Today we are taking another 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|
|OR (K. Brown)
AK (B. Walker)
WI (S. Walker)
VT (P. Scott)
Bold denotes a seat we expect to flip; Italics denotes a Dem-held Tossup seat.
RRH Elections has made the following eight changes to our gubernatorial ratings since our last post in May, four in Republicans’ Favor:
Massachusetts Likely R from Lean R || New Hampshire Likely R from Lean R || New Mexico Tossup from Lean D || South Dakota Safe R from Likely R
And four in favor of Democrats:
Iowa Lean R from Likely R || New Jersey Safe D from Likely D || New York Safe D from Likely D || Virginia Lean D from Tossup
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!
1. New Jersey Safe D (1)
Unsurprisingly, our most likely race to flip remains the race this year in New Jersey, which is not much of a contest. Former ambassador and Goldman Sachs executive Jon Corzine Jr. Phil Murphy (D) remains on auto-pilot to the governor’s mansion. Murphy has purchased strong establishment support and easily won the Democratic primary, and in the general he has been bolstered by the toxic unpopularity of outgoing Gov. Chris Christie (R) dragging down his rival, LG Kim Guadagno (R). Indeed, this race is mostly notable for how boring it is, with many New Jerseyans anecdotally remarking that they are all but unaware there is even an election going on this year. With Guadagno lacking any obvious mechanism to turn things around in the last seven weeks in this brutally expensive state, we feel comfortable moving this race off the board and into the Safe D category.
2. New Mexico Tossup (2)
New Mexico retains its second position in our ratings, as Rep. Michele Lujan-Grisham (D) continues to look like the front-runner to pick this seat up for Democrats. Lujan-Grisham has successfully (and somewhat surprisingly) avoided attracting “A” list opponents for this race such as AG Hector Balderas (D), and she benefits from having the lean of the state on her side and high name recognition from her three terms representing the Albuquerque area. Several lesser-known Democrats are also in the race and could have the ability to upset Lujan-Grisham in the primary, including State Sen. Joe Cervantes (D), Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales (D), and media exec Jeff Apodaca (D), son of 70s-era Gov. Jerry (D). It’s too early to say if any will be a serious threat to win the primary. This race moves back into the tossup category, however, because Republicans have received their own “A” list entry into the race in the form of Rep. Steve Pearce (R). Pearce has run statewide multiple times before with somewhat poor results, losing disastrously in his 2008 Senate bid. But he seems more likely than not to clear the GOP primary field, and his experience locking down a light-red House district should not be understated. Due to the lean of the state and Pearce’s poor prior statewide performance, we are placing this seat towards the D-leaning side of the Tossups, but Republicans’ recruitment of a strong, well-known contender is enough for us to slide this race back over the line into Tossup territory.
3. Illinois Tossup (4)
Unlike his fellow deep-blue state Republicans in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont, Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has eschewed playing nice with his liberal state legislature and instead launched into a head-on war with State Dictator House Speaker Mike Madigan (D). Madigan has dominated Illinois politics since the 1980s and has successfully implemented a large number of budget-busting fiscal liberal policies. Furthermore, he has a reputation for being both a hard-nosed political brawler and ruthless machine boss that few anywhere can match. Rauner has his advantages in this fight too, most notably in limitless personal funds that have essentially turned the previously-dysfunctional ILGOP into his personal organization, and a well-oiled one at that. Rauner has overall fought Madigan to a draw over the last three years, successfully making the Speaker a toxic figure to ordinary Illinoisians, but losing out in most of the legislative sausage-making to Madigan’s ruthless skill and tentacles to RINOs in the legislature. As a result, the 2018 elections promise to be the biggest battle in this titanic clash. Madigan’s champion in this fight is another uber-rich businessman, JB Pritzker (D). Owing to his cash reserves that Democrats are hoping to use to neutralize Rauner’s, Pritzker has sealed up most establishment support in this race. However, he does still face a fairly crowded primary field of fellow businessman and Heir Force Maj. Chris Kennedy (D), State Sen. Daniel Biss (D), State Rep. Scott Drury (D), Chicago councilman Ameya Pawar (D), and local superintendent Bob Daiber (D). Pritzker’s rivals are hitting him from both sides, on anti-Madigan (Kennedy, Drury, Daiber) and left-wing (Biss, Pawar) themes. Any of them could have the potential for an upset. But assuming Pritzker makes it to the general, it will likely be a high-dollar and hard-fought contest. Illinois is a blue state and a liberal one, and Rauner is far from popular. But turning over the keys to the state solely to Madigan and his lackeys isn’t a particularly popular position either. Overall Rauner is probably a slight underdog for a second term, but he definitely has a path to victory, and this race firmly belongs in the Tossup category.
4. Nevada Tossup (3)
The silver state has been somewhat enigmatic in recent years. Though it is diversifying dramatically, Republicans have remained more competitive than the state’s demographics might suggest, and the state remains bright purple. As a result, this open seat race looks set to be fiercely contested. The GOP primary front-runner is AG Adam Laxalt (R), grandson of former Sen. and Gov. Paul (R), who has not officially entered but is seen as certain to run. Laxalt was a surprise winner in 2014 on the long coattails of Gov. Brian Sandoval (R). He has been something of a polarizing conservative in office. Laxalt has fundraised very well, but will not have a cleared primary, as State Treasurer Dan Swartz (R) is also in the race. Schwartz is known as mavericky and somewhat more moderate than Laxalt, and could have the chance to pull the upset. For Democrats, Clark County commissioner Steve Sisolak (D) looks like the strong primary front-runner., albeit something of a “B” list one. With the support of the Reid machine, Sisolak could potentially have a chance to clear the primary field as no other candidates have been making definite moves toward the race. Overall this race belongs well within the Tossup category, though perhaps a hair more likely than not to flip.
