RRH Elections May 2017 Gubernatorial Rankings

It is time once again to take a look at the gubernatorial landscape. Our RRH Elections Race Rankings evaluate all the gubernatorial elections in likelihood of flipping, in the overall gestalt opinion of the moderators. Here is this month’s map:

Safe D Likely D Lean D Tossup Lean R Likely R Safe R
CA (OPEN)
HI (Ige)
NJ (OPEN)
NY (Cuomo)
OR (K. Brown)
RI (Raimondo)
MN (OPEN)
NM (OPEN)

PA (Wolf)
.
Lean I:
AK (B. Walker)
CO (OPEN)
CT (OPEN)
FL (OPEN)
IL (Rauner)
ME (OPEN)
MI (OPEN)
NV (OPEN)
VA (OPEN)
KS (OPEN)
MD (Hogan)
MA (Baker)
NH (Sununu)
OH (OPEN)
WI (S. Walker)
AL (Ivey)
AZ (Ducey)
GA (OPEN)
IA (Reynolds)
OK (OPEN)
SC (McMaster)
SD (OPEN)
TN (OPEN)
VT (P. Scott)
AR (Hutchinson)
ID (OPEN)
NE (Ricketts)
TX (Abbott)
WY (OPEN)

Bold denotes a seat we expect to flip; Italics denotes a Dem-held Tossup seat.

RRH Elections has made the following four changes to our gubernatorial ratings since our last post in January, two in Republicans’ Favor:

Nebraska Safe R from Likely R || Vermont Likely R from Lean R

And two in favor of Democrats:

Minnesota Lean D from Tossup || Rhode Island Likely D from Lean D

These changes mean RRH Elections is currently projecting a net shift in gubernatorial seats of between R+1 and D+7.

Flip over for recaps of all the races!

Likely to Flip to Challenging Party:

1. New Jersey Likely D (1)

Toxic outgoing Gov. Chris Christie (R) continues to be a weight around the neck of the Republicans seeking to succeed him. With Christie’s approval dipping into the teens, the two major Republicans seeking the nomination this year, LG Kim Guandagno (R) and State Rep. Jack Ciattarelli (R), are racing to run as far away from him as possible. The primary in two weeks looks close to a tossup, with Guandagno having slightly more support. At the end of the day, the GOP nomination here is probably going to be close to worthless though, because former ambassador Jon Corzine Jr. Phil Murphy (D) has sewn up nearly unanimous Dem support and looks set to win the primary easily over several lesser-known candidates such as State Rep. John Wisniewski (D), State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D), and Bill Clinton admin official Jim Johnson (D). We’re keeping this race at Likely D just because there is a small chance Murphy could make an unforced error, but at this point he can probably feel pretty comfortable measuring the drapes.

Leans Toward Challenging Party:

2. New Mexico Lean D (2)

This continues to be the other seat we see as more likely than not to flip. Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D) is in the race and looks like a solid contender for Democrats. Lujan-Grisham enters the primary as a favorite, especially since her best known potential rival, AG Hector Balderas (D), surprisingly decided not to run. However, there will still likely be several other Dems in the primary, including Jeff Apodaca (D), a media exec and son of 70s-era Gov. Jerry (D), 2014 candidate Alan Webber (D), State Sen. Joe Cervantes (D), and Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales (D); there is a chance that any of them could upset Lujan-Grisham. Republicans have a thinner bench here, but several credible candidates are considering. Likely the strongest would be Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry (R), who has been popular in his two terms leading the state’s largest city, but LG John Sanchez (R), Rep. Steve Pearce (R), and Lands Commissioner Aubrey Dunn (R) are also thought to be considering the race. Overall, due to the lean of the state, the strong Dem front-runner in Lujan Grisham, and the unclear prospects of Republicans to get a strong candidate, we mark Dems as slight but definite favorites to flip this seat.

Tossups:

3. Nevada Tossup (4)

This race is among the slowest-starting of the most hotly-contested races, though Republicans have a clear (if undeclared) front-runner in AG Adam Laxalt (R). After coming into office unexpectedly on the 2014 mega-wave, Laxalt has made a name for himself as a staunch conservative and has built up his warchest for this race. Laxalt has most GOP establishment support, but two other somewhat mavericky Republicans, Treasurer Dan Schwartz (R) and Controller Ron Knecht (R), have expressed some interest in challenging him in the GOP primary. Democrats’ field is deeply unsettled, with State Sen. Aaron Ford (D), ex-SoS Ross Miller (D), ex-State House Speaker Barbara Buckley (D), Clark County commissioner Steve Sisolak (D), and businessman Steve Cloobeck (D) (who endorsed Sen. Dean Heller’s (R) re-election bid) connected with the race. As a somewhat polarizing conservative, Laxalt is not one of the NVGOP’s strongest candidates, and the state overall is light blue, so we are placing this race toward the Dem side of the Tossup category. But much will depend on who actually runs and who sits out.

4. Illinois Tossup (5)

Billionaire Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has taken a somewhat different tack from the three other Republicans governing deep-blue states. While Govs. Larry Hogan, Charlie Baker, and Phil Scott have become very popular by playing nice with their liberal state legislatures, Rauner has taken the exact opposite tack, fighting all-powerful State House Dictator Speaker Mike Madigan (D) at every turn and using his limitless personal cash to bankroll the entire ILGOP. The tactic has actually worked somewhat; Rauner has successfully turned Madigan into a toxic figure, to the point where his Dem opponents feel the need to disavow their (obvious) connections to him. But the downside to this for Rauner is that he has become a quite polarizing figure himself. Democrats seem to be angling to fight fire with fire here money-wise, as the party establishment seems to be coalescing around wealthy businessman and 1998 IL-9 candidate JB Pritzker (D) as their choice to take on Rauner. Pritzker’s wealth has made him a more attractive choice for Dems than the other candidates in the race, Heir Force Maj. Chris Kennedy (D), State Sen. Daniel Biss (D), local superintendent Bob Daiber (D), and Chicago councilman Ameya Pawar (D), and thus the Dem primary front-runner. The general election will thus likely be between two candidates with limitless wealth in a high-stakes battle for the future of the state between Rauner and Madigan. The blue nature of the state and national dynamics probably leave Rauner a very slight underdog, but this race is sure to be hotly contested through next fall.

