Key Gubernatorial Races to Watch in the 2018 Midterms

Many governors will play key role in redistricting

Image Credits: peonyandthistle / Flickr.

After successfully holding the gubernatorial seat in Virginia, as well as flipping the state of New Jersey, Democrats hope to seize more gubernatorial seats in 2018 – a critically important plan as many will play a major role in the process of re-drawing congressional lines following the upcoming Census.

Republicans currently hold 33 gubernatorial seats, its highest number since World War II, while Democrats hold 16. The remaining seat, in Alaska, is held by an independent.

While the number of contested Senate races in 2018 are slanted heavily against the Democrats, Republicans will be forced to defend 26 gubernatorial seats compared to nine Democratic seats up for re-election this year, as well as the independent Governor of Alaska.

While Republicans appear on track to lose at least a handful of seats, the extent of the so-called “blue wave” will determine the exact number.

Alaska (Toss-Up, Independent Incumbent Seeking Re-Election)

Independent Governor Bill Walker has announced his intention to run for re-election, yet faces uncertain prospects due to the state’s economic difficulties – difficulties caused in large part by the low cost of oil and the state economy’s strong dependence on oil exports.

No Democrat has declared their candidacy as of yet; however, former Senator Mark Begich has not ruled out entering the race. There is also the possibility that Walker himself could be formally endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Numerous Republicans, including several current and former members of the Alaska legislature, are seeking to recapture the seat.

Colorado (Leans Democratic, Democratic Incumbent Term-Limited)

As incumbent Governor John Hickenlooper is term-limited, the Democratic and Republican fields are wide open – though Democrats are confident they will hold the seat given Colorado’s growing Hispanic population.

Representative Jared Polis is the presumptive Democratic front runner, though he faces a strong challenge from Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne and state Senator Mike Johnston.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and State Treasurer Walker Stapleton are vying for the Republican nomination alongside businessman Doug Robinson. Former Representative Tom Tancredo, a fixture with the populist wing of the party, recently withdrew from the race.

It’s worth noting that Stapleton is a relative of the Bush Family, while Robinson is the nephew of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Connecticut (Toss-Up, Democratic Incumbent Retiring)

Dislike of President Trump among wealthy suburban voters could be all that keeps the Democrats from losing the state of Connecticut after incredibly unpopular Governor Dan Malloy announced he would not seek re-election.

Both fields feature current mayors and state representatives, though no one running has been elected statewide – and there are indications neither party is satisfied with its field of candidates. Some polls have shown a generic Republican candidate leading a generic Democrat, leading to speculation the seat could flip.

Florida (Toss-Up, Republican Incumbent Term-Limited)

With incumbent Governor Rick Scott term-limited and making moves to challenge Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, Democrats hope to recapture the gubernatorial seat in Florida for the first time since 1994 – possibly relying on some of the thousands of Puerto Ricans who moved to the state following Hurricane Maria.

State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was the presumptive Republican nominee until Representative Ron DeSantis entered the race – with President Trump’s support.

The Democratic field features former Representative Gwen Graham as the favorite, facing off against Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum and former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine.

Illinois (Toss-Up, Republican Incumbent Seeking Re-Election)

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is by far the most vulnerable Republican running for re-election – provided he survives a primary challenge from state Representative Jeanne Ives.

The Democratic primary features a front runner, venture capitalist J.B Pritzker, facing off against state Senator Daniel Bliss and former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees Chris Kennedy (a member of the Kennedy family).

Maine (Leans Democratic, Incumbent Republican Term-Limited)

Maine will be the Republican Party’s toughest seat to hold in New England as outgoing Governor Paul LePage is term-limited.

Democrats have a wide-open field, with Attorney General Janet Mills being the presumptive nominee, while Republicans have a trio of state legislators to choose from after Senator Susan Collins passed on the chance to run.

The GOP’s one saving grace could be the potential spoiler campaign of independent State Treasurer Teresea Hayes, a former Democrat.

Michigan (Toss-Up, Republican Incumbent Term-Limited)

Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley are the Republican front runners to replace term-limited, and highly unpopular, Governor Rick Snyder.

Though President Trump narrowly carried the state, Democrats expect the traditionally poor showing by the president’s party in midterm elections to push them over the top – though many high profile Democrats have passed on the race, leaving former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer the presumptive nominee.

Minnesota (Leaning Democratic, Incumbent Democrat Retiring)

Incumbent Governor Mark Dayton is not seeking re-election, leaving both parties without a front runner leading into the primaries – though the Democrats have a much stronger field of candidates.

Democratic candidates include Saint Paul mayor Chris Coleman, Representative Tim Walz, and State Auditor Rebecca Otto.

The Republican field lacks a clear front runner, or a candidate with statewide name recognition. Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County Commissioner, has been endorsed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Former Governor Tim Pawlenty has ruled out a campaign for senate, but has yet to rule out a bid for his old seat (fueling speculation of his return to politics, Pawlenty recently announced his resignation from a financial industry lobbying organization). Were Pawlenty to run for Governor, the rating would move to toss-up .

Nevada (Toss-Up, Incumbent Republican Term-Limited)

Incumbent Governor Brian Sandoval is term-limited, leaving Democrats with their best opportunity to capture Nevada’s gubernatorial seat for the first time since 1994.

The Republican front runner is State Attorney General Adam Laxalt, while the Democratic primary will feature two Clark County Commissioners facing off: Steve Sisolak and the more liberal Chris Giunchigliani.

New Hampshire (Leaning Republican, Incumbent Republican Seeking Re-Election)

Incumbent Governor Chris Sununu is running for re-election in one of only two states, along with Vermont, that elect governors for two-year terms.

Former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand is the only declared Democratic candidate thus far, though many are hoping Colin Van Ostern, who ran against Sununu in 2016, will run again.

New Mexico (Leaning Democratic, Incumbent Republican Term-Limited)

New Mexico is the one Republican-held state most likely to flip Democratic as incumbent Governor Susan Martinez is term-limited.

The primary fields for both parties have narrowed, with Democratic Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham poised to face Republican Representative Steve Pearce.

Ohio (Leaning Republican, Incumbent Republican Term-Limited)

State Attorney General Mike DeWine, along with his running mate Secretary of State John Husted, are the front runners to keep the seat in Republican hands as Governor John Kasich is term-limited. DeWine will first have to survive a primary against Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor.

The Democratic field, while large, has begun to coalesce behind former Attorney General Richard Cordray, who most recently headed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Despite his considerable name recognition, Cordray will still face former Representative Dennis Kucinich and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neil. Cordray and DeWine previously faced off in a campaign for state Attorney General – a race Cordray lost.

Pennsylvania (Leaning Democratic, Incumbent Democrat Seeking Re-Election)

While he does not have incredibly high polling numbers, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf appears to be a difficult target for Republicans to defeat, even though the state is trending Republican and President Trump narrowly carried it over Hillary Clinton.

The Republican frontrunners include state House Speaker Mike Turza, state Senator Scott Wagner, and businessman Paul Mango.

Rhode Island (Leaning Democratic, Democratic Incumbent Seeking Re-Election)

Facing heat from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as tanking approval ratings, incumbent Governor Gina Raimondo is still seeking re-election.

Despite her unpopularity, Raimondo has amassed a sizable campaign war chest, making any effort to unseat her incredibly difficult. Likely Republican candidates include Cranston mayor Allan Fung and state Representative Patricia Morgan.

A wildcard in the race is the potential candidacy of former Republican-now-independent state Representative Joseph Trillo, a strong backer of President Trump. While unlikely to win himself, Trillo’s candidacy likely benefits Raimondo.