Much has been said this year about the congressional elections and who will control the House and Senate next year. Gubernatorial elections have received scant attention, but the impact of 2018 on state governments will have lasting implications.
With a new census coming in 2020, governors and state legislators elected this year will control the redrawing of congressional districts that follows. Additionally, controlling the governor’s mansion may give provide an edge in the upcoming presidential election. Governors also typically have the power to appoint replacements when a senator resigns or dies. Losing a governorship would make it more risky for President Trump to appoint sitting senators. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is 85, warned this week that if Democrat Fred Hubbell wins in November that his Senate seat might go to a Democrat.
One reason that the Democrats face such long odds against winning a Senate majority is the fact that they are defending far more seats than the Republicans. When it comes to governors, however, the situation is reversed. Thirty-five states are holding gubernatorial elections this year and 26 of them are being defended by Republicans. Three of these races, Illinois, Michigan, and New Mexico, are trending Democrat while nine states are considered tossups.
In contrast, only two of the nine Democrat governorships up for election, Connecticut and Oregon, are considered tossups. Alaska, where independent Bill Walker recently suspended his re-election campaign, appears to be the sole race in which a Republican pickup is likely.
Tossup races for open seats in Georgia and Florida have gotten the most attention, but sitting Republican governors in Wisconsin and Iowa are in trouble as well. Five other Republican open seats in Kansas, Maine, Nevada, Ohio and South Dakota are also considered tossups.
Much of the current Republican problem stems from the GOP’s success in the Obama years. Even though Obama was personally successful at winning elections, his coattails did not extend to other Democrats. The Democratic Party lost 23 governorships and control of more than 30 state legislatures during Obama’s tenure. Now, in a weak Republican year, those gains are at risk.
Here are the hot gubernatorial races to watch:
Alaska – Republican Mike Dunleavy is leading former Democrat Senator Mark Begich after the current governor, independent Bill Walker, withdrew from the race.
Connecticut – Incumbent Democrat Ned Lamont’s lead has been cut to single digits in this dark blue state.
Florida – Democrat Andrew Gillum holds a small but consistent lead over Republican Ron DeSantis in this closely watched race. A recent CNN poll had Gillum up by double-digits.
Georgia – In a scenario similar to Florida, Republican Brian Kemp holds a tiny lead in polling over Democrat Stacy Abrams. The race is statistically a dead heat.
Iowa – Democrat Fred Hubbell is leading Republican incumbent Kim Reynolds in a close race.
Kansas – There are no polls since early September, but Republican Kris Korbach was up by a single point in three of the last four polls.
Maine – Democrat Janet Mills led by eight points in the single recent poll.
Nevada – Republican Adam Laxalt and Democrat Steve Sisolak are locked in another dead heat race.
Ohio – Richard Cordray, the Democrat who formerly led the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, led Republican Mike DeWine by six points in the only poll from October.
Oregon – Democratic incumbent Kate Brown holds a single-digit lead over Republican Knute Buehler.
South Dakota – Republican Kristi Noem is favored over Democrat Billie Sutton, but there is no public polling in the race.
Wisconsin – Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been trailing Democrat Tony Evers in the polls but may be recovering. Walker led by a single point in the most recent poll.
[Photo credit: The Georgia State Capitol - Connor Carey/Wikimedia]