Midterm Outlook: Governors

Governor’s races are usually the last elections that people talk about, after Senate and House races. This is in part because Congress, the national legislature, tends to do a good job in representing the national political environment, but elections for state governor are the biggest remaining bastion of ticket-splitting. Voters are more likely to deliver results that contrast starkly with states’ presidential leans in these races than in any others. This year, the gubernatorial balance of power is expected to shift greatly because there are many seats with term-limited incumbents. Most states hold their gubernatorial elections in midterm years, so there are 36 governors’ mansions on the ballot this year. In a reverse of the Senate map, 27 of the seats up are currently held by Republicans and 9 are currently held by Democrats. So many races are competitive that it’s better to think about these elections in terms of incumbency. One governor, Gov. Bill Walker (I-AK), is an independent, but he’s dropped his bid for a second term.

Group I: Republican Incumbents on the Ballot (13)

Alabama: Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) is running for a full term. Ivey, originally Alabama’s lieutenant governor, rose to her position after the resignation of disgraced Gov. Robert Bentley (R-AL).

She faces strong opposition in Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox (D), but there’s no sign he’ll win.

Arizona: Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) is running for a second term. After Hillary Clinton came within four points of winning Arizona, analysts thought that Ducey might face some trouble, but his lead over Democrat David Garcia, a professor, has remained in the double digits.

Arkansas: Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) is running for a second term. Arkansas moved from full Democratic control at the state level in 2013 to full Republican control by 2015, and that’s virtually certain not to change. Hutchinson will wipe the floor with teacher Jared Henderson (D).

Illinois: Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL) is running for a second term. Illinois only recently had a Republican senator, Mark Kirk, but Rauner was elected in the strong Republican year of 2014 in this deep blue state. It looks like Illinois’ political gravity is finally catching up to him. Venture capitalist JB Pritzker (D), is expected to win by double digits.

Iowa: Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA) is running for a full term. Reynolds, originally Iowa’s lieutenant governor, rose to her position after Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA) became the US ambassador to China. However, after swinging hard to President Trump in 2016, the state appears to be heading back in the other direction, and businessman Fred Hubbell (D) has a slight lead in polls.

Maryland: Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) is running for a second term. Hogan’s carefully crafted reputation as a moderate has kept him quite popular, and even though Maryland is deep blue at every other level, former NAACP president Ben Jealous stands little chance of winning.

Massachusetts: Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) is running for a second term. Baker is among the most liberal Republican politicians in the country, and that’s why both he and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are likely to win their elections by double digits. Baker faces Jay Gonzalez (D).

Nebraska: Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) is running for a second term. There’s little to say because the race is one of the safest holds for Republicans. Ricketts faces Republican-turned-independent-turned Democratic state senator Bob Krist.

New Hampshire: Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) is running for a second two-year term. He’s popular enough that he shouldn’t face much difficulty winning, but polls have tightened in recent weeks. His opponent is former state senator Molly Kelly (D).

South Carolina: Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC) is running for a full term. McMaster, originally South Carolina’s lieutenant governor, rose to his position after Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) was appointed to be the US ambassador to the UN. He’s running against state representative James Smith (D).

Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott is running for a second term. The marquee contest in Texas is that for Senate, but Abbott has not faced similarly fierce competition. He faces former Dallas County sheriff Lupe Valdez (D) and is expected to beat her by a double digit margin.

Vermont: Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT) is running for a second two-year term. He’s had to govern as a moderate or even liberal in this bluest of state, and there’s a small chance he doesn’t pull out a win. His opponent is Christine Hallquist (D), the first transgender gubernatorial nominee.

Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) is running for a third term. Walker has done a great job of antagonizing liberals and unions during his tenure as governor. Wisconsin, like other Midwestern states, is moving back in Democrats’ direction, so Walker’s actions may finally come back to bite him. He’s running against state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers (D).

Group II: Republican-held Open Seats (12)

Florida: Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) has served two terms and is term-limited. This race was roiled when US Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6) was powered to a primary win by a presidential endorsement. At the same time, Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum (D) surprisingly beat out favored candidate Gwen Graham for the Democratic nomination. Polls have shown a close race throughout the entire general election campaign, but Gillum has consistently maintained a small lead.

Georgia: Gov. Nathan Deal (R-GA) has served two terms and is term-limited. State secretary of state Brian Kemp (R-GA) is running against former state house minority leader Stacey Abrams (D). Kemp’s voter suppression efforts have infuriated African-American voters, and Georgia’s increasingly competitive nature means that this race could go either way.

Idaho: Gov. Butch Otter (R-ID) has served two terms and is not seeking a third. Lieut. Gov. Brad Little (R-ID) and former state representative Paulette Jordan (D) won their parties’ respective nominations. There’s nothing to indicate this seat will change hands, although Jordan would be the first American Indian governor of any state if elected.

Kansas: Gov. Jeff Colyer (R-KS), who rose to his position after Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS) was appointed as a special ambassador for religious freedom, lost his primary to state secretary of state Kris Kobach (R-KS). Kobach’s extreme views and baseless voter fraud investigations as well as Brownback’s failed tax policies have made this race competitive. Kobach faces state senator Laura Kelly (D) and businessman Greg Orman (I). This race is as close to a pure tossup as they get.

Maine: Gov. Paul LePage (R-ME) has served two terms and is term-limited. Maine turned redder in 2016 but seems to have reversed course, so state attorney general Janet Mills (D-ME) is favored to win over state senator Shawn Moody (R) and state treasurer Terry Hayes (I).

