The most important races for control of the House of Representatives in 2022 and beyond won’t take place in 2022, but in 2018. As the 2021 redistricting cycle looms, the next round of gubernatorial races–set to occur next year in all but 12 states–is of critical importance. Republicans are mostly on defense this cycle, looking to retain trifectas in Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Georgia; and keep their veto pens in place in Illinois, Maryland, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, and New Mexico. But the GOP also has several opportunities to play offense, with the potential to regain trifectas in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Minnesota, and Colorado, and break up Democratic trifectas in Connecticut and Oregon.
Of course, gubernatorial races aren’t all about redistricting, as the outcome of many of these elections will have lasting effect on the next half-decade of American policy. Few could have anticipated that Scott Walker’s routine pickup of an open seat in Wisconsin would make that state a leader in conservative labor and budgetary reform and kick off a stretch that has seen 5 (and soon to be 7) new right-to-work states. The Republican governors of Kansas and Idaho have presided over ideological wars for control of their state parties, and the direction of the GOP in those two states plus potentially Nebraska will be decided at the ballot box in 2018. Now, Bruce Rauner’s bid for re-election could determine the future of Illinois’ fiscal solvency, and the race to defeat Tom Wolf could give Pennsylvania Republicans another crack at reform after frittering away an opportunity earlier this decade.
Gubernatorial races are the most likely opportunity for an off-party to compete in a deep red or blue state, and a victory could give them anything from a popular managerial figure (Maryland’s Larry Hogan or Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker) to a future Senator (West Virginia’s Joe Manchin) to a combative pest who may even drag the state toward the political center (the one and only Paul LePage of Maine).
And we haven’t even mention the nuttiness of New York and California yet. So buckle up–here’s RRH’s first look at the 2018 gubernatorial field.
|Safe D||Likely D||Lean D||Tossup||Lean R||Likely R||Safe R|
OR (K. Brown)
AK (B. Walker)
VT (P. Scott)
WI (S. Walker)
As always, bold denotes a projected flip while italics denotes a D-held Tossup seat.
These rankings mean that we start out predicting a net shift in Gubernatorial seats of between R+2 and D+7.
Flip over for the full narratives!
Likely to Flip to Challenging Party:
1. New Jersey Likely D
The likeliest flip of the cycle is one of two races occurring this year. Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has been politically belly-up at home since Bridgegate, is term limited, and Christie fatigue means Democrats are likely to reclaim the governorship of a state that leans strongly their way. The Democratic frontrunner is former Goldman Sachs exec
Jon Corzine Phil Murphy (D), a longtime megadonor who has bought himself secured the backing of most of the county party chairmen of North and Central Jersey. County party endorsements are generally determinative in primaries in the machine-happy Garden State, and Murphy’s early blitz of support kept South Jersey boss George Norcross, and his preferred candidate Steven Sweeney (D), on the sideline. Two other Democrats, State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D) and State Rep. John Wisniewski (D), are running long-shot challenges to Murphy. On the Republican side, LG Kim Guadagno (R) is favored in the primary over State Rep. Jack Ciattarelli (R). Although a credible candidate, Guadagno will be hampered by her connection to Christie–indeed, the GOP’s best hope in this race is that Christie leaves early to take an administration job, which would allow Guadagno to build up a resume as governor in her own right.
Leans toward Challenging Party:
2. New Mexico Lean D
At this early juncture, we view this as the one other Governor’s Mansion more likely than not to change hands. Term-limited Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has seen her approval numbers dip below 50% in this light-to-medium-blue state, which means Democrats should start with an edge in the race to replace her. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), a mainstream liberal three-termer from Albuquerque, is the first candidate in the race, but she may face a primary from AG Hector Balderas (D), an ambitious 43-year-old who has already won three statewide races and lost a Senate primary to now-Sen. Martin Heinrich (D). A Grisham-Balderas primary would be a competitive affair, and others, including Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales (D) and businessmen Alan Webber (D) and Jeff Apodaca (D), the former a 2014 candidate and the latter a son of a former Governor, are also considering bids. Republicans’ top choice here would be Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry (R), who is popular in the state’s largest city and would likely be the GOP’s best hope of salvaging this seat. Others who may run include two weaker but still well-known candidates, Rep. Steve Pearce (R), a conservative who lost badly in a 2008 Senate race but who could possibly clear the primary field, and LG and 2002 nominee John Sanchez (R). It will likely be several months before we have a better sense of this field, but the GOP bench in the state is depleted and Berry is likely the only one who could go toe-to-toe with the major Dems in stature and campaign skill. With his intentions being uncertain and Democrats likely having a strong menu of options, we will start off the race as Lean D.
3. Maine Tossup
Term-limited Gov. Paul LePage (R) was Trump before Trump, and although CW might suggest that Maine Democrats would ride LePage fatigue to an easy win, the state’s 2016 swing to the right and LePage’s committed base of conservatives should make this a tightly contested affair. Speculation about this race begins with Sen. Susan Collins (R), who was the GOP nominee in 1994 and at 64 is thought to perhaps still harbor executive ambition. Collins would likely clear the primary and general fields if she ran, but that seems unlikely at this stage. A more plausible target for the RGA is Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R), who has shown electoral strength in his two victories in ME-02 and could expand upon the LePage coalition. The GOP’s B-list includes state HHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew (R), State Sens. Eric Brakey (R) and Garrett Mason (R), and ex-State Rep. Josh Tardy (R). Democratic names in play include Rep. Chellie Pingree (D), AG Janet Mills (D), State Sen. Justin Alfond (D), ex-Speaker Mark Eves (D), and car mogul Adam Lee (D). Because this is Maine, we’ll likely see at least one independent candidate, with 2010 4th-place finisher Shawn Moody (I) one possibility.