5. Michigan Tossup (6)

Both parties are likely to have contested primaries for this seat. Democrats have a clear front-runner in ex-State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D). Though Whitmer represented a liberal seat in Lansing, she is regarded as a strong campaigner. Whitmer is facing businessmen Bill Cobbs (D) and Shri Thanedar (D) and former Detroit city official Abul El-Sayed (D), though some other Dems, including Macomb CE Mark Hackel (D), are thought to be considering. No credible Republicans have as yet entered the race, though most signs point to a tough primary between LG Brian Calley (R) and AG Bill Schuette (R). Antiestablishment-friendly State Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R) and moderate State Rep. Larry Inman (R) are also considering runs. Regardless of the GOP nominee, the general election is likely to be highly competitive, and right now it’s too early to peg this as anything other than a pure Tossup.

6. Maine Tossup (3)

This race may take the cake for highest amount of uncertainty, as beyond not really having any idea of who the candidates will be, we don’t even know for sure what electoral system the race will take place under. In 2016 Maine passed Instant Runoff Voting, but the provision is under a court challenge and may not be upheld. However, one person who can solve pretty much all the uncertainty about this race is Sen. Susan Collins (R). The popular Collins has made no secret of the fact that she would like to be Governor, has announced she is considering the race, and she would be a near-prohibitive favorite against anyone of any party. But if Collins doesn’t run the race gets far more interesting: Democrats already have one candidate in the race, car dealership owner and former congressional candidate Adam Cote (D), while State Sen. Justin Alfond (D), appointed SoS Matt Dunlap (D), appointed AG Janet Mills (D), and businessman Adam Lee (D) are also thought to be considering. For Republicans, non-Collins options might include State Sens. Garrett Mason (R) and Roger Katz (R), ex-State Rep. Josh Tardy (R), and Gov. LePage admin official Mary Mayhew (R). Adding to the fun, there will be at least one credible Indie running, as appointed State Treasurer Teresea Hayes (I), a former Dem legislator, has entered the race, and center-right 2010 candidate Shawn Moody (I) may run again as well. All in all there’s really no other way to handicap this race but a pure Tossup.

7. Florida Tossup (7)

Republicans have a clear primary front-runner for this open seat in Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (R), who has essentially been running in this race since he gave up a safe House seat for a low-profile row office in 2010. Putnam is a consummate pol, which comes with upsides and downsides; while he is regarded as a strong campaigner, his lack of much life experience outside politics could prove a liability. It is unclear whether Putnam will get a cleared primary; State House Speaker Rich Corcoran (R), Rep. Ron DeSantis (R), and State Sen. Jack Latvala (R) have also been thought to be considering runs; however, none of them can match Putnam’s statewide name recognition. On the Dem side, the primary is far more unsettled. Three credible candidates are in the race already: ex-Rep. Gwen Graham (D), Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D), and businessman Chris King (D), while Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine (D) and wealthy ambulance-chasing attorney John Morgan (D) are thought to be considering. For now Graham looks like a very slight front-runner in the Dem primary, but that could easily change with time. Given Florida’s immense size and deep purple nature, and with both sides likely to field strong candidates, this race is looking close to a pure Tossup.

8. Virginia Tossup (10)

This year’s other gubernatorial election seems more interesting than the likely easy Murphy win in NJ. Virginia’s primaries will be in three weeks, and Democrats are set to have one of their most bruising contests in a while. LG Ralph Northam (D) was considered the establishment favorite when he declared for this race, bolstered by the somewhat surprising decision of AG Mark Herring (D) not to run. But just before the filing deadline, Northam got a serious primary challenge from 2000s-era ex-Rep. Tom Perriello (D). Perriello has attempted to seize the bold progressive mantle in the race, hitting Northam for having previously supported Republicans in the 2000s and casting the race as a relitigation of the Bernie vs. Hillary dynamic. But there are some problems in that for Perriello: Hillary easily won Virginia in the primaries, and the state establishment remains firmly in Northam’s corner. Overall the primary looks close to a Tossup. Waiting in the general will likely be ex-RNC Chair and 2014 Senate nominee Ed Gillespie (R). Gillespie is favored to win the primary over Prince William CE Corey Stewart (R), who has built his campaign on a crazy quest to preserve Confederate Monuments (despite being from Minnesota), and State Sen. Frank Wagner (R), who is a credible candidate but hasn’t been able to match Gillespie’s money or name rec. Gillespie came far closer than expected to winning his Senate race in 2014, and despite the national environment and the leftward tilt of the state, wounds from the Dem primary may be tough to heal. As a result, we consider this race close to a pure Tossup.

9. Colorado Tossup (9)

Both sides have crowded primaries for this open seat. On the Dem side, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D) looks like a slight front-runner, but will face off with bold progressive State Sen. Mike Johnston (D) and ex-State Treasurer Cary Kennedy (D) in the primary. Republicans have three solid candidates already in the race in Arapahoe DA George Brauchler (R), who has been notable for his prosecution of the Aurora theater shooter, and a pair of self-funders: ex-State Rep. Victor Mitchell (R) and Romney relative and businessman Doug Robinson (R). Larimer County commissioner Lew Gaiter (R) is also in the race but seems less serious, while Treasurer Walker Stapleton (R) is considered near-certain to enter and would be a credible candidate. Due to Colorado’s purple nature and the prospect of strong nominees on both sides, this race looks pretty close to a pure Tossup.