Michigan: Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) has served two terms and is term-limited. Michigan was a Trump state, but only by 0.2%, so the combination of a favorable political environment and Snyder’s mismanagement of the Flint water crisis has sent this race careening in Democrats’ direction. Former state senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) is favored over state attorney general Bill Schuette (R).

Nevada: Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV) has served two terms and is term-limited. Nevada was a Clinton state, but only by a few points. Both parties have nominated formidable candidates in state attorney general Adam Laxalt (R-NV) and Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak. This race will go down to the wire as neither candidate has maintained a clear lead.

New Mexico: Gov. Susana Martinez has served two terms and is term-limited. New Mexico is a fairly blue state, so especially when voters are turning against the presidential party, this should be an easy Democratic pickup. US Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM-1) and Steve Pearce (R-NM-2) are running, and Grisham is expected to win.

Ohio: Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) has served two terms and is term-limited. Ohio is the prime example of a bellwether and swing state, and naturally the race will be close. After a Trump victory here larger than Obama’s in either 2008 or 2012, momentum is in favor of Democrats, like in every Trump-Obama Rust Belt state. Former state attorney general Richard Corday (D) has lead current attorney general Mike DeWine in polls, but his lead is nowhere near large enough to ensure a victory.

Oklahoma: Gov. Mary Fallin (R-OK) has served two terms and is term-limited. Thanks to her approval rating, which is the lowest in the country, and a strong push for education reform, this race is competitive. Former state attorney general Drew Edmondson (D) is the strongest possible candidate for Democrats, and he faces businessman Kevin Stitt (R).

South Dakota: Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R-SD) has served two terms and is term-limited. Democrats haven’t won this seat in over 40 years, but thanks to the nomination of state senate minority leader Billie Sutton (D-SD), they stand a chance. Sutton is running against US Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), and polls show a tossup.

Tennessee: Gov. Bill Haslam (R-TN) has served two terms and is term-limited. Tennessee’s governorship has tended to alternate between the parties, but there’s no indication that former Nashville mayor Karl Dean (D) can beat businessman Bill Lee (R).

Wyoming: Gov. Matt Mead (R-WY) has served two terms and is term-limited. Wyoming is more solidly Republican at all levels than just about any other state, so don’t expect this seat to flip. State treasurer Mark Gordon (R-WY) is facing former state house minority leader Mary Throne (D).

Group III: Democratic-held Open Seats (4)

California: Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) has served two terms and is term-limited. Even though most states swung towards Republicans in 2016, California actually bucked the trend and gave Hillary Clinton a larger margin than Barack Obama. Lieut. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) will crush businessman John Cox (R).

Colorado: Gov. John Hickenlooper has served two terms and is term-limited. Colorado is a moderately blue state, so there’s not much reason to think this seat will flip. US Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO-2) is highly likely to beat state treasurer Walker Stapleton (R-CO).

Connecticut: Gov. Dan Malloy has served two terms and is not running for a third term. Malloy’s unpopularity is probably the only thing making this race competitive, so there is a chance businessman Bob Stefanowski (R) will beat former Greenwich selectman Ned Lamont (D).

Minnesota: Gov. Mark Dayton has served two terms and is not running for a third term. Dayton’s retirement was possibly spurred by a prostate cancer diagnosis. Minnesota’s slight blue tinge means that US Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN-1) should have a fairly easy time holding off Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson (R).

Group IV: Democratic Incumbents on the Ballot (5)

Hawaii: Gov. David Ige (D-HI) has served one term and is running for a second term. Ige survived a primary by US Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1), so he’s guaranteed a victory against state house minority leader Andria Tupola (R).

New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) has served two terms and is running for a third term. The Republican Party does exist in New York and currently controls the state senate, but it has not been competitive on the statewide level since 2002. Cuomo will obliterate Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro (R) by a double digit margin.

Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown (D-OR) has served a partial term and is running for a full term. Brown rose to her position after Gov. John Kitzhaber (D-OR) resigned amid a scandal and won a special election for the remainder of his term in 2016. Pro-choice state representative Knute Buehler (R) is keeping this race too close for comfort, but Brown is still likely to win.

Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) has served one term and is running for a full term. Wolf is the only Democratic incumbent in a Trump-won state, but there are many more Wolf voters than Trump voters so he will beat US Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA-11) by double digits.

Rhode Island: Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI) has served one term and is running for a second term. Although Raimondo only won with a small plurality in 2014, recent polls have shown that she is positioned to do better this time around. Raimondo is running against Cranston Mayor Alan Fung (R) and conservative Joe Trillo (I).

Group V: Independent-held Open Seats (1)

Alaska: Gov. Bill Walker (I-AK) has served one term. He ran for a second term, but dropped out of the race when former US Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) made clear he would not do so. He endorsed Begich to show his voters where to throw their support. Polls show a tight race between Begich and state senator Mike Dunleavy (R).

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The governor’s map is the inverse of the Senate map, but Democrats have many more pickup opportunities due to open seats, weak incumbents, and other idiosyncrasies of state politics. FiveThirtyEight’s statistical governors’ forecast model does not have an interval of confidence, but it expects Democrats to pick up around 9 governors’ mansions. The estimated breakdown is that Democrats will govern around 63.5% of the population (24 states, or 195 million people) and Republicans will govern around 36.5% of the population (26 states, or 134 million people).