5. Michigan Tossup (5)
Both sides have crowded primaries for this open seat. On the Dem side, ex-State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D) was heavily recruited in 2014, but demurred and has now pulled the trigger on a run this cycle. Whitmer has establishment support, but she is facing three other Democrats. One of them, businessman Shri Thanedar (D), has self-funded his way into a considerable cash advantage over Whitmer, while businessman Bill Cobbs (D) and Detroit city official Abul El-Sayed (D) also seem credible. One other candidate who is considering, Macomb CE Mark Hackel (D), could be a strong contender from his history of wins in the large suburban county. For Republicans, moderate LG Brian Calley (R) and the more conservative AG Bill Schuette (R) have been shadow-boxing for years for this race, though Calley has not officially pulled the trigger on a run. Antiestablishment conservative State Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R) is already in the race and could have a base to build off of from grassroots conservatives, while physician Jim Hines (R) has also been showing signs of running a serious campaign. It’s still too early to handicap that primary, but Schuette and Calley are generally considered to be the front-runners, and all could be credible general election candidates. In newly-purple Michigan, any of the pairings seem likely to be competitive, and for now it’s hard to do better than simply saying calling this race a pure Tossup.
6. Maine Tossup (6)
This race is probably a solid bet for the most chaotic race of all. First off, both major parties look set to have crowded primary fields. Three Republicans have entered the race. LePage administration official Mary Mayhew (R) is casting herself as a conservative defender of the LePage legacy, while two members of legislative GOP leadership, State Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason (R) and State House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R), seem to be more establishment-friendly. Democrats’ picture is even more complicated, with ex-State House Speaker Mark Eves (D), appointed AG Janet Mills (D), ex-State Sen. James Boyle (D), ex-State Rep. Diane Russell (D), former congressional candidate Adam Cote (D), lobbyist Betsy Sweet (D), and veteran Patrick Eisenhart (D) in the race – and multiple others considering. And this being Maine, there are also three credible centrist independent candidates: appointed State Treasurer Terry Hayes (I), a former moderate Dem legislator, ex-State Sen. Jon Jenkins (I), who also served as mayor of both Lewiston and Auburn, and well-known comedian Karmo Sanders (I). Oh, and one more wrinkle: popular Sen. Susan Collins (R) has been considering an entry into the race and would likely be a prohibitively strong favorite in the general if she were to run. All in all there’s far too much uncertainty here to label this race as anything other than a pure Tossup.
7. Connecticut Tossup (10)
Gov. Dan Malloy (D) is retiring after two terms, leaving behind a legacy of major achievements in the liberal policy department and very low approval ratings from a series of tax hikes and high-profile corporate exoduses. (Gee, you think the two might be related?) As a result, while the toxic Malloy not trying to run again has helped Democrats’ odds here, this is still a top-tier GOP pickup opportunity. Republicans’ problem is that too many of them may be smelling opportunity in the water. Without a field-clearing front-runner, that has led to an absurdly crowded primary field of “B” and “C” listers. Rattling off the candidates, there are (deep breath): Danbury Mayor and 2014 candidate Mark Boughton (R), State Sen. Toni Boucher (R), State Rep. Pradad Srinivasan (R), Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti (R), Trumbull Mayor Tim Herbst (R), ex-US Comptroller General and 2014 LG candidate David Walker (R), 2014 SoS nominee Peter Lumaj (R), and local official Mike Handler (R), with a couple more Republicans exploring. There is no clear favorite for the GOP nomination, meaning the possibility of a weaker general election nominee should not be discounted. However, Democrats’ field is not looking terribly impressive either, as multiple “A” list candidates, including SoS Denise Merrill (D), Comptroller Kevin Lembo (D), and State Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr. (D) have declined to run. LG Nancy Wyman (D) is exploring; as a longtime state pol she is well-regarded and she would likely be the primary front-runner if she entered. But Wyman could be easily tied to Malloy, and in any event is not a lock to run. Middletown Mayor Dan Drew (D), ex-State Sen. and Malloy admin official Jonathan Harris (D), and federal prosecutor Chris Mattei (D) are all in the race or seen as near-certain to enter, and could all be credible “B” list candidates. Bridgeport Mayor and convicted felon Joe Ganim (D) is also likely to run but is likely to be little more than a sideshow. Overall, the surprising lack of strong Democrats and Malloy’s unpopularity leads us to mark this as the GOP’s best pickup opportunity, but Connecticut is still a blue state and it’s hard to see this race as anything other than a pure Tossup.
8. Colorado Tossup (9)
Colorado’s open seat has what are likely to be crowded primaries on both sides. Democrats’ front runner looks likely to be Rep. Jared Polis (D). Polis is a progressive with libertarianish tendencies who benefits from high name recognition from his decade representing a heavily Democratic Boulder-area seat, as well as extensive personal wealth. Polis’s entry was enough to push out his most prominent rival, establishment-friendly fellow Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D). However, he does face several somewhat lesser-known candidates in the Dem primary, including LG Donna Lynne (D), ex-State Treasurer Cary Kennedy (D), ex-State Sen. Mike Johnston (D), and businessman Noel Ginsburg (D), all of whom have a chance to pull the upset. The GOP field is far more muddled. Arapahoe DA George Brauchler (R) is in the race and so far looks like the slight front-runner, from his tenure as DA for the large suburban Denver county – and in particular, his prosecution of the Aurora theater shooting. Another prominent Republican, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton (R), is seen as near-certain to enter and would likely be able to challenge Brauchler for the front-runner title. The primary is complicated further by the potential entry of AG Cynthia Coffman (R), who has been considering and would be a formidable contender. A pair of wealthy businessmen are also already in the race, ex-State Rep. Victor Mitchell (R) and Romney relative Doug Robinson (R), with a third wealthy outsider, ex-CSU Athletic Director and 2016 Senate candidate Jack Graham (R), still considering. Larimer County commissioner Lew Gaiter (R) and ex-Parker Mayor Greg Lopez (R) are also in the race but seem less serious. Due to Polis’s stronger position in his primary than any of the Republicans, we are placing this race toward the Dem-leaning side of the Tossup category. However, Colorado is still a bright purple state and it’s still too early to say much more than the fact that this race belongs well within the Tossup column.