Notably, this race could be the first U.S. statewide contest held under a ranked-choice voting system. Maine voters passed an initiative creating RCV in 2016, but the constitutionality of the measure has been challenged, and early chatter is that the new system is an underdog to survive in court.
4. Nevada Tossup
There is perhaps no place where Democrats suffer from more midterm malaise than the Silver State, where Republicans’ high-turnout base of Mormons, older suburbanites, and rural voters can turn this swing state deep red if Democrats’ larger, mostly nonwhite base is not properly engaged. Such was the case in 2014, when now-term-limited Gov. Brian Sandoval’s (R) popularity scared all serious Democrats out of the race, the party nominated None of the Above and somehow ended up with an even worse candidate than that, and Republicans took both houses of the legislature (which Democrats reclaimed in 2016 and should be up for grabs again in 2018). The likely 2018 Republican nominee, AG Adam Laxalt (R), is significantly more conservative than Sandoval, but has the benefits of a good family name (his grandfather Paul preceded Harry Reid in the Senate and his father was ex-NM Sen. Pete Dominici). Laxalt ran a surprisingly strong campaign during the 2014 wave, when he upset presumed governor-in-waiting Ross Miller (D). The state’s other significant Republicans–Sen. Dean Heller (R), LG Mark Hutchinson (R), and Rep. Mark Amodei (R)–have all deferred to Laxalt. Democrats’ bench was decimated in 2014, and their nominee will likely start with lower name recognition. Self-funding businessman Steve Cloobeck (D) has said he intends to run, but may have competition in the primary from a more established name. Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D), who has a reputation as a moderate, and State Sen. Aaron Ford (D), who may also run for AG, are the two most discussed names. Miller, Rep. Dina Titus (D, and their 2006 nominee), and Berniebot State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D) have also been Great Mentioned.
5. Illinois Tossup
Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), unlike his blue-state freshman colleagues in Massachusetts and Maryland, has taken the fight directly to the Democratic supermajorities in the Illinois Legislature, led by Speaker and longtime state political boss Michael Madigan (D). And for good reason–Illinois’ budgetary and pension crisis has elevated to the point where make-nice politics may be untenable. Rauner’s approval ratings sank into the 30’s in 2016, but he’s already donated $50 million to his re-election campaign and will have more than enough money to rebuild the moderate, private-sector, solutions-oriented image that got him elected in 2014 – not to mention the Rauner-bankrolled ILGOP apparatus, which works hand-in-glove with the Governor to a degree seen in no other state party. DGA recruiting targets include Rep. Cheri Bustos (D) of downstate, State Treasurer Mike Frerichs (D), RFK’s son Christopher Kennedy (D), hotel magnate and potential self-funder J.B. Pritzker (D), and State Sens. Andy Manar (D), Daniel Biss (D), and Kwame Raoul (D). A smaller name, bold progressive Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar (D), is already running. If Democrats can get through the primary intact and keep up with Rauner on the money front, they will have a good shot at a pickup in a state where Trump cratered with Rauner’s suburban base voters.
6. Michigan Tossup
Termed-out Gov. Rick Snyder (R)’s numbers never recovered from the Flint water crisis, but he leaves the Michigan GOP in the strongest shape we’ve seen in years. The task of holding his seat will most likely fall to the winner of a primary between LG Brian Calley (R), a popular figure with SoCons, and AG Bill Schuette (R), a 30-year veteran of Michigan politics. Both candidates hail from the MI-04 area of the central LP, and both would be competitive in a general election. Less likely to enter but also a formidable contender would be ex-Rep. and Macomb County official Candice Miller (R), who is very popular in her home region. State Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R) is also considering the race; while he has lower name recognition, he cuts an antiestablishment profile that could give him a base in the primary. The Democratic bench has taken a hit in recent years. Ex-State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D) of Lansing, a mainstream liberal, is the early frontrunner, but she may face a primary from Rep. Dan Kildee (D), a more traditional blue-collar Democrat, or Xerox executive Bill Cobbs (D). Michigan hasn’t elected two consecutive governors from the same party since 1968, and Snyder’s seat will be a tough hold, especially if Trump is unpopular in 2018.
7. Florida Tossup
Florida has become sort of an inverse Virginia for Democrats of late; as flawed Republicans carried the state narrowly in 2016, 2014, and 2010 in races many thought would go the other way (Democrats won the state narrowly in 2012). Republicans have also won five straight gubernatorial races, with Democrats’ increasing reliance on urban and nonwhite voters making midterms difficult for them. The last two of those wins belonged to term-limited Gov. Rick Scott (R), who although never particularly popular, isn’t sufficiently toxic to be a significant burden to Republicans. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (R) is the expected GOP nominee; his most threatening primary rival, AG Pam Bondi (R), appears more likely to take a Trump Administration job. Ex-St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker (R) and newly-inaugurated State House Speaker Rich Corcoran (R) are also thought to be interested, but would likely be decided underdogs to Putnam in the primary. Democrats are trying to recruit ex-Rep. Gwen Graham (D), daughter for popular former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham (D), into the race, but family health concerns may keep her sidelined. If Graham runs, her moderate voting record in Congress almost guarantees a primary: Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D), Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (D), Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (D), and wealthy trial lawyer John Morgan (D) have all expressed interest. The combination of a Trump midterm, Scott fatigue, Putnam’s united base, and the GOP’s midterm edge in Florida makes this as clear a tossup as there can be.