10. Connecticut Tossup (8)

Gov. Dan Malloy’s (D) decision not to seek a third term was probably good news for Democrats here, as Malloy has become incredibly unpopular for pushing through a series of impractical left-wing policies (much like an inverse version of Sam Brownback in Kansas). Democrats are likely to have a crowded field of options to succeed Malloy, with Comptroller Kevin Lembo (D), Middletown Mayor Dan Drew (D), ex-State Sen. and Malloy Admin official Jonathan Harris (D), former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei (D), and convicted felon and current Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim (D) already in the race. But the field doesn’t stop there: LG Nancy Wyman (D), SoS Denise Merrill (D), Treasurer Denise Nappier (D), State Sens. Martin Looney (D) and Ted Kennedy Jr. (D), and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp (D) are all thought to be interested. Republicans’ field is no cleaner, with Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton (R), Trumbull Mayor Tim Herbst (R), Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti (R), former US Comptroller-General David Walker (R), State Rep. Pradad Srinivasan (R), and 2014 SoS nominee Peter Lumaj (R) already in the race, and State Sen. Tony Hwang (R), State Rep. Themis Klarides (R), ex-State Sen. and 2014 candidate John McKinney (R), and others considering. Malloy’s incredible unpopularity will be a drag on the Dem nominee in a state where Republicans overperformed somewhat in 2016, but this is still a blue state and Republicans won’t have the luxury of running against Malloy himself. So for right now we place this race toward the Dem-leaning side of the Tossup category.

Leans Toward Incumbent Party:

11. Alaska Lean I (17)

After his unlikely win in 2014 as an R-turned-I with Dem support, Gov. Bill Walker (I) has had a rocky first term due to the state’s plummeting oil revenues. Walker, a centrist who has at times had tense relationships with both parties, has not indicated whether he will seek a second term. If he does he may face serious opposition from one or both parties. State Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R) has been mentioned as a possible candidate on the GOP side, while State Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D) has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Dems. At this point it’s still quite unclear what kind of support Walker will have. With no defined opponents, he looks like a slight favorite for a second term, but much will depend on whether each of the major parties fields a credible opponent.

12. Kansas Lean R (16)

Toxic Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has attempted to push through a conservative agenda in Kansas, in some cases over the objections of a RINO-D coalition in the state legislature. In part due to being hamstrung by the legsilature, Brownback has been less than competent at implementing his plans, making himself personally toxic and driving the chasm between moderates and conservatives in the state GOP even wider. Thus, this race presents Democrats’ with their best opportunity to take over a deep-red-state governor’s mansion. Democrats amazingly are set to have a seriously contested primary here, with ex-Wichita Mayor Greg Brewer (D) and ex-State Rep. Josh Svaty (D) in the race; both seem like credible candidates who could potentially capitalize on anti-Brownback sentiment. For Republicans, most speculation centers around LG Jeff Colyer (R), who is closely tied to Brownback, and SoS Kris Kobach (R), who is better known as a national immigration hawk. AG Derek Schmidt (R) and moderate ex-State Rep. Ed O’Malley (R) have also been rumored to be considering the race, while businessman and 2010 KS-4 candidate Wink Hartman (R) has already declared. Overall, the Republican nominee will have the lean of the deep-red state on their side, but Brownback’s unpopularity seems likely to give Dems a real opening here, and we can’t mark the GOP as more than moderate favorites to hold this seat.

13. Minnesota Lean D (11)

This race has a very crowded Dem field, with Rep. Tim Walz (D), State Auditor Rebecca Otto (D), St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (D), and State Reps. Erin Murphy (D) and Tina Liebling (D) already in the race and Rep. Rick Nolan (D) and AG Lori Swanson (D) still considering. It remains to be seen how many of these candidates will continue on to the primary or defer to the winner of the DFL convention. Republicans’ field is somewhat more “B” list, so far consisting of 2014 nominee and Hennepin County commissioner Jeff Johnson (R), State Rep. Matt Dean (R), and Ramsey County commissioner Blake Huffman (R) already in the race, and multiple others, including State House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R), considering. Minnesota is clearly a purple state where Republicans made major gains in 2016, but the plethora of “A” list Democrats and the conspicuous absence of “A” list Republicans lead us to mark Democrats as noticeable favorites to hold this seat.

14. Pennsylvania Lean D (12)

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has had middling approval ratings in his first term, which combined with the purple nature of his state seems likely to net him a serious challenge for re-election. Two Republicans are in the race, antiestablishment conservative State Sen. Scott Wagner (R) and businessman Paul Mango (R), while State House Speaker Mike Turzai (R) is actively considering a bid. Wolf has had a number of fights with the legislature, but seems to be holding the Dem base in his column well, and thus enters his fight for a second term as a moderate but significant favorite. However, any of Wagner, Mango, or Turzai could give Wolf a credible challenge and could win with an unforced error on Wolf’s part.

15. Ohio Lean R (14)

The Buckeye State may take the cake for the biggest primary fields on both sides for this year’s gubernatorial races. Republicans have a four-way pileup of “A” listers in this race between AG Mike DeWine (R), LG Mary Taylor (R), SoS Jon Husted (R), and Rep. Jim Renacci (R). Each of the four has strengths and weaknesses, but for now it doesn’t seem like any of the four is a significantly stronger candidate than the others. Democrats have a four-way pileup of their own, though all their choices are more “B” list: Ex-Rep. Betty Sutton (D), State Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D), Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D), and ex-State Rep. and 2014 Treasurer nominee Connie Pillich (D). Given Ohio’s new light-red tilt and the stronger nature of the Republican fields, we consider Republicans as moderate favorites to hold this seat.