9. Florida Tossup (7)
Both sides appear to now have primary front-runners for this open seat. Republicans’ primary front-runner is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (R), who has been transparently prepping his bid here since leaving Congress for his row office in 2010. Putnam is a mainstream conservative and considered a strong candidate due to his statewide name recognition, but he will still draw some primary opposition. Moderate State Sen. Jack Latvala (R) is in the race and has a strong base in the Tampa Bay area as well as establishment ties. Two other Republicans, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) and State House Speaker Rich Corcoran (R), are considering the race but are not considered locks to run. Any could have some chance to upset Putnam. For Democrats, ex-Rep. Gwen Graham (D) is looking like the primary front-runner due to her inherited statewide name recognition from her father, ex-Gov. and Sen. Bob (D), as well as her impressive 2014 win for a conservative Tallahassee-area House seat. Graham faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D), whose campaign has been in a slow-motion implosion as corruption allegations swirl around him, and businessman Chris King (D) in the primary. However, Graham’s position as primary front-runner is quite precarious, as another candidate could shake up the race dramatically. That candidate is ambulance-chasing trial lawyer John Morgan (D), who is well-known around the state for his ubiquitous advertising. Morgan’s near-total name recognition and history of major Dem donations would likely make him a strong primary front-runner if he entered. Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine (D) is also scoping out the race and could be a credible candidate. Overall, due to low Dem base turnout, Florida has had a small but durable light-red tilt in midterms, and that leads us to place this race toward the R-leaning side of the Tossup category. But this race is sure to be among the most hotly-contested and expensive races of the cycle.
Leans Toward Incumbent Party:
10. Alaska Lean I (11)
Gov. Bill Walker (I), a former Republican, answered one question about this race when he declared his candidacy for re-election and announced he would once again run with his Democratic running mate, LG Byron Mallott (D). Most establishment Democrats seem to be on board with Walker as their best chance to maintain influence in the red state. However, Walker is an awkward fit for Democrats as a genuine centrist who has made friends and enemies in both parties. Many more liberal Democrats appear to be looking for an alternative, and Sen. Mark Begich (D) has indicated interest in a bid. State Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D) has also said he would consider running if another more liberal candidate does not emerge. A Democrat entering the race against Walker would likely mean mutually assured destruction, as Walker likely cannot afford a split in the center and center-left vote against the state’s large conservative Republican base. Ex-State Senate Pres. Charlie Huggins (R) currently looks like the most likely GOP nominee, though several others are considering. Huggins seems a credible “B” list candidate, but his odds here likely depend on whether a credible Democrat emerges. For now if Walker is able to keep his coalition together he seems likely to be favored, but with many questions about the race still unanswered, overall it’s hard to mark him more than the slightest favorite for another term.
11. Minnesota Lean D (13)
The conventions on both sides for this open seat seem sure to be crowded affairs. For Republicans, 2014 nominee and Hennepin County commissioner Jeff Johnson (R), State Sen. David Osmek (R), State Rep. Matt Dean (R), and ex-State Rep. and MNGOP chair Keith Downey (R) are in the race. State House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R) is still considering a run and could be the GOP front-runner if he enters; if Daudt stays out, all four others could have a chance to emerge with the nomination. Democrats have an even more crowded field. Rep. Tim Walz (D), State Auditor Rebecca Otto (D), St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman (D), and State Reps. Erin Murphy (D), Tina Liebling (D), and Paul Thissen (D) are in the race. For now it looks like Walz is the front-runner for the nomination, but there is a long way to the convention and primary, and much could change. Additionally, one prominent candidate, AG Lori Swanson (D), is still considering the race. If the popular Swanson enters the race she will likely quickly become the overall primary and general election front-runner, and could chase some other candidates out of the field. Overall, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Democrats have a stronger field here, with several “A” listers as opposed to the GOP’s “B” list dominated field. Minnesota is also a purple state, but also one where the inelastic Dem base is consistently just a bit larger than the GOP base. As a result of those two factors, we continue to peg Democrats as very slight but noticeable favorites to hold the seat.
