pose for photographs at the Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4, 2012. The Democratic National Convention Committee announced Wednesday that US President Barack Obama would move his acceptance speech from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the indoor Time Warner Cable Arena due to predictions of thunderstorms. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV (Photo credit should read BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AFP/GettyImages)
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McCrory has been dogged by the economic backlash against a law he signed in March that restricts bathroom rights for transgender people and limits non-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians.

However, his re-election bid appears to have benefited from his administration's response to record flooding in North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew last month.

"I'm not writing McCrory off," Duffy said in a phone interview.

Most of the other toss-up races are Democratic-held open seats, and they could lead to some surprises.

Republicans may have their best chance at picking up a seat in Vermont, which is expected to vote overwhelmingly for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. Republican Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott appears to have the edge over Democrat Sue Minter, a former state transportation secretary.

And in West Virginia, where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump could get his biggest win, billionaire Democratic businessman Jim Justice has lead in polls over Republican state Senate President Bill Cole.

"There's going to be a lot of ticket-splitting in those races," said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "It's just a question of how much ticket-splitting there is."

27 PHOTOS
Voter turnout at polling places across the country
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Voter turnout at polling places across the country
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 8: Horace Higgins casts his ballot at the Downtown Women's Center on Skid Row in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2016. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 8: Camila Chavez, 3, plays as her grandmother Alexandrian Barrios, 58, votes at a polling station set-up at Watts Towers Arts Center on November 8, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 8: Maryjane Medina, 18, a first time voter, walks up to polling booth to cast her vote at a polling station set-up at Watts Towers Arts Center on November 8, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A man votes at a polling place at a high school in McLean, Virginia during the US presidential election on November 8, 2016. / AFP / Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - November 8: Voters fill out their ballots at a polling place in Loudon County High School during the 2016 Presidential Elections in Leesburg, Va., USA on November 8 , 2016. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - November 8: Voters enter the polling place in Loudon County High School during the 2016 Presidential Elections in Leesburg, Va., USA on November 8 , 2016. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - NOVEMBER 08: Voters fill out their paper ballots in a polling place on Election Day November 8, 2016 in Arlington, Virginia. Americans across the nation pick their choice for the next president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Voters cast their ballots during voting for the U.S presidential election in Manhasset, New York U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
NEW ALEXANDRIA, PA - NOVEMBER 8: Voters enter the Simpson Voting House, established in 1891, to vote in the presidential election on November 8, 2016 in New Alexandria, Pennsylvania. Americans across the nation make their choice for the next president of the United States today. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
A voter stands with a stroller outside the American Legion Post #469 polling location in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. The Justice Department will deploy 500 personnel to polling stations on Election Day to help protect voters against discrimination and intimidation, down from 2012 as the result of a Supreme Court ruling that gutted part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CONCORD, NH - NOVEMBER 08: Voters fill out their ballots at the Green Street Community Center on November 8, 2016 in Concord, New Hampshire. After a contentious campaign season, Americans go to the polls today to choose the next president of the United States. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
The early morning sun casts the shadow of a voter on a wall as he arrives at a polling location in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. The Justice Department will deploy 500 personnel to polling stations on Election Day to help protect voters against discrimination and intimidation, down from 2012 as the result of a Supreme Court ruling that gutted part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Democratic U.S. vice presidential candidate Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) casts his ballot at the Hermitage Methodist Home polling station in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A clerk tabulates ballots at a polling station just after midnight on November 8, 2016 in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, the first voting to take place in the 2016 US presidential election. The US presidential election got underway -- on a small scale -- as seven people in a tiny New Hampshire village cast their ballots at the stroke of midnight. Dixville Notch has had the honor of launching the voting, symbolically, since 1960. Clay Smith was the first of seven people to cast their ballots as Tuesday's long awaited Election Day began. An eighth resident voted by absentee ballot. / AFP / Alice Chiche (Photo credit should read ALICE CHICHE/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEXANDRIA, VA - NOVEMBER 08: Voters wait in-line for casting their ballots outside a polling place on Election Day November 8, 2016 in Alexandria, Virginia. Americans across the nation are picking their choice for the next president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ALEXANDRIA, VA - NOVEMBER 08: Voters wait in-line for casting their ballots outside a polling place on Election Day November 8, 2016 in Alexandria, Virginia. Americans across the nation are picking their choice for the next president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
A dog walks by people voting at the Brooklyn Museum polling station in the Brooklyn borough of New York City on November 8, 2016. With an anxious world watching, Americans began voting Tuesday on whether to send the first female president or a volatile populist tycoon to the White House. The kickoff marks the end to a campaign like no other -- exhausting, often bitter -- as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump presented radically different visions of how to lead the world's greatest power. / AFP / ANGELA WEISS (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)
People arrive to a poll station to vote in Arlington, Virginia on November 8, 2016. With an anxious world watching, Americans began voting Tuesday on whether to send the first female president or a volatile populist tycoon to the White House. The kickoff marks the end to a campaign like no other -- exhausting, often bitter -- as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump presented radically different visions of how to lead the world's greatest power. / AFP / Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEXANDRIA, VA - NOVEMBER 08: Voters wait in-line for casting their ballots outside a polling place on Election Day November 8, 2016 in Alexandria, Virginia. Americans across the nation are picking their choice for the next president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
A voter casts his ballot in the U.S. election at Su Nueva Lavanderia in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Ballot clerks Cheryl Bourassa (L) and Judy Taylor verify the ballot count before the polls open for the 2016 U.S. presidential election in Woodstock, New Hampshire, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Mary Schwalm
Voters line up outside a polling station in Christmas, Florida on November 8, 2016. After an exhausting, wild, bitter, and sometimes sordid campaign, Americans finally began voting Tuesday for a new president: either the billionaire populist Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, seeking to become the first woman to win the White House. / AFP / Gregg Newton (Photo credit should read GREGG NEWTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton steps away from a voting booth after voting at Douglas G. Griffin School November 8, 2016 in Chappaqua, New York. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People voting at Congress Elementary School in the presidential election November 8, 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. / AFP / JEFF KOWALSKY (Photo credit should read JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Former US President Bill Clinton (L) and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (R)vote at Douglas G. Griffin School November 8, 2016 in Chappaqua, New York. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - NOVEMBER 08: An early morning voter casts her vote at the Bishop Leo E. O'Neil Youth Center on November 8, 2016 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Voters will choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for president, as well as important races for Congress and Senate. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
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Republicans are battling to defend the governorship in Indiana, which became an open race after Trump tapped Governor Mike Pence as his running mate.

That contest and the open seat in Missouri also remain tight, and Kondik said the Republican gubernatorial candidates could be helped if Trump gained a late boost in support.

"Just like 2014, there really are hard calls that could go one way or another," Kondik said.

(Editing by Frank McGurty; and Alistair Bell)


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