8. Connecticut Tossup
One of the under-reported stories of 2016 was the GOP revival in Connecticut, as Republicans tied the State Senate by running strongly in middle-class and blue-collar towns. Trump also improved in most of the state outside of the traditional GOP base in the NYC suburbs. The root of this revival is frustration with two-term Gov. Dannel Malloy (D), whose tax and gun control policies have been seen as overreach. This race will be in a holding pattern until Malloy, whose approvals are in the 20s, decides whether to seek a third term. He is already facing a primary from Middletown Mayor Dan Drew (D). If Malloy retires, a long list of Democrats could be interested, including LG Nancy Wyman (D), AG George Jepsen (D), Comptroller Kevin Lembo (D), and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp (D). The Republcian field has yet to take shape, but Malloy’s unpopularity likely portends a crowded primary. State Rep. Prasad Srinivasan (R) and Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst (R) have already entered the race. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton (R) ran in the 2014 primary and is considering another bid, and ex-FL Rep. “Morning Joe” Scarborough (R) has made rounds in the state and has generated some buzz. State Sens. Joe Markley (R) and Tony Hwang (R) and State Rep. Themis Klarides (R) are also thought to be considering runs. None of these candidates seem like field-clearers, meaning that this contest could get very crowded and an imperfect Republican could emerge.
9. Colorado Tossup
Two-term Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), a popular figure, is term-limited. Colorado is a difficult state for Republicans, whose normal advantage over Democrats in moderate suburbs on fiscal issues is blunted by the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which eliminates Democrats’ ability to govern as anything left of the fiscal center. This means elections in the state more often turn on social issues, which is problematic as the Republican base is quite conservative and the median voter is socially liberal. Treasurer Walker Stapleton (R) is seen as likely to run, as is Arapahoe County DA George Brauchler (R), who briefly flirted with a 2016 Senate race. Less likely to run is popular Rep. Mike Coffman (R), a proven vote-getter in a tough suburban Denver district, or his wife, AG Cynthia Coffman (R). Any of those four would give the GOP a strong general election candidate. Democrats’ only major candidate so far is bold progressive ex-State Sen. Mike Johnston (D). The more mainstream elements of the party are waiting on decisions from ex-Sen. and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (D) and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D). If neither runs, the B-list includes ex-Treasurer Cary (no relation) Kennedy (D) and LG Donna Lynne (D). There’s also an outside chance that mavericky Rep. Jared Polis (D), who could significantly self-fund, enters.
10. Virginia Tossup
Virginia is the other 2017 race on this list, and Republicans are back for another crack at this stubbornly light-blue swing state. Both sides will face primaries: the Republican frontrunner is former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie (R), who gave Sen. Mark Warner (D) a surprisingly close race in 2014. Gillespie will face Prince William CE Corey Stewart (R), an early Trump backer; State Sen. Frank Wagner (R) of Virginia Beach; and Paulist brewery owner Denver Riggleman (R). Democrats will likely choose between LG Ralph Northam (D), who will have state institutional support, and ex-Rep. Tom Periello (D), a favorite of the Obama White House and national progressives who ran two close races in conservative VA-05. The general election will likely swing on turnout and how Trump is faring across the Potomac; Virginia had a long history of not electing a governor of the party that controlled the White House until Terry McAuliffe (D) broke it in 2013. However, if anyone other than Gillespie wins the GOP primary either Democrat will likely start with a slight advantage.
11. Minnesota Tossup
More quietly than its neighbors, Minnesota trended Republican in 2016, with Hillary Clinton needing a leftward trend in the Twin Cities metro area to narrowly carry the state after Greater Minnesota zoomed right. Gov. Mark Dayton (D) has decided to retire after two moderately popular terms, and the race to replace him should be competitive. The Democratic field is better defined at this stage, with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (D), State Rep. Erin Murphy (D), and Auditor Rebecca Otto (D) already in the running, and the race could become even more crowded, as LG Tina Smith (D) and AG Lori Swanson (D) are both thought to be considering. Notably, all of those DFLers are from the Metro, which could create an opening for an outstate candidate like Reps. Tim Walz (D) or Rick Nolan (D) or State Sen. Tom Bakk (D). The state’s most visible Republican is Speaker Kurt Daudt (R), fresh of a successful defense of his House majority in 2016. Other potential candidates are Hennepin Sheriff Rich Stanek (R), State Sen. Michelle Benson (R), state GOP chair Keith Downey (R), and 2014 nominee Jeff Johnson (R), who performed slightly above expectations. Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) has strong appeal in the Metro and is often mentioned for higher office, but seems happy in the House.
Minnesota uses a convention-primary system through which the parties officially endorse a candidate at the convention. The runners-up frequently, but not always, withdraw after the convention, and in 2010 Dayton entirely skipped the convention before winning the primary. We mark this race as the least vulnerable tossup due to the DFL’s organizational strength in the state.