12. Kansas Lean R (12)
Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is set to depart the state early for a low-level Trump administration job, a move that looks less like a promotion and more like an escape hatch from his disastrous gubernatorial tenure. Brownback has succeeded in implementing a conservative agenda, but he has done so in an inept manner, and dragged his own popularity down to toxic levels in the process. The situation has become so bad for Brownback and his faction of the state’s GOP that conservative Republicans lost de facto control of both houses of the legislature last cycle to a coalition of RINOs and Democrats. LG Jeff Colyer (R) is now set to take control of the governor’s mansion when Brownback vacates it, but as a relatively unknown foot soldier of Brownback’s agenda seems unlikely to be an imposing candidate even as an incumbent. Indeed, the most prominent conservative in this race is SoS Kris Kobach (R), who has become nationally known for his staunch support of immigration enforcement and restrictions. Though Kobach’s polarizing nature could prove problematic, it could also give him a point of differentiation from Brownback, potentially paradoxically making him a stronger general election candidate. The Republican primary looks set to be crowded with candidates from both sides of the moderate and conservative chasm in the state’s GOP. While Kobach and Colyer are squarely on the conservative side, several moderates, such as ex-State Sen. and 2006 nominee Jim Barnett (R) and ex-State Reps. Mark Hutton (R) and Ed O’Malley (R), are in the race. Two others, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer (R) and businessman and 2010 KS-4 candidate Wink Hartman (R), somewhat straddle the moderate-conservative divide. The primary is chaotic and other than pegging the well-known Kobach as the slight overall front-runner, it’s hard to handicap. Democrats have a seriously-contested primary in the state for the first time in memory, with three credible candidates in ex-Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer (D), State Rep. Jim Ward (D), and ex-State Rep. and Sebelius admin official Josh Svaty (D). It’s too early to tell if any of them will emerge as the front-runner. Given the problematic Brownback legacy, this race is a top-tier target for Democrats, but Kansas is a deep red state and Brownback will no longer be there to serve as a bogeyman. As a result we are marking Republicans as slight favorites to hold the seat – but Democrats’ very decent odds here should not be undersold.
13. Virginia Lean D (8)
The more competitive gubernatorial race this year is in Virginia. LG Ralph Northam (D) is the Democrats’ nominee to hold this open seat. Northam is a somewhat moderate Democrat who was once recruited to switch parties while a State Senator, but he is mostly notable for being about as boring and generic a pol as they come. Indeed, his attempts to hitch onto the #resistance bandwagon ahead of a tough primary were more comical than plausible. Northam has similarly remained somewhat on autopilot for the general election, hoping the light-blue lean of the state and energized Dem base will carry him to victory. Northam’s rival is 2014 US Senate nominee and ex-RNC Chair Ed Gillespie (R). Gillespie proved a strong candidate in his 2014 race, nearly upsetting Sen. Mark Warner (R), but nearly fumbled the ball on this race by taking his primary for granted to preserve resources for the general. Thankfully for Gillespie, the gamble worked by a narrow margin, and he entered the general with a considerable cash advantage over Northam, who burned his resources ahead of the primary. Gillespie also seems likely to draw considerable outside support in the home stretch. However, Northam has been up by margins ranging from low to high single-digits in most polling, and with time running short we feel comfortable marking him as a slight but significant favorite to hold the seat.
14. Wisconsin Lean R (18)
Gov. Scott Walker (R) has been tested perhaps harder than any other governor over the last seven years, winning three tough races. Walker is expected to run for a third term and continues to post mediocre approval ratings. However, he has repeatedly demonstrated that he has strong support from the GOP base and the ability to garner just enough crossover support to gain consistent small majorities in his purple state. Democrats somewhat unexpectedly got an “A” list recruit for this race when State Superintendent Tony Evers (D) announced he would run to take on Walker. Evers has been elected statewide three times, albeit in low-turnout non-partisan spring races. Thus, while he is on paper a very credible candidate, there is a distinct possibility he will flop, either in the general or in what may still be a crowded primary. Several others, State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D), State Rep. Dana Wachs (D), businessman Andy Gronik (D), and nonprofit exec Mike McCabe (D) are either in the race or considered likely to enter, and all could have the opportunity to upset Evers. As for the general, the race is moving up the rankings list a bit because of the entry of Evers, who is a clear step up in stature from the Democrats who had been considering the race. But Walker has been consistent enough at getting a majority of the state on his side that we feel comfortable continuing to mark him as a moderate favorite for a third term.
15. Pennsylvania Lean D (14)
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has had middling approval ratings throughout his term, but the purple nature of his state and incumbency probably leaves him as a moderate favorite for a second. Two Republicans are in the race; State Sen. Scott Wagner (R) is generally regarded as the primary front-runner so far. Wagner, who is personally wealthy, is an antiestablishment conservative. He has proven a strong candidate, as he won his State Senate seat as a write-in against the establishment GOP choice. However, Wagner has had some minor missteps regarding losing his temper, and his antiestablishment positioning is not necessarily a plus in the machine-dominated state. Thus, some more moderate Republicans are backing businessman Paul Mango (R), who could win the nomination on more moderate votes. State House Speaker Mike Turzai (R) is also considering a run and could be the front-runner for the GOP nod if he enters. As for the general, Turzai, Wagner, or Mango will likely face a tough race against Wolf, who has not made major missteps; however, Wolf does have vulnerabilities and the Republicans in the race are credible enough to take advantage of the state’s purple nature. That leads us to place this race near the middle of the Lean D category.
16. Ohio Lean R (15)
Both sides have crowded primaries for this open seat. On the GOP side, there is something of an embarrassment of riches. AG Mike DeWine (R) is generally regarded as the front-runner, as he has strong name recognition from his long political career. DeWine is, however, facing three other “A” list Republicans. Rep. Jim Renacci (R) has a base in the Cleveland suburbs and a position as the most unapologetic Trumpist in the race. LG Mary Taylor (R) is running as a moderate in the Kasich vein and has an interesting story of both of her sons battling opioid use. And SoS Jon Husted (R) has some establishment and outside financial support. Democrats have a four-way primary as well, though unlike the GOP there is no clear front-runner and all four seem “B” list. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D), ex-Rep. Betty Sutton (D), State Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D), and ex-State Rep. and 2014 Treasurer nominee Connie Pillich (D) are all facing off. However, ex-AG turned CFPB director Richard Cordray (D) could upend the race if he resigns to enter it. Cordray has been playing his cards close to the vest, but CW is that he is more likely than not to enter, and to become the strong Dem primary favorite if he does. Ohio has been looking more and more like a light-red state rather than a purple one in recent years, and combined with the stronger nature of the GOP field, that leads us to mark Republicans as moderate favorites to hold this seat.