16. Maryland Lean R (15)

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is among the nation’s most popular Governors, boosted by impressive natural political skills, competent management, and a pick-no-unnecessary-fights attitude with respect to the extremely left-wing legislature. But deep-blue and inelastic Maryland is a tough hill to climb for any Republican, and a number of Democrats are hoping that anti-Trump coattails will extend to throwing out even one of the most popular and independent-leaning Republicans in high office. So far the two candidates in the race seem to be low “B” to “C” list, moonbat State Sen. Rich Maladeno (D) and businessman and Hillary aide Alec Ross (D). However, several other Democrats, such as Rep. John Delaney (D), Baltimore CE Kevin Kamenetz (D), Prince George’s CE Rushern Baker (D), ex-NAACP President Benjamin Jealous (D), and ex-AG and noted underage drinking enthusiast Doug Gansler (D), are considering. Hogan continues to post extremely high approval ratings, but his margin for error is small, and the prospect that Trump could bring out enough straight-ticket Dems to doom him is real enough to keep this race no better than the middle of the Lean R category.

17. New Hampshire Lean R (18)

Gov. Chris Sununu (R) doesn’t quite have enough of a track record for us to really assess his popularity, but early indications are that he will be moderately popular as Governor. New Hampshire’s short terms mean that he has to face the voters again very quickly. Democrats seem to have a serious contender already in the race in ex-Portsmouth Mayor and 2016 candidate Steve Marchand (D). Marchand’s 2016 campaign didn’t set the world on fire, but he seems credible enough to capitalize on a dramatic upswing in Dems’ fortunes or a major Sununu error. Given that we still don’t have enough information to really pin this race down, we are going to keep our assessment as Sununu being moderately favored and thus leave the race towards the less competitive side of the Lean R category.

18. Wisconsin Lean R (13)

To say there hasn’t been much interest from Democrats in challenging Gov. Scott Walker (R) for a third term seems a bit of an understatement, as multiple “A” and “B” list Dems have said no to bids in rapid succession. Walker is basically at the same place he has been since 2011 – not broadly popular, but beloved by a small majority of the state – and that’s enough to make him a clear favorite for a third term. Democrats’ most likely options include a couple “C” list candidates, State Sen. and 2012 candidate Kathleen Vinehout (D) and nonprofit exec Mike McCabe (D). Walker doesn’t have a terrible amount of room for error, but so far Democrats seem to be voting his strength with their feet in declining to challenge him. Thus, this race falls down the rankings quite a bit while remaining in the Lean R category.

19. Massachusetts Lean R (21)

Much like Hogan in Maryland, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has been quite successful in a deep-blue state by managing government competently and not getting into fights he can’t win. As Massachusetts is somewhat more elastic than Maryland and has a history of electing and re-electing GOP governors, there has been somewhat less interest from Democrats in this race. Newton Mayor Setti Warren (D) seems to be the highest-profile Democrat actively considering a run, while two “C” listers, 1994 LG nominee Bob Massie (D) and Gov. Patrick admin official Jay Gonzales (D), are already in the race.  Baker is extremely popular, and like Hogan, he is in a good position right now, but one without a lot of room for error, and as a result we are keeping this race in the Lean R category.

Likely to Stay with Incumbent Party:

20. Rhode Island Likely D (20)

Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) is not particularly popular, but much of that disapproval comes from the left, as Raimondo has oversaw a restructuring of the state’s fiscal situation that has made her plenty of enemies. As a result, two credible Democrats are considering runs against her in 2014 candidate and Heir Force Maj. Clay Pell (D) and 2012 GOP RI-1 candidate and former state police chief Brendan Doherty (D). Republicans’ chances to flip this seat will depend in large part on who the Dem nominee is; actually beating Raimondo will likely be a tall order, while a more liberal Dem might prove an easier target. Multiple Republicans, including Cranston Mayor and 2014 nominee Alan Fung (R), state Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders (R), and 2014 candidate Ken Block (R), have been rumored to be considering, but no one has made concrete moves toward the race as of yet, suggesting that Raimondo may not be quite as vulnerable as it first appeared. As a result, we are pushing this race a hair over the line into the Likely D category.

21. Vermont Likely R (19)

Though Vermont is a deep-blue state, Gov. Phil Scott (R) won his first term in 2016 relatively easily and has posted very high approval ratings. This is somewhat unsurprising as Vermont has a deep GOP heritage that has manifested itself as a love for conspicuously moderate Republicans. As a result, there are as of yet no Democrats seriously considering – or even rumored to be considering – taking on Scott in 2018. Scott has very little margin for error, so this race is still definitely on the playing field for Dems if he makes a mistake, but he has won three statewide races as LG in addition to his gubernatorial tenure, so he is experienced at playing his cards right. If Scott starts to look more vulnerable, 2016 nominee Sue Minter (D), AG TJ Donovan (D), and LG David Zuckerman (D), among others, could be possible challengers. But thus far nobody seems to be stepping up and this seat looks likely to be a lower priority for Dems this cycle.

22. Georgia Likely R (24)

Republicans are likely to have a multi-way primary for this open seat, with LG Casey Cagle (R), SoS Brian Kemp (R), and State Sen. Hunter Hill (R) already in the race; ex-Reps. Jack Kingston (R) and Lynn Westmoreland (R) are also considering runs. Medium-red Georgia has been something of a white whale for Democrats in recent years, but they seem likely to try again this cycle. Dems have several potential candidates in 2014 nominee Jason Carter (D), 2014 Senate nominee Michelle Nunn (D), and State Reps. Stacey Abrams (D) and Stacey Evans (D), rumored to be considering the race. For now we don’t have a lot of information for this race, but ultimately the medium-red nature of the state and the general election runoff provision makes this a tough but not impossible lift for Democrats.