Leans toward Incumbent Party:
12. Pennsylvania Lean D
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has had an up-and-down first term marked by spars with the Republican legislature, and should face a stronger challenge in 2018 than Tom Corbett, the embattled governor he knocked off in 2014. His only declared challenger so far is State Sen. Scott Wagner (R), a business executive from York County who has some antiestablishment tendencies and has been (fairly successfully) building a more conservative machine to counter the moderate state establishment. As such, Wagner is unlikely to clear the primary field. Other Republicans mulling bids are Rep. Mike Kelly (R), who represents the state’s northwest quadrant and could self-fund, ex-LG James Cawley (R) of SEPA, State Sen. Jake Corman (R) of the T, Speaker Mike Turzai (R) of SWPA, and ex-Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) of SEPA. There’s also an outside possibility Wolf could retire, in which case Auditor Eugene DePasquale (D), AG Josh Shapiro (D), and Allegheny CE Rich Fitzgerald (D) could be candidates. Despite Trump and Toomey’s 2016 wins, Pennsylvania remains a difficult balancing act for the GOP, which along Wolf’s self-funding ability leads us to start him as a slight favorite for re-election.
13. Wisconsin Lean R
Two-term Gov. Scott Walker (R) has indicated that he is leaning toward another run, but won’t make a decision until after the state passes its budget this summer. Walker’s popularity still hasn’t recovered from his disastrous presidential bid, but we’ve seen him recover from low numbers twice, and if he were to run again, his loyal core of voters means he would start as a favorite. If Walker retires, the field will be wide open in this evenly-divided, R-trending state. Potential Walker successors include LG Rebecca Kleefisch (R) or Rep. Sean Duffy (R), who is also considering a Senate bid. On the Democratic side, the hope is that the fourth time will be the charm, and the most frequently cited names are Dane CE Joe Parisi (D) and State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D). Their A-list hope is Rep. Ron Kind (D), who is popular in the state’s swingy west, but he has declined numerous opportunities to run statewide.
14. Ohio Lean R
It’s hard to think of the last time an open Ohio seat didn’t start as a tossup, but the state’s sharp Republican trend since 2012 and the Democrats’ significant bench issues make it hard to argue that Team Red isn’t a favorite to hold the seat of term-limited Gov. John Kasich (R). AG Mike DeWine (R), who previously served two terms in the U.S. Senate, has been angling for this job for years and declared his candidacy last spring. Wealthy Rep. Jim Renacci (R) is also testing the waters for a bid, and SoS Jon Husted (R) and LG Mary Taylor (R) are both termed out of their current jobs and thought to be interested. A primary would take place against the backdrop of an ongoing struggle for control between the Kasich and Trump wings of the state GOP; of the four, only Renacci seems closer to Trump than Kasich. Democrats are hoping Rep. Tim Ryan (D), who holds down a blue-collar district, runs. Their fallback option appears to be ex-AG Richard Cordray (D), who headed up the CFPB after losing to DeWine in 2010. If neither runs, Democrats may end up punting on the race even if the national climate is in their favor, though there are still some “B” list candidates like State Sen. Tony Schiavoni (D) and ex-State Rep. and 2014 Treasurer nominee Connie Pillich (D) that they could fall back on.
15. Maryland Lean R
First-term Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has been, by some measures, the most popular governor in America since he took office. Hogan won a stunning upset in 2014 on a wave of discontent with the tax and regulatory policies of ex-Gov. Martin O’Malley (D)’s one-party tenure, and has crafted a moderate, nonpartisan image in office. Hogan also won praise for his handling of the 2015 Baltimore riots, and has beaten cancer while in office. But there’s very little margin of error for a Republican in Maryland, and Hogan may draw a strong challenger despite his popularity in hopes that Trump will be an albatross around his neck. Baltimore CE Kevin Kamenetz (D) is the most likely candidate, as he is term-limited and has been in a high-profile fight with Hogan over air conditioning the county’s schools. Other possible candidates could include Rep. John Delaney (D), who had been expected to run but may demur with Hogan’s high approval ratings, Obama’s Labor Secretary and DNC Chair candidate Tom Perez (D), Prince George’s CE Rushern Baker (D), and State Rep. Maggie McIntosh (D). No one from that group looks particularly threatening to Hogan right now, but the margin of error for a Maryland Republican is razor-thin, and Democrats are certain to try to tie Hogan to the Donald next door.
16. Kansas Lean R
If Hogan is American’s most popular governor, Sam Brownback (R) is probably its least popular. Brownback, who decisively (for now) won a decades-long civil war between moderates and conservatives in the Kansas GOP at the expense of his popularity, is termed out, but his shadow could hang over Republicans in a state that has been receptive to Democratic governors. Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R) is expected to run. Jenkins will likely appeal more to moderates than conservatives, but her day job in D.C. has kept her outside of the mudfights in Topeka of the past 6 years, and she may be one of the few Republicans who remains palatable to both wings. (You know things are bad when the five-term Congresswoman is the fresh-start candidate.) SoS Kris Kobach (R), a conservative hard-liner, could also run, as could LG Jeff Colyer (R), who may be hurt by his ties to Brownback. Nonprofit exec and former State Rep. Ed O’Malley (R), a moderate, is already in the race and would be a foil to Kobach in a primary. Democrats have a clear opening but don’t have much of a bench to fill it, with 2014 nominee Paul Davis (D) their closest thing to an A-lister. We see this race as competitive, but it has a greater chance to slide down the board quickly than others in this group.