17. Iowa Lean R (23)
Since ascending to the top job earlier this year, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) has had mediocre approval ratings and drawn a plethora of challengers on both sides. In the GOP primary, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett (R) has pulled the trigger on a run against Reynolds; while most insiders generally believe that toppling Reynolds is a long-shot, Corbett is a credible enough challenger that his odds are not zero. A third Republican, Boone councilman Steven Ray (R), seems unlikely to be a major factor. Democrats have an even more crowded primary. State Sen. Nate Boulton (D), ex-IADP chair Andy McGuire (D), Vilsack admin official John Norris (D), Iowa City Mayor Ross Willburn (D), 2014 State Auditor nominee Jon Neiderbach (D), labor official Cathy Glasson (D), and businessman Fred Hubbell (D) are in the race. Democrats may find themselves in the position of the nominee being decided by convention, as with a field this crowded it seems very possible for all to be held below the 35% minimum needed to win the primary. Overall we are moving this race into the Lean R category because of Reynolds’s credible opposition and the light-red nature of the state, but overall Reynolds is still a moderate favorite for a full term.
18. Maryland Lean R (16)
Despite Maryland’s deep-blue and inelastic nature, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) continues to post very high approval ratings. Hogan has stayed incredibly popular by generally playing small-ball and not antagonizing the legislature or wading into controversial national issues, while showcasing his personal charisma and administrative competence. For their part, Democrats have spent much of the past year attempting to bait Hogan into taking up controversial conservative priorities with the intent of tying him to Trump. While Hogan’s refusal to take the bait has led to some grumbling on the right and even some talk of a quixotic primary challenge, it seems unlikely to amount to much. Across the aisle, Democrats have a crowded primary field, but its massive depth belies the fact that none of the contenders could truly be considered more than “B” list. Rep. John Delaney (D), a wealthy moderate who could have been the Democratic primary front-runner and potentially Hogan’s most threatening opponent, declined to run in favor of a quixotic 2020 presidential bid. Now there truly appears to be no clear front-runner in the Democratic primary, with three current candidates, all of a strong leftist bent, looking like the top contenders. Former NAACP chair Benjamin Todd Jealous (D) seems to be getting support from the far-left of the party, but would be just about the weakest imaginable general election candidate. Prince George’s CE Rushern Baker (D) has a solid resume from two terms leading the large suburban county, but could wind up splitting the black vote with Jealous. And State Sen. Rich Maladeno (D) has some far-left support as well, but is not well-known outside of his Montgomery County base. Beyond them, several lesser-known candidates are also in the race: wealthy attorney Jim Shea (D), businessman and Hillary aide Alec Ross (D), and Michelle Obama aide Krish Vignarajah (D). Beyond the current candidates, Baltimore CE Kevin Kamenetz (D) has been shadow-boxing toward the race for years (he and Hogan have had a protracted feud) and would probably be at least a slight front-runner in the primary if he entered as the most prominent establishment liberal choice. Which is why his continued hesitancy to enter the race is somewhat surprising – and leads me at least to consider that he may be holding his options open for a Senate bid instead if Sen. Ben Cardin (D) pulls a late retirement. Overall this primary field doesn’t look too imposing, and so far Hogan has done a good job of building his own brand distinct from Trump, leading us to push this race up to the doorstep of the Likely R category. But in a state as blue as Maryland no Democrat can be counted out, and as a result we are keeping this race a hair in the Lean R category.
Likely to Stay with Incumbent Party:
19. Massachusetts Likely R (19)
Much like Hogan, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has succeeded in maintaining high popularity despite his deep-blue state by staying out of controversial national issues and fights with the legislature while building a brand as a competent bipartisan administrator. The dance is a bit easier for Baker in some ways though; while Hogan is better thought of as a conservative who knows where to pick battles, Baker is a genuine moderate that even liberal Democrats, including Rep. Mike Capuano (D) and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D), find genuinely easy to work with. Additionally, unlike Hogan, Baker has the benefit of a relatively elastic state that has elected Republicans to the Governorship in 5 of the last 7 elections. As a result, enthusiasm for giving Baker a tough challenge has been downright muted. For now Democrats’ most likely nominee is Newton Mayor Setti Warren (D), a former John Kerry staffer who has been considered a rising star in some circles but looks decidedly “B” list relative to the huge Democratic bench in the state. Warren also faces Gov. Patrick admin official Jay Gonzalez (D) and 1994 LG nominee Bob Massie (D) in the primary, with several other equally little-known candidates considering. Baker has precious little margin for error and a misstep could place him in a seriously competitive race, but for now we feel his chances for re-election are solid enough to merit moving this race just over the line into the Likely R category.
20. Georgia Likely R (22)
Democrats have continually targeted Georgia as a state they believe demographic change will help them flip, but the state’s large inelastic conservative base, as well as its general election runoff provision in which 50% is required to win, make that a tough lift. This year, Democrats have a pair of candidates running for this open seat in State Reps. Stacey Abrams (D) and Stacey Evans (D). While both are from suburban Atlanta, Abrams is black and considered more liberal, while Evans is white and more moderate. The primary could thus be an interesting test of how the party sees itself evolving in the future. On the GOP side, four Republicans are facing off. LG Casey Cagle (R) and SoS Brian Kemp (R) are considered the front-runners; both have high name recognition and strong establishment connections. A pair of State Senators, Hunter Hill (R) and Michael Williams (R), are also in the race and attempting to run insurgent campaigns, Hill as an upscale establishment conservative and Williams as a hardcore Trumpist. Overall there is no clear favorite between Cagle and Kemp, with Hill and Williams also having chances. Due to the lean of the state and the strong GOP field, we consider Republicans moderately strong favorites to hold the seat.