23. Iowa Likely R (25)

LG Kim Reynolds (R) looks set to finally ascend to the top job this coming week as Gov. Terry Branstad (R) will finally be confirmed as ambassador to China. It will still likely be some time before we see how Reynolds settles into the job in her own right, but there is no shortage of potential challengers willing to take her on in 2018. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett (R) has been considering a primary challenge, while a number of “C” list Dems are in the race: State Sen. Nate Boulton (D), State Rep. Todd Prichard (D), ex-IADP chair Andy McGuire (D), former state cabinet official Rich Leopold (D), and 2014 State Auditor nominee Jon Neiderbach (D). None of these Democrats seem like particularly imposing opponents though. Between Democratic recruitment woes, the state’s massive shift to the right last cycle, and Reynolds’ benefit of incumbency, we consider Republicans fairly strong favorites to hold this seat.

24. Arizona Likely R (23)

Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has been moderately popular in his first term, in spite of Arizona shifting significantly to the left last cycle. Democrats’ efforts in the state seem more likely to target the less popular statewide Republicans in 2018, Sen. Jeff Flake (R), SoS Michelle Reagan (R), and Superintendent Diane Douglas (R). However, two credible Democrats have been connected with this race in State Sen. Steve Farley (D) and 2014 Superintendent nominee David Garcia (D). Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) has seemed more interested in a SoS bid but may be enticed into this race as well. Due to lower midterm Hispanic turnout and Ducey’s solid, if not stellar, approval ratings, this race looks likely to be an uphill climb for Dems. But last year’s results suggest that Republicans should not be too complacent about Arizona, and as a result we mark Ducey as a strong, but not overwhelming, favorite for a second term.

25. Oklahoma Likely R (29)

Termed-out Gov. Mary Fallin (R) is quite unpopular despite the deep-red nature of her state, as falling oil prices have blown a hole in Oklahoma’s budget and led to deep education cuts. Despite the heavily depleted nature of the Oklahoma Dem bench over the last seven years, Democrats still have a primary here, between ex-AG and 2010 candidate Drew Edmondson (D) and State Rep. Scott Inman (D), who are both credible candidates. A third Democrat, ex-State Sen. and 2014 US Senate nominee Connie Johnson (D), seems like a weaker possibility. On the GOP side, LG Todd Lamb (R) is considered the front-runner; though he has not officially entered, he is considered all but certain to run. Lamb will face State Auditor Gary Jones (R) and ex-US Attorney and 2002 Indie candidate Gary Richardson (R), and potentially others, in the GOP primary. Though Fallin is quite unpopular and Democrats have seen a rise in enthusiasm in Oklahoma due to the education issue, Oklahoma is still a deep-red state. Regardless of nominees Republicans remain strong, but not prohibitive favorites to hold the seat.

26. Oregon Likely D (22)

Gov. Kate Brown (D) has posted modestly good approval ratings throughout her term in spite of enacting a staunchly liberal agenda, which probably bodes well for her seeking a full term in 2018. Republicans have two solid potential candidates who have been rumored as considering a bid against Brown in SoS Dennis Richardson (R) and State Rep. Knute Buehler (R). Both have run statewide before and have the right profile to win both rural blue-collar and upscale suburban moderates. However, either Richardson or Buehler being able to make the race competitive is more-or-less predicated on Brown being unpopular enough to be vulnerable. And for now, her approval ratings look solid enough to make her a clear, though not quite overwhelming, favorite for re-election in her medium-blue state.

27. Alabama Likely R (32)

This race got shaken up after Gov. Robert Bentley (R) was forced to resign in a sex scandal and now-Gov. Kay Ivey (R) ascended to the top job. Ivey still has not officially announced whether or not she will seek a full term in 2018; while she is expected to run, there is a non-trivial chance she may bow out. Should Ivey run again, she will face a contested primary, as Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle (R) and Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan (R) have already announced their intent to run; PSC Chair Twinkle Cavanaugh (R), Rep. Bradley Byrne (R), and State Sens. Del Marsh (R) and Cam Ward (R) have also indicated varying levels of interest, but some or all of those may be waiting on Ivey’s decision. Amazingly for a state with a depleted Dem bench, Democrats have a trio of credible candidates considering the race in Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox (D), State Rep. Craig Ford (D), and ex-State Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb (D). Bentley’s scandal and other assorted corruption in Alabama government could give Democrats an opening, but in a deeply inelastic red state Republicans should still be considered strong favorites overall.

28. Tennessee Likely R (30)

Since the start of two-party rule in Tennessee in the 70s, the parties have traded off the Governorship in 8-year intervals. But with the state becoming increasingly solid red this cycle offers Republicans a chance to break that pattern. In the GOP primary, the big question is whether State Sen. Mark Green (R), who was in the race before being nominated as Army secretary, will re-enter. Green, an anti-establishment conservative, saw his Army secretary nomination successfully scuttled by liberal groups. However, if he were to re-enter the race he would likely have a strong claim on grassroots conservatives. Businessmen Bill Lee (R) and Randy Boyd (R), the latter also a Haslam admin official, are the two Republicans in the race already, but multiple others are considering, including Reps. Diane Black (R) and Marsha Blackburn (R), State House Speaker Beth Harwell (R), State Sen. Mae Beavers (R), and ex-US AG Alberto Gonzales (R). One person who could seriously shake up this race is Sen. Bob Corker (R), who is seen as unlikely to run but has not closed the door, and whose entry would likely make him the primary and general front-runner. Across the aisle, Democrats have a serious contender in this race in ex-Nashville Mayor Karl Dean (D). However, some Dems are clamoring for State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D), who is seen as more fiscally liberal than Dean, to enter. Dean and Fitzhugh are credible candidates and could give the Republican nominee a real race. However, due to Tennessee’s red state nature, Republicans start out as fairly strong favorites to hold the seat with any nominee pairing.