17. Alaska Lean I
Gov. Bill Walker (I) narrowly ousted Sean Parnell (R) in 2014 on a de facto fusion ticket, as the Democratic nominee dropped out to become Walker’s running mate. Walker, a former Republican, ran on opposition to a tax cut for oil companies that Parnell signed, and has governed as a centrist reformer, tacking a significant budget crisis with a mix of tax increases, spending cuts, and cuts to the Alaska Permanent Fund, an oil-funded annual payout to each Alaska resident. That latter move has cut into Walker’s popularity, but his approvals remain solid. Parnell has been mum on whether he’ll seek a rematch against Walker; if he doesn’t, his 2014 running mate and former Anchorage Mayor Dan A. Sullivan (R, and not to be confused with the U.S. Senator of the same name) may run. Democrats are unlikely to seriously challenge Walker, though it’s not clear if that would mean running a sacrificial lamb who would get a couple percent or attempting to leave their ballot line blank entirely. Although Alaska leans Republican by default, Walker starts the second half of his term in good shape.
18. New Hampshire Lean R
We’ve reached the New England freshmen portion of our rankings, which starts with newly elected NH Gov. Chris Sununu (R). Because the Granite State elects its governors to 2-year terms, Sununu won’t get a long honeymoon period, but it will likely be at least 6 months before we have a sense of his vulnerability. New Hampshire’s last Republican governor, Craig Benson, lost re-election after one term in 2004. Possible Democratic candidates include Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster (D), Executive Councilors Chris Pappas and Andru Volinsky (D), and State Rep. and 2012 candidate Jackie Cilley (D).
19. Vermont Lean R
Vermont is the other 2-year state, and although it’s significantly more liberal than New Hampshire, we think freshman Gov. Phil Scott (R) starts in a slightly stronger position than Sununu due to the Green Mountain State’s affinity for both incumbents and moderate Republican governors. Scott is a popular figure whose strong 2016 campaign was his fourth statewide victory, and if he avoids fights with the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature he could entrench himself in the mold of former Gov. Jim Douglas (R). But Democrats can never be counted out in Vermont, and possible candidates could include ex-State Sen. Matt Dunne (D) and 2016 nominee Sue Minter (D). As in New Hampshire, it’s likely to be minimum of six months before we have a real assessment of this race.
20. Rhode Island Lean D
Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), a fiscal moderate, has had a turbulent first term, angering the union base by following through on a campaign pledge to reform pensions and dealing with several minor controversies in her administration. Raimondo only won 40-36 in 2014, and could be vulnerable in both the primary and general next year. Potential primary foes include 2014 candidate and Heir Force Maj. Clay Pell (D), AG Peter Kilmartin (D), and former Police Superintendent Brendan Doherty (D), who ran for Congress as a Republican in 2012. Republicans are hoping 2014 nominee and popular Cranston Mayor Allan Fung (R) runs again–despite getting only 36%, Fung exceeded expectations and may well have won a two-way race. Other Republicans connected to the race are Supreme Court justice Robert Flanders (R), ex-State rep. Joseph Trillo (R), State Rep. Patricia Morgan (R), businessman Giovanni Feroce (R), Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian (R), and ex-State Sen. Ed O’Neill (I), who served as a center-right Indie in the legislature but would likely run as a Republican. The Moderate Party, whose now-deceased nominee took 21% in 2014, also seems likely to run a candidate. Party founder Ken Block ran as a Moderate in 2010 and a Republican in 2014, and may try again under either banner in 2018.
21. Massachusetts Lean R
We consider Gov. Charlie Baker (R) the safest of the New England Four, as his approval ratings have been second only to Hogan’s and he has done a good job crafting an image as a nonpartisan manager in a deep blue state with an affinity for Republican governors. Baker is more insulated from Trump than Hogan, if only by sheer geography, and faces a more elastic electorate. Massachusetts Democrats are currently in wait-and-see mode–if Baker’s popularity wanes during 2017, a strong candidate like AG Maura Healey (D), Rep. Seth Moulton (D), or Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D) may run. If not, Baker’s foe will likely be a B- or C-lister like Newton Mayor Setti Warren (D), Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone (D), or ex-State Sen. Dan Wolf (D). A second-tier candidate would still have a chance against Baker in liberal and late-breaking Massachusetts, but there’s also the possibility we see the strongest Republican performance since 1994.
Likely to Stay with Incumbent Party:
22. Oregon Likely D
Gov. Kate Brown (D) will have served nearly four years by the time of the 2018 election, but she’s fresh off a victory in a special election to complete the term of disgraced ex-Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), who resigned less than a month into his fourth non-consecutive term. Brown is liberal even by Oregon standards, and Republicans held her to a 7-point win in 2016, but the West Coast Democratic bases have become increasingly difficult to crack. The strongest potential Republican candidate is SoS Dennis Richardson (R), who gave Kitzhaber a close race in 2014. Richardson in 2016 became the first Republican to win a statewide race in 14 years. State Rep. Knute Buehler (R), a wealthy orthopedic surgeon who ran a credible race against Brown for SoS in 2012, is also frequently mentioned as a potential candidate for higher office. Brown’s popularity will likely determine the intensity of the GOP’s efforts here in 2018.
23. Arizona Likely R
Arizona trended Democratic in 2016 and can’t be taken for granted in midterms, having elected twice Janet Napolitano (D) as governor. Between its growing Hispanic electorate, rural swing voters, and the Phoenix suburbanites who supported Hillary, there’s a large enough potential coalition to make the Grand Canyon State competitive in the near future. But first-term Gov. Doug Ducey (R) hasn’t made himself an attractive target, as he’s been a noncontroversial mainstream conservative in office. Both parties are more likely to focus on Jeff Flake’s vulnerable Senate seat than this race, but Ducey could potentially be pulled down by an unpopular Trump in a state that’s already shown to be tepid on him. The Democratic field has been slow to develop and chatter has centered around State Sen. Steve Farley (D) of Tucson. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D), ex-Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D), and 2012 Senate nominee Richard Carmona (D) would be other credible candidates.