21. New Hampshire Likely R (17)
Newly-elected Gov. Chris Sununu (R) is off to a good start if you believe the first poll of the state, posting high approval ratings across the board. New Hampshire is a deep purple state and Sununu is still somewhat unproven, so he is still likely to net at least a somewhat serious challenger. One credible Democrat, Portsmouth Mayor and 2016 candidate Steve Marchand (D), is in the race, though his 2016 primary run was unimpressive. Some other NH Dems, including Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky (D), are considering. But overall the recent polling of the race leads us to suggest that Sununu will be in a good position approval-wise barring a new stumble, and that is enough for us to push this race into the Likely R category.
22. Vermont Likely R (21)
Like Sununu next door, newly-elected Gov. Phil Scott (R) has posted high approval ratings in his first months in office. But despite Vermont being deep-blue rather than purple, Scott may be in an even stronger position. Vermont is well-known for a strong affinity for moderate Republicans and Scott fits that bill perfectly. As a result, no serious Democrats have declared for this race as of yet. 2016 nominee Sue Minter (D) has been speculated as a potential contender, but has not made any concrete moves. It’s hard to mark Scott as terribly strong a favorite due to the deep-blue nature of his state, but Scott seems to be in just about as good a position as a Vermont Republican can be in as he seeks a second term.
23. Rhode Island Likely D (20)
Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has been controversial in her first term for some fiscally moderate initiatives in an attempt to get the state’s chaotic financial situation in order. That has left her somewhat unpopular, and vulnerable to a primary challenge from the left. Former State Police Superintendent and 2012 GOP RI-1 nominee Brendan Doherty (D) and 2014 candidate and noted car-recovery expert Clay Pell (D) have been mentioned as potential primary challengers to Raimondo, but thus far no one has pulled the trigger on a run, and it is possible that Raimondo ultimately emerges without a serious primary challenger. On the GOP side, a trio of candidates, 2014 nominee and Cranston Mayor Alan Fung (R), State Rep. Patricia Mogan (R), and ex-State Rep. Joe Trillo (R), are exploring runs. All three seem credible candidates; due to name recognition, Fung likely starts as the front-runner. Overall Republicans do have an opportunity here, particularly if Raimondo is defeated or battered in the primary, but so far, the deep-blue lean of Rhode Island and the lack of anyone making concrete moves to primary Raimondo leaves us to mark Democrats as moderately strong favorites to hold the seat.
24. Oklahoma Likely R (25)
Oklahoma has been having some hard times in its state finances in recent years, as the collapse in oil prices has decimated the budget and caused deep cuts to education. As a result, termed-out Gov. Mary Fallin (R) is quite unpopular and Democrats have been winning a string of legislative special elections as of late. Democrats, who have seen their prior dominance at the state level collapse in the last decade, are thus enthusiastic about their odds here. Dems have two credible contenders for this seat in ex-AG Drew Edmondson (D) and State Rep. Scott Inman (D); it is unclear if either would be stronger. A third candidate, liberal ex-State Sen. Connie Johnson (D), seems a much weaker option. However, we should not overstate Democrats’ odds here: Oklahoma is still a deep-red and reflexively conservative state, and Republicans have a very strong field of candidates for this race as well. LG Todd Lamb (R) has been considered the front-runner for the GOP nomination, but he faces OKC Mayor Mick Cornett (R), Auditor Gary Jones (R), former federal prosecutor and 2002 Indie candidate Gary Richardson (R), and businessman Kevin Stitt (R); all could have a chance to win the primary. Overall, while Democrats do have a greater chance to flip this seat than Oklahoma’s deep-red nature would indicate, Republicans remain strong favorites here.
25. Arizona Likely R (24)
Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has been moderately popular in his first term. Though Democrats are enthusiastic about targeting Arizona this cycle after the state trended strongly left in 2016, the general consensus is that there are better opportunities on the statewide ballot for them than the Governor’s race, particularly in taking on a trio of unpopular statewide GOP incumbents, Sen. Jeff Flake (R), SoS Michele Reagan (R), and Superintendent Diane Douglas (R). As a result, most top-tier candidates have shunned taking on Ducey, and Democrats appear to be left with some “B” and “C” list options. State Sen. Steve Farley (D), who has held down a light-blue district in Tucson, looks like the front-runner for the Dem nomination, while 2014 Superintendent nominee David Garcia (D) is also in the race. Though an upset is possible if Ducey makes a mistake, either Dem looks likely to be a decided underdog to the incumbent, who has solid if not overwhelming popularity, personal cash, and the lean of the state on his side.
26. Oregon Likely D (26)
Gov. Kate Brown (D) won her first election in 2016 after ascending to the Governor’s seat in 2015; breaking with Oregon’s long tradition of relatively moderate Democratic Governors, Brown has pursued some quite polarizing fiscal and social liberal initiatives in her term, including a tax hike and a bill to subsidize all abortions in the state. Thus, Brown has drawn a fairly serious challenger in her quest for a full term. Brown’s rival, State Rep. Knute Buehler (R), has been considered a rising star on the GOP bench. Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon, has held down a purple seat in Bend for two terms and ran a credible statewide race for SoS against Brown as a novice candidate in 2012. Brown’s popularity has been acceptable if middling in recent surveys, but Buehler is a strong candidate with some wedge issues to use against her. As a result, we mark Brown as a fairly solid, but not prohibitive, favorite for a full term.