29. South Carolina Likely R (28)

Gov. Henry McMaster (R) has had a rocky few months since ascending to the top job. Gov. Haley admin official Catherine Templeton (R), who previously looked like she might defer to McMaster with the benefit of incumbency, instead has decided to stay in the race. Templeton has raised enough to mount a credible primary challenge to McMaster. McMaster has also been hurt by a wide-ranging corruption investigation into his longtime strategist which has led to several indictments. That said, McMaster’s tenure is extremely new and it will still likely be some time before we get a good sense of how serious Templeton’s primary challenge to McMaster will be, or how big an opportunity Democrats have. The most talked-about Dems in relation to this race are State Rep. James Smith (D), ex-State Rep. and 2014 LG nominee Bakari Sellers (D), and Columbia Mayor Stephen Benjamin (D), but others may be considering. South Carolina is a very inelastic state and McMaster has the benefit of incumbency on his side, but this race is still not quite safe for the GOP.

30. South Dakota Likely R (27)

Democrats have not held the gubernatorial seat in South Dakota since 1978, and that streak seems more likely than not to continue, as the big contest here looks likely to take place in the GOP primary. The fight between Rep. Kristi Noem (R) and AG Marty Jackley (R) looks to be one of the biggest primary collisions of the cycle, as a pair of “A” listers fight it out. Noem and Jackley seem to have sucked almost all the oxygen out of the race on the GOP side, and it seems unlikely that other serious candidates will enter. Across the aisle, Democrats’ most realistic scenario appears to be not contesting the race at all, but rather backing D-turned-I Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether (I), who recently dropped his D affiliation among rumors that he is interested in an Independent run with Dem support. Beyond Huether, actual Democrats who could run include State Sen. Billie Sutton (D) and ex-US Attorney Brendan Johnson (D), but they seem long-shots to enter. Overall Republicans, either with Noem or Jackley, are solid, but not quite prohibitive, favorites to hold this seat.

31. New York Likely D (26)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has an uneasy relationship with the Democratic base in the state, whose bold progressivism is clearly to the left of his neo-Rockefellerish sensibilities. But as he looks toward a 2020 run, his path toward a third term seems to be getting clearer. Though many left-wing forces have made noise about mounting a liberal primary challenge, thus far no credible candidate has emerged, and the window of time to mount a bid in the hugely expensive state is closing. Ex-US Attorney Prett Bharara (D) has been mentioned as a possible Cuomo primary challenger, but does not seem particularly interested. Republicans have several candidates who have expressed interest in taking on Cuomo, including Westchester CE and 2014 nominee Rob Astorino (R), ex-Rep. Richard Hanna (R), Dutchess CE Marc Molinaro (R), and 2010 Comptroller nominee Harry Wilson (R). However, without a bruising D primary (or better yet, a multi-way general) the GOP’s odds here are long, and as a result we are moving this to the farthest reaches of the Likely category. There is still some time for a competitive race to develop here, but the odds Cuomo will have an uneventful ride to a third term grow each day.

Safe for Incumbent Party:

32. Idaho Safe R (33)

Idaho has a two-party system that plays out in GOP primaries. One faction, led by Gov. Butch Otter (R), is more socially conservative, heavily Mormon, and based in the southeast part of the state. A rival faction, led by Rep. Raul Labrador (R), is more libertarian-leaning and based in the northern panhandle. This race promises to be a titanic clash between the two factions, as Otter is retiring after three terms and Labrador will face off with Otter’s handpicked successor, LG Brad Little (R). Two other candidates, Otterite developer Tommy Ahlquist (R) and Labradorite 2014 candidate and ex-State Sen. Russ Fulcher (R), could upset this applecart and either split their faction’s votes or potentially usurp their faction’s standard-bearer. As a result, it seems safe to assume that this will be an exciting primary. The general election in the deep-red state is likely another story however. The only Dem name mentioned in connection with the race is 2014 nominee and school board member AJ Balukoff (D). Balukoff did better-than-expected last cycle, but will likely have a very uphill time in the state based on its deep-red nature. As a result, we are putting this race just over the line into Safe status for Republicans.

33. Wyoming Safe R (34)

America’s most Republican state looks likely to have a competitive GOP gubernatorial primary in 2018. Ex-Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R), SoS Ed Murray (R), and Treasurer Mark Gordon (R) have all been rumored to be considering the race, and that could result in a very competitive primary. Democrats don’t have a whole lot of hope overcoming the deeply red nature of the state, but State Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D) and ex-State Rep. Mary Throne (D) have been mentioned as potential candidates. For now this race hasn’t really developed at all yet, but the lean of the state leads us to mark it as Safely Republican until we see something to make us reassess that decision.

34. Nebraska Safe R (31)

Though Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) has had some battles with the RINO-D coalition that seems to dominate the non-partisan state legislature, he seems to have the support of a majority of the state’s population and generally high approval ratings. State Sen. Bob Krist (R) may challenge Ricketts from the left in the GOP primary, but that would seem to be as much of a fool’s errand as you might expect. No serious Democrats have even been seriously mentioned in regards to this race, so as a result we are pushing this race off the board and well into the Safe category.

35. Arkansas Safe R (35)

Arkansas’s Governor is one of the nation’s weakest chief executive posts, but the upside to that is it tends to lead to nearly universal high approval ratings for their incumbents as they tend not to pick fights they can’t win. Thus, it’s somewhat unsurprising that Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) ranks among the nation’s most popular Governors. It also doesn’t hurt that Hutchinson is a Republican in a state that has stampeded to the right over the last decade. Ex-US Attorney and 2016 Senate nominee Conner Eldridge (D) has been floated for the race, but it’s unclear if he would be up for a second drubbing after his 2016 Senate campaign fell beyond-flat. Beyond Eldridge, Democrats have a meager bench in the state and it seems almost impossible that anyone could give Hutchinson a real race here.