24. Georgia Likely R
Two-term Gov. Nathan Deal (R) is termed out–which isn’t a huge problem for Republicans, as the relatively competitive nature of the 2014 race had more to do with Deal’s personal issues than any Democratic trends in the state. Those trends arrived in 2016 though, with Clinton making some of the inroads in the Atlanta suburbs Democrats will need to eventually put Georgia into play. But the Republican nominee for this race won’t be Donald Trump, and the turnout won’t be presidential, both of which lead us to start Republicans as strong favorites to hold the seat. LG Casey Cagle (R), who was the expected frontrunner in 2010 but backed out due to medical concerns, seems to have a clean bill of health for an expected run this cycle. But he may face a crowded primary field, as SoS Brian Kemp (R), ex-Rep. Jack Kingston (R), and ex-Rep. Lynn Westmoreland are all rumored to be interested. Democrats could run either half of their 2014 Heir Force ticket, Jason Carter (D) or Michelle Nunn (D), or Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Their B-list option is State Rep. Stacey Abrams (D), a relatively moderate African-American who appears frequently on national cable news. Dems’ best shot in this race may be if the formerly Blue Doggish portions of increasingly red rural Georgia decide that 16 years of Republican governors is enough.
25. Iowa Likely R
Governor-for-Life Terry Branstad (R) is departing to become ambassador to China, but the Iowa Democrats have been devastated by the past two cycles and may need a redshirt year before they can mount a competitive race for governor. The Hawkeye State swung massively rightward in 2014 and 2016, delivering a trifecta state government and a 5R-1D Congressional delegation, and Democrats’ troubles may be as much demographic as political. Counter-intuitively, Branstad’s pending resignation may make this seat safer for Republicans, as instead of facing a potentially divisive primary the party will likely close ranks around new Gov. Kim Reynolds (R). Agriculture Commissioner Bill Northey (R), who had been expected to challenge Reynolds in a primary in an open-seat situation, has declared himself out; Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett (R), another expected candidate, is also less likely to run now. Democrats could run State Sen. Janet Peterson (D), State Rep. Todd Prichard (D), party chairwoman Andy McGuire (D), former state cabinet member Richard Leopold (D), or a number of C-list legislators, but at this early stage we have a hard time seeing any of them, absent scandal, denying Reynolds a full term in office.
26. New York Likely D
Two-term Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is neither popular enough to skate to a third term, nor unpopular enough to not try for one, which could make this a very interesting primary and general. The socially liberal and fiscally moderate Cuomo is a good fit for New York’s median voter and would be nearly unbeatable in a ranked-choice system, but there’s enough anger at him in New York’s far-left Democratic electorate that he could prove vulnerable in a primary if a big name like Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) or AG Eric Schneiderman (D) jumps in. Then the fun could begin–Cuomo, win or lose, would likely retain a November ballot line, as would his left-wing challenger, thanks to the presence of the various small parties and the fusion-voting system. With the Democratic vote split, a Republican candidate like Westchester CE and 2014 candidate Rob Astorino (R), ex-Rep. Richard Hanna (R), or businessman Harry Wilson (R) would be competitive, especially considering Cuomo’s deep unpopularity in large swaths of Upstate stemming from his gun control efforts. (That’s all assuming Republicans don’t face the same problem of multiple candidates continuing on to November, which is always a possibility.) The strongest Republican candidate, ex-Rep. Chris Gibson (R), unexpectedly declined to run. Oh yeah–we haven’t even discussed the possibility of Preet Bhrara’s ongoing disinfection of Albany ensnaring Cuomo. The most likely result by far here is a Cuomo third term, but as usual New York’s chaos potential is yuge.
27. South Dakota Likely R
Popular, low-profile Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) is term-limited, and the race to replace him should start as at least nominally competitive. Rep. Kristi Noem (R) set up a fundraising account for a statewide bid in November, but she did so to get ahead of a new state law restricting federal-to-state account transfers, so it’s not certain that she intends to run in 2018. If she does, she will face a competitive primary with AG Marty Jackley (R), who pulled the same move. The rest of the state’s full contingent of Republican row officers, especially LG Matt Michels (R), could also be interested, but for now a Noem vs. Jackley mano-a-mano race looks like the most likely scenario. Democrats have had a rough decade in South Dakota but are likely to contest the race. Their top recruiting target is target is Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether (I), who recently left the Dem party to become an Indie but could run credibly as an I with Dem support. Ex-Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandelin (D), now a lobbyist, and 2014 Senate runners-up Rick Weiland (D) and Larry Pressler (I) would also be credible candidates.
28. South Carolina Likely R
With term-limited Gov. Nikki Haley (R) likely leaving early to become UN Ambassador, an anticipated wide-open primary to replace her may not occur. LG Henry McMaster (R), an early Trump supporter, will have 2 years to prove his mettle as governor, and his most intimidating potential primary challenger, Sen. Tim Scott (R), is now leaning against running. Prior to the news of Haley’s early departure, cabinet official Catherine Templeton (R), State Rep. Tommy Pope (R), ex-LG Yancey McGill (R), and perhaps AG Alan Wilson (R) had been expected to run. Now, all are likely to stand down for at least a few months and assess McMaster’s vulnerability. Democrats need several lucky bounces, namely a divisive GOP primary and a flawed nominee, to have a shot, especially with State Sen. Vince Sheheen (D) declining to make a third gubernatorial bid. State Sen. Brad Hutto (D), State Rep. James Smith (D), and ex-State Rep. and 2014 LG nominee Bakari Sellers (D) have been mentioned as candidates.