27. Alabama Likely R (27)
Gov. Kay Ivey (R) announced this month that she would indeed seek a full term in the office to which she ascended earlier this year. Ivey has been fairly well-received as Governor, mostly through looking better by comparison to ex-Gov. Robert Bentley (R) and the sex scandal that enveloped his final months in office. However, Ivey is largely untested in high-level races and has some vulnerabilities in her past, such as the collapse of a major college-savings program she oversaw as State Treasurer. Ivey has drawn an absurdly crowded field of primary challengers, including (deep breath) Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle (R), Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan (R), State Auditor Jim Ziegler (R), State Sen. Bill Hightower (R), businessman Josh Jones (R), and minister Scott Dawson (R). Odds are that some of these candidates will drop out now that Ivey is seeking a full term, but some of them could pose real threats to her re-election – particularly Battle, who has been fundraising very well and has a strong base in the northern part of the state. With Bentley’s scandal and several other corruption investigations enveloping the ALGOP, Democrats have been optimistic about their chances for this race, and have two credible contenders in Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox (D) and ex-State Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb (D). Either Maddox or Cobb could make the general election competitive, but Alabama is so deep-red – and more importantly, so incredibly inelastic – that we have to mark any GOP nominee as a significant favorite.
28. South Carolina Likely R (29)
If Ivey has cleared a low bar in her first few months as Governor, Gov. Henry McMaster (R) has failed to clear a high bar after ascending to the top job. As a longtime pol who has long coveted the Governor’s office, many expected McMaster to seize the opportunity of the top job, but his first few months have been generally uneventful and bereft of major initiatives. As a result, that has led various factions of the SCGOP to look for alternatives, and McMaster has drawn three primary challengers. Haley admin official Catherine Templeton (R) has fundraised very well and has backing from the former Governor’s network, particularly fiscally-oriented conservatives from the coastal regions. Appointed LG Kevin Bryant (R) is gunning for the top job himself and has a base in social conservatives in the upstate region from his tenure as a vocally socially conservative State Senator. A third rival, D-turned-R ex-LG Yancey McGill (R), seems less serious. Between Templeton and Bryant, McMaster could find himself squeezed from both sides and in a difficult primary to keep the seat. Whoever emerges from the GOP primary will likely have an easier time in the general. No Democrats have pulled the trigger on a run yet, but State Rep. James Smith (D) is the most talked-about candidate. While there is a chance a tough GOP primary gives Dems an opening, South Carolina is still a deep red state and we feel comfortable marking Republicans as strong, but not quite prohibitive, favorites to hold the seat.
29. Tennessee Likely R (28)
The two parties have traded off the Tennessee governor’s mansion with every open seat since 2-party rule in the state began in 1970. However, as the state has moved right, Republicans have a chance to break that pattern this year. Republicans have an assortment of strong candidates to choose from in this race, including Rep. Diane Black (R), State House Speaker Beth Harwell (R), antiestablishment conservative State Sen. Mae Beavers (R), and a pair of wealthy businessman, Bill Lee (R) and Randy Boyd (R), the latter also a Haslam administration official. All except Beavers seem likely to be strong general election candidates if they emerge from the primary, and it’s too early to peg anyone as a strong primary front-runner. Democrats have a primary of their own between ex-Nashville Mayor Karl Dean (D) and State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D). Fitzhugh is running to Dean’s left, especially on fiscal issues; so far establishment support has been split and there is no clear favorite in the primary. Democrats do have an opening here, particularly if Beavers is nominated, but their own potentially-contentious primary, the strong GOP field, and the deep-red nature of the state leads us to mark Republicans as very strong, but not quite prohibitive, favorites to notch the first same-party hold of an open Tennessee Governor’s race since 1966.
Safe for Incumbent Party:
30. South Dakota Safe R (30)
South Dakota seems set to host one of the biggest one-on-one primary clashes of 2018, as a pair of “A” list Republicans, Rep. Kristi Noem (R) and AG Marty Jackley (R), have decided to seek this seat. There are not huge differences between the two, as both Noem and Jackley would be considered mainstream conservatives. Noem and Jackley seem to have sucked all the oxygen out of the race on the GOP side; other than gadflyish ex-State Rep. Lora Hubbel (R), there is no other major candidate in the race or seriously considering. Time will tell how nasty the primary gets, but it is possible a particularly acrimonious race could open the door for a Democrat. The most likely D nominee is State Sen. Billie Sutton (D), a young former rodeo rider who seems a credible candidate. However, Sutton has low name recognition and is up against the state’s deep-red terrain and a 40-year GOP gubernatorial winning streak (the nation’s longest). Thus, we feel comfortable marking Noem or Jackley as strong favorites to hold the seat and pushing this over the line into the Safe category.
31. New York Safe D (31)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has showed some signs of being more a Rockefeller Republican than a liberal Democrat in his two terms in office, which has led to repeated grumbling from the Dem base over his fiscal moderation. Several candidates have been floated as potential left-wing primary challenges to Cuomo, most notably Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon (D). From the more traditional pols file, NYC councilman Jumaane Williams (D), Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner (D), and ex-State Sen. Terry Gipson (D) have all indicated some interest in runs against Cuomo. Any Democratic primary challenger to Cuomo could force a 3-way general as well, since they would likely have the line in the general of the left-wing union-backed Working Families Party. But any left-wing challenger would still face steep odds; Cuomo overall retains high popularity and full name recognition, and continuing on to the general on the WFP line would invite claims of playing spoiler. Republicans are not in want of candidates to float their names for this race either, with Westchester CE and 2014 nominee Rob Astorino (R), State Sens. John DeFrancisco (R) and John Flanagan (R), State Rep. Brian Kolb (R), moderate Ex-US Rep. Richard Hanna (R), Dutchess CE Marc Moliaro (R), 2010 nominee and ex-Buffalo school board member Carl Paladino (R), and investor and 2010 Comptroller nominee Harry Wilson (R) all indicating varying levels of interest. It’s too early to speculate what might happen in a 3-way general, but for now Cuomo’s high approval ratings and the lack of concrete movement on a challenger leads us to push this race off the board and into the Safe D category.