36. Hawaii Safe D (38)

It’s hard to think of a political party in worse shape than the Hawaii GOP, in no small part because the two-party system has effectively been subsumed into Democratic primaries. A machine-dominated, heavily Asian fiscally liberal faction fights routinely with a white-dominated socially-liberal faction, with the former winning more often than not. Gov. David Ige (D), who belongs to the former faction, has had decent but not-great approval ratings throughout his term, and the odds of him facing a serious primary challenge are not zero. Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho (D) has been rumored as a possible contender, but so far we haven’t seen a lot of movement towards the race from him or any other Ige challenger. On the GOP side, one of the five Republicans in the State Legislature, State Rep. Bob McDermott (R), has announced his candidacy. Though McDermott’s district (like all others in Hawaii) is Dem-leaning, he is known as a staunch social conservative and will likely not pose much threat to the Democratic primary winner

37. Texas Safe R (36)

The safest incumbent Governor this time is Texas’s Greg Abbott (R). Though Texas moved left last cycle and Sen. Ted Cruz (R) seems likely to draw at least a semi-serious challenge in the form of Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D), there is little enthusiasm for Dems about challenging the popular Abbott. There have been basically no credible Dems even floating their names for this race, which is a real problem in a state as huge and expensive as Texas if you want to run a credible campaign – as a result, Abbott takes a place close to the very bottom of our rankings.

38. California Safe D (37)

Taking the honors of the safest gubernatorial seat is actually an open one, that of California. Thanks to the Golden State’s immense size and deep-blue nature, winning here requires insane amounts of money to get your message out. And with the partisan field tilted so far against Republicans, that’s a task that most “A” list names, such as San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer (R) and ex-Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin (R), don’t seem at all eager to undertake. Republicans’ only serious candidate so far is a definite “C” lister, ex-Cook County IL GOP Chair and 2008 vanity presidential candidate John Cox (R), who is running mostly to promote a ballot initiative he is backing. However, Cox has self-funding ability, which may be enough to get Republicans to unite behind him in order to prevent the at-best-embarrassing (and at worst catastrophic downballot) scenario of a D-on-D gubernatorial general. Beyond Cox, the other Republicans scoping out the race, octegenarian former NFL star Rosey Grier (R) and ex-State Rep. David Hadley (R), aren’t much to write about either. Now let’s move on to the Democrats (aka the candidates with a chance of winning). The front-runners seem to be LG Gavin Newsom (D) and ex-LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D). State Treasurer John Chiang (D) and ex-State Superintendent Delaine Eastin (D) are also in the race and could gain traction over the next year. Beyond them, State Sen. Kevin DeLeon (D), businessman Sam Altman (D), and billionaire Dem donor Tom Steyer (D) could also be credible candidates. It’s too early to handicap the Dem field, but it seems a very safe bet that a Democrat will ultimately come out on top here.

Previous Post Next Post

26 Comments

  • Mike1965 May 20, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Very nice roundup as usual. There are a few races I would shift to the left a bit (probably my bias) but overall very fair.


    #ThanksObama

  • Boehnerwasright May 20, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    1. We should keep a eye on the impact of the current ”scandal” surrounding Laxalt in Nevada. Laxalt(AG in Nevada) met privatly with the top gaming regulator to urge the Gaming Commision to intervene in a lawsuit . The lawsuit was by an ex-employee against the Sand Casino(owner is the R mega donor Adelson) and was later settled for 75 million dollar after the Gaming commision didn’t intervene.

    The most explosive part about this is, that the top gaming regulator felt so uncomfortable with the meeting that he taped the conversation and send it to the FBI to see if any laws were broken. Although the FBI found no wrongdoing the tapes leaked and now Laxalt has a political problem, as his explanation why he intervened for a major donor are not very convincing.
    Could lead to a contested primary or problems in the general election.

    2. I think Virgina is still lean Dem and I feel the dem primary has been rather civil even if close. The amount of federal employees and Trumps low approval ratings in Virgina makes a Republican win quite hard in my opinion if the dem doesn’t make unforced errors.

  • Conservative First May 20, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    Some notes on Michigan:
    Abul El-Sayed is appealing heavily to the Bernie voters.
    Mark Bernstein (D) is considering running on a center-left platform.
    Saginaw doctor Jim Hines (R) is running.
    AG Schuette is a clear favorite based on polling and fundraising.

    • Red Oaks May 21, 2017 at 8:07 am

      Don’t forgot Geoffrey Fieger. It’s probably a longshot for him to run again but it would be a godsend for the GOP if he were to do it. His disastrous 1998 gubernatorial campaign is a big part of the reason for Republican’s state level success since then.


      MI-03: Tired of Presidency; Focused more on downballot races; Chris Afendoulis for State Senate

  • StatenIslandTest May 20, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    Interesting that you see NJ Gov R Primary as a tossup.
    Most agree Jack is gaining ground but not sure if it will be enough by June 6.

    Murphys conundrum in the primary is how big to go. His ceiling is probably 65 his floor 50.


    31, Jersey City

  • Izengabe May 20, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    Re-ID-Gov: One quark in the interparty divide is that Raul Labrador is Mormon and Brad Little is not. That could upset the balance a little and give Labrador a leg up since he can draw from both factions.


    Follow me on Twitter: @Izengabe_

  • Izengabe May 20, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    I was the hold out on making CA the safest state. Because of the jungle primary crazy things can happen and if the D vote divides enough ways it is entirely possible to get a John Cox vs David Hadley runoff!