29. Oklahoma Likely R
No Oklahoma county has gone blue in a presidential election since 2000, and the past 8 years saw a stunning state-level realignment, with Democrats losing control of the legislature and each of the row offices. However, State Rep. Joe Dornan (D) ran a credible 2014 race against now-termed-out Gov. Mary Fallin (R), and the end of the Obama years could mean the return of something resembling a two-party system to Oklahoma. The Sooner State also has a Virginia-like 30-year streak of electing governors of the party out of power in Washington. LG Todd Lamb (R) starts the race as a strong favorite, but it is possible he gets a significant primary challenger in the form of retiring Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R), Trump-friendly businessman Bob Mills (R) or Treasurer Ken Miller (R). Democrats were dealt a setback when popular ex-Rep. Dan Boren (D) said he wouldn’t run. They will likely pick between State Rep. Scott Inman (D), 2014 nominee and ex-State Rep. Joe Dornan (D), university regent Mike Turpen (D), and ex-AG Drew Edmondson (D).
30. Tennessee Likely R
Few states are as thoroughly Republican as Tennessee, but Democrats won the governor’s race as recently as 2006, and the open seat of Gov. Bill Haslam (R) may be their best opportunity at relevance this decade. But the door to this race for both parties may be slammed shut if Sen. Bob Corker (R) decides to run, perhaps in an unofficial seat swap with Haslam. If Corker is out, Republicans can expect a very crowded primary, perhaps including Reps. Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn (R); Speaker Beth Harwell (R); Haslam cabinet officials Randy Boyd, Bill Hagerty, and John Schroer (R); or State Sens. Mark Norris and Mark Green (R). The last two Tennessee governors were previously mayors of major cities; Democrats are accordingly looking to Andy Berke of Chattanooga (D), Madeline Rogero of Knoxville (D), and Karl Dean and Bill Purcell (D), both formerly of Nashville. State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D) has also been mentioned as considering a bid, while longtime Rep. Jim Cooper (D), the last true Southern Blue Dog in the House, could also come home for a run.
31. Nebraska Likely R
First-term Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) will seek re-election, but most of the chatter in this race has focused on his predecessor, popular Gov. Dave Heineman (R), who has refused to rule out a primary challenge to Ricketts. It’s unclear how serious Heineman is about running or what policy differences exist between he and Ricketts, who has governed as a mainstream conservative but has had many clashes with the officially nonpartisan legislature. Ricketts won the most-high profile of these fights at the ballot box in 2016 when Nebraska voters reinstated the death penalty, which the legislature had abolished over Ricketts’ veto. It’s unclear whether, absent Heineman, Ricketts could draw a primary challenger from his left, perhaps a state legislator. Cornhusker State Democrats have a short bench and are more likely to focus on the legislature, and their strongest statewide candidates might be ex-Rep. Brad Ashford (D) of Omaha or Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler (D). We’re keeping Nebraska at the very edge of our watch list because of the possibility that Ricketts’ spats with the legislature could develop into a full-blown Kansas-style civil war.
32. Alabama Likely R
No one outside Alabama paid attention because 2016 was, well, 2016, but termed-out Gov. Robert Bentley (R) was caught sleeping with one of his staffers, rendering him a lame duck early on in his second term. The question now is whether another shoe drops from the scandal and forces Bentley to resign, which would allow LG Kay Ivey (R) to take office and potentially dampen what is otherwise expected to be an enormous primary field. It would perhaps be easier to list Alabama Republicans not interested in running for governor, but we’ll try anyway: Ivey, Treasurer Young Boozer (R), SoS John Merrill (R), Auditor Jim Zeigler (R), Public Service Commission Present Twinkle Cavanaugh (R), Reps. Bradley Byrne (R) and Martha Roby (R), Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson (R), Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle (R), various state legislators, and nutty Ten Commandments judge Roy Moore (R). (One of these people may instead get appointed to Sen. Jeff Sessions’s Senate seat, and others may run for that seat instead, which AG Luther Strange is already doing.) Democratic hopes probably begin and end with Moore emerging from the GOP primary. They may run former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb (D), State Rep. Craig Ford (D), or ex-Rep. and frequent party-switcher Parker Griffith (currently D).
Safe for Incumbent Party:
33. Idaho Safe R
Idaho Republicans are in the midst of an equally divisive but more, well, civil civil war than the one in Kansas. However, the Idaho seat is significantly safer than the Kansas seat because in place of the Kansas RINO’s, Idaho has a faction of center-right, Chamber of Commerce Republicans who are no threat to bolt to the Democrats should they lose a primary to the more anti-establishment, movement conservative faction of the party. The leader of the CoC wing, three-term Gov.
Tomboyish Beaver Butch Otter, is retiring. His heir apparent is LG Brad Little (R), although Little may face a “sub-primary” with AG Lawrence Wasden (R), also of the Otter faction. Ex-State Sen. Russ Fulcher (R), who lost 51-44 to Otter in the 2014 primary, is running again as the anti-establishment candidate. However, the leader of that faction, Rep. Raul Labrador (R), has not ruled out a bid himself. Little seems to be a favorite in a race without Labrador, but a Labrador bid could give us a good barometer of where the Cruz wing of the GOP stands after 2016. Regardless of who emerges from the primary, the seat should stay in GOP hands. Democrats could run Boise School Board president A.J. Balukoff (D) again, or could end up with a random legislator or total Some Dude.