    Follow me on Twitter: @Izengabe_

    • shamlet May 20, 2017 at 8:49 pm

      Actually, the way the rankings worked out this time one vote could have put any of the bottom three as #38. I think for realistic purposes we can consider all three tied for safest of all.


      R, MD-7. Put not your trust in princes. Process is more important than outcome.

  • Mike1965 May 20, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    MN-Gov: Hennipin County Sheriff Rick Stanek is running for re-election in 2018, will not run for Governor.

    http://www.startribune.com/sheriff-rich-stanek-running-for-re-election-not-governor-in-2018/423378013/


    #ThanksObama

  • davybaby May 21, 2017 at 2:07 am

    Clay Pell recently filed for divorce against his wife, ex-Olympic skater Michelle Kwan. Normally, that wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that Pell made the filing in California and in it claimed to be a resident of that state. (California is a community property state while Rhode Island is not.)

    I can’t imagine this will go over well in Rhode Island.

  • Tekzilla May 21, 2017 at 9:05 am

    Good stuff as always. My biggest quibble is with VA-GOV which I think is Lean D, but overall pretty good and understandable.


    36/M/NY-01 (D)

    • MosheM May 21, 2017 at 11:00 am

      I agree.


      29, M, R, NY-10

    • VastBlightKingConspiracy May 22, 2017 at 1:09 pm

      I really can’t see Virginia as tossups. It’s a light-blue state in a challenging year for Republicans. 2018 might be better, but 2017 probably won’t be. The polls showing Gillespie trailing by 10 points seem entirely plausible to me. And he could obviously turn that around, but this isn’t starting off as a dead heat.


      I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Republican.

    • Boehnerwasright May 23, 2017 at 6:53 pm

      After we saw the last polls, Virgina as tossip makes no sense anymore. Polling shows a wide lead for dems. And that makes sense if we look at the fundamentals. Gillespire has to win while trump is dragging him down . 36% approval makes total sense as virgina is a bit to the left of the country and most averages have trump approval around 40.
      McAuliffe was the first gov in a long time to win while his party held the presidency and in that election he had a lot of help- The republican was a flawed candidate and the shutdown just happened. Obama’s approval was also better.

  • segmentation_fault May 21, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    I wonder if Idaho could be at all competitive. There has to be Otter/GOP fatigue setting in at some point even though it’s a safe state federally.

  • OGGoldy May 21, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    Minnesota: Mike best me to the Stand announcement. But one other minor not is that Matt Dean, while current a State Rep was once House Majority Leader. He was unceremoniously dumped by his caucus in favor of the more gunslinging Kurt Daudt when the firebrand conservatives overthrew the more mainstream Republicans following the 2012 elections. Dean is a bright politician, but he likely is on the wrong side if the ideological spectrum to get through a GOP primary.

    • krazen1211 May 21, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      Any I spoilers on the horizon in Minnesota?

      That is our best shot.

      • Mike1965 May 21, 2017 at 6:04 pm

        Always a possibility in MN but the Independence Party ( the usual 3rd Party vehicle) has lost major party status so probably less likely. Still easy to get on Ballot in MN and I’m sure there will be several minor party candidates but not sure any of them will be of the stature of previous 3rd party candidates.


        #ThanksObama

        • OGGoldy May 22, 2017 at 6:10 am

          Yea that’s big. It is now effectively going to be binary instead of having a moderate former Democrat running in the IP line every election. It’ll be the first time in about 20 years that it’s been a mostly 1 v 1 election. The Senate race is going to be at the top of the ticket (federal races go above) statewide races) with the only real question being in Klobuchar can win every single county this time (she was within a couple in each 06 and 12, and has won every county in at least 1 of those races).

          If Republicans can get a game changing recruit, the governor’s race could be competitive if Swanson stays out. And I suspect if Swanson passes, some more Republicans get in. If she does get in, a number of Democrats will likely step aside for her, and Republicans keep their power dry and try to salvage the House and Congressional seats the best they can in a Trump midterm. It’ll be a wild ride on the D side, at minimum with the tiered caucus/convention/primary system, as I don’t think a non-Swanson could get 60% at the convention for an official endorsement.

          • Mike1965 May 23, 2017 at 6:50 pm

            I just don’t get the Swanson hype. IMHO whether she gets in or not Tim Walz remains the heavy favorite the DFL nomination.


            #ThanksObama

            • OGGoldy May 23, 2017 at 10:20 pm

              I disagree. No outstater not named Mike Hatch has gotten a statewide DFL nomination in at least 20 years (Northfield is in MN-2, and Wellstone was a 12 year incumbent in 02, so I count that as a metro nomination). And with the DFL actively pushing away any and outstate voters, I can’t imagine a outstater getting any statewide nomination, period.

              • Mike1965 May 24, 2017 at 6:58 pm

                Guess we disagree.

                Not that it matters in Paul Wellstone’s case but there is no way Northfield is the Metro area :).

                Speaking of Wellstone his son Dave has endorsed Walz. So has R.T.


                #ThanksObama

                • Greyhound May 24, 2017 at 8:09 pm

                  The bigger question is how receptive Metro MSP D primary voters are going to be to those kind of endorsements. I honestly have no idea, as the national mood says no but the DFL has a history of being not as dumb as their national counterparts when it comes to electability, so we’ll have to see.


                  R, 26, CA-18. Anti-Anti-Trump

  • prsteve11 May 22, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Good roundup. I agree with most of your ratings. Greg Abbott of Texas is wildly popular and his likely blowout victory will probably help Senator Cruz and TX House Republicans. And here in SC, Governor McMaster seems likely to get his own term. The other races you have listed seem mostly reasonable.


    SC-03, Conservative Republican

  • rdw72777 May 24, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    While the write-up for Pennsylvania is well thought out it feels like a pure 50-50 race so I could only bring myself to label it as toss-up.

  • Leave a Reply

    Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!