34. Wyoming Safe R
The Cowboy State is the most Republican in America, full-stop, and all the action to replace term-limited Gov. Matt Mead (R) should take place in the GOP primary. Speculation has centered on three candidates: Treasurer Mark Gordon (R), SoS Ed Murray (R), and recently retired ex-Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R). The state’s two other row officers, Auditor Cynthia Cloud (R) and Superintendent Jillian Babow (R), would also be credible candidates. Popular ex-Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D), who won his last election in 2006, is still practicing law in Wyoming, but has given no indication that he intends to return to politics, and until and unless he does this race will sit near the bottom of the rankings. But the probability of something strange happening is always higher in a state where 90,000 votes is sufficient to win an election.
35. Arkansas Safe R
Popular Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) should have a sleepy re-election race, as Arkansas Democrats haven’t quite reached rock bottom yet and have a better chance of finding themselves there than Little Rock in 2018. The fairly generic Hutchinson has maintained approval ratings over 60% mostly by avoiding the spotlight, as Arkansas has one of the weakest governorships (and strongest legislatures) in the country. Hutchinson is already fundraising for another term, but even if he were to retire, a candidate like LG Tim Griffin (R), Rep. French Hill (R), or Rep. Steve Womack (R) would easily keep the seat in GOP hands. Former U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge (D) is fresh off a 24-point Senate loss but could run statewide again; country radio host Bobby Bones (D? I?) has also expressed interest, but he may not meet residency requirements as his show is based in Nashville, TN.
36. Texas Safe R
Four years after Wendy turned Texas blue….OK, time to retire that meme. The Lone Star State showed a glimmer of hope for Democrats in 2016, who (likely more because of Trump than because of any positive action on their part) made significant inroads in the DFW and Houston metro areas, a necessary step on their long, pink-shoed (sorry, last one) march to relevance in the GOP’s flagship jurisdiction. But that relevance isn’t coming in 2018. Popular Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has done a good job of pleasing both the mainstream and anti-establishment wings of the Texas GOP, should cruise to re-election over a Democratic Party that still lacks the bench, the money, the organization, and ultimately the votes to compete on the statewide level. The Castro twins, Rep. Joaquin (D) and HHS Secretary Julian (D), at the top of the Democrats’ list, but neither seems likely to make a bid this soon; and even if one did, it would more likely be against Sen. Ted Cruz, an easier target than Abbott. Republicans should not have to realistically have to worry about Texas until the 2022 race, when Abbott may retire, at the very soonest.
37. California Safe D
After 8 years of relative stability under Gov. Jerry Brown (D)–a phrase few thought would ever be typed at RRH–the Golden State has a golden opportunity to plunge back into chaos, as this open seat at the helm of the Titanic could turn into a three-ring circus of ambitious Democrats suffocating under the weight of the state’s bench, especially if Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) doesn’t retire and open up another race. Already in the Top Two field are LG Gavin Newsom (D), Treasurer John Chiang (D), ex-LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), and ex-Superintendent Delaine Eastin (D), with Newsom starting as the frontrunner on the basis of name recognition. A host of others, including SoS Alex Padilla (D), billionaire environmentalist donor Tom Steyer (D), Controllor Betty Yee (D), LA Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), and assorted Hollywood celebrities are rumored to be interested. Republicans’ goal is to make the Top Two and avoid a D v. D general that would be disastrous downballot. The clear dream candidate is San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer (R), who is popular back home and is likely to wait for a more favorable year (and as dire as things are for the California GOP today, it’s not hard to imagine the whole thing going up in (hopefully figurative) flames for some future Democratic governor). A more realistic best hope is Peter Theil (R), the Silicon Valley magnate and Trump BFF who could self-fund and perhaps make inroads with Bay Area and LGBT voters. San Bernardino DA Mike Ramos (R), currently running an equally hopeless campaign for AG, may be a break glass in case of emergency option to get a semi-credible Republican into the general if Faulconer and Thiel decline. Less savory options include ex-State Rep. and immigration hardliner Tim Donnelly (R) and octogenarian 1960’s-era Rams quarterback Rosey Grier (R).
38. Hawaii Safe D
After going blue by the largest margin of any state for the third straight presidential election, Hawaii is set to host a gubernatorial cakewalk in 2018. The Aloha State, which just elected the nation’s first all-Democratic legislative chamber since the dying days of the Solid South, has a functioning two-party system that plays out in Democratic primaries and within the Democratic legislative caucus: a working-class, protectionist, machine-oriented Asian-American bloc and a more socially liberal and ecotarian bloc made up mostly of white transplants. Gov. David Ige (D), of the former bloc, handily primaried out ex-Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) of the latter in 2014, and the white progressives don’t seem to be gearing up for a challenge to Ige this cycle. State Sen. Josh Green (D) has fundraised for a statewide bid, but seems more interested in the LG slot. After running ex-LG Duke Aiona (R) in the last two cycles, Republicans may have trouble finding a credible candidate. Ex-Rep. Charles Djou (R) has lost three consecutive close races in which he far exceeded the R baseline, and will almost surely wait for a better opening to avoid perennial candidate status. It’s very possible we get stuck with a total Some Dude here, and that means Ige takes the honors of being the safest Governor of 2018 this time.