32. Hawaii Safe D (36)
Though it is America’s bluest state, Hawaii has a very strong two-party system – just one that plays out within the Democratic Party. Gov. David Ige (D) won his first term in an upset four years ago by ousting then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D). Ige belongs to a fiscally-liberal, socially-moderate faction consisting mostly of Asians, while Abercrombie belongs to a fiscally-moderate, socially ultra-liberal faction consisting mostly of whites. So while it’s not surprising that Ige is receiving a serious primary challenge for re-election, it is surprising from where that challenge is coming: Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D), who hails from Ige’s faction as well. The differences appear to be more stylistic: Unlike the brash Abercrombie, Ige is low-key to a fault, and that has rankled some machine insiders who believe his administration has not been energetic enough on their priorities. Ige has had middling but not terrible approval ratings, but Hanabusa is very well-known and has a strong personal brand. Thus the primary between two well-known pols is likely to be hard-fought, with whites as the likely swing bloc. Either Democratic nominee will likely start the general as a very strong favorite, but Republicans may not be punting this race after all. State Rep. Bob McDermott (R), a polarizing social conservative, dropped out of the race and there are strong rumors that State Rep. Andria Tupola (R), a moderate who has held down a tough district, may run instead. Tupola could have a shot if the primary becomes exceptionally nasty, but for now we feel comfortable marking Democrats as very strong favorites to hold this seat.
33. Idaho Safe R (32)
Much like Hawaii, Idaho has a two-party system that plays out in primaries, but in this case it’s on the GOP side. This year seems set to be a titanic clash of the two factions: a heavily Mormon, chamber-of-commerce and social conservative faction based in the state’s southeast and headed by retiring Gov. Butch Otter (R), and a more secular libertarian-leaning faction based in the northern panhandle and headed by Rep. Raul Labrador (R). This year, Labrador is making a bid for Governor and facing Otter’s handpicked successor in the primary, LG Brad Little (R). The two factions have been relatively evenly-matched, but a third candidate, wealthy developer Tommy Ahlquist (R), has the potential to split the Otterite vote. Democrats so far have not found any credible candidates for this race, though their 2014 nominee, school board member AJ Balukoff (D), is rumored to be considering a second bid after coming closer than expected three years ago. Balukoff might have a slight opening if the primary turns nasty, but for now we are still marking whoever emerges from the GOP primary as a strong general election favorite in the deep-red state.
34. Wyoming Safe R (33)
This open seat race in America’s reddest state is among the slowest-starting contests of the year. Just one candidate, businessman Bill Dahlin (R), has entered the GOP primary in the deep-red state. Many Republicans are thought to be considering, with SoS Ed Murray (R) and Treasurer Mark Gordon (R) receiving the most buzz. Overall it’s still just too early to speculate definitively on this primary race. For the general, ex-State Rep. Mary Throne (D) looks like the most likely Dem nominee, but as she just lost her 2016 bid for re-election, she seems like a fairly unimposing threat to any GOP primary winner against such tough terrain.
35. Nebraska Safe R (34)
Though he has seen some battles with the RINO-D coalition that dominates the state’s nonpartisan legislature, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) has been generally popular in his first term. With unlimited personal wealth and the lean of the state on his side, Ricketts looks to be in solid shape for a second. Ricketts has drawn a serious opponent though, in RINO-turned-I State Sen. Bob Krist (I). Democrats are still undecided on whether to run a candidate of their own or tacitly support Krist, but either way it will be all but impossible to defeat a relatively popular incumbent in such a red state.
36. Arkansas Safe R (35)
Arkansas’s Governor’s office is among the nation’s weakest, but that has an upside for its officeholders as it generally means they are quite popular. Incumbent Asa Hutchinson (R) fits that pattern, as he continues to post sky-high approval ratings in his deep-red state. Hutchinson’s most serious potential challenger, country radio host Bobby Bones (I), has declined a bid, and no serious Democrats are publicly scoping out this race at all. Unlike the two states below it on this list, Arkansas is small enough for a credible contender to emerge late, but this race looks almost certain to be a snoozer of a ride to a second term for Hutchinson.
37. California Safe D (38)
The Golden State remains the longest of long-shots for statewide Republicans. Republicans’ hopes for a statewide win in California remain all but nonexistent, not only due to its deep-blue nature and continued Democratic trend, but also because the state’s immense size makes gaining the name recognition to mount a credible bid incredibly costly. This year, two “C” list Republicans are running for Governor. Businessman and vanity presidential candidate John Cox (R) has enough money to be somewhat credible but is mostly known as a gadfly, while State Rep. Travis Allen (R) has some establishment support but little cash and a staunch conservative profile that is a tough statewide sell. The CAGOP’s task in this race is likely to unite behind one of them in the primary so that a Republican can advance to (and lose) the general and avert a D-on-D runoff that could be disastrous for GOP turnout and downballot Republicans. For the more consequential Dem side of the race, there are four major contenders. LG Gavin Newsom (D) and ex-LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) are the main Democrats in the race, with the divide between the two showcasing northern vs. southern and upscale vs. downscale Democratic fissures. Two other Dems, State Treasurer John Chiang (D) and ex-State Superintendent Delaine Eastin (D), look like longer shots but could still have a chance to surprise. And there is still the possibility of a late entry from current LA Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) scrambling the field. But for now it looks like Newsom or Villaraigosa are the most likely prospects to emerge from the primary, and we see little reason to suggest either will not have a free ride in the general.
38. Texas Safe R (37)
We have a new top contender for the safest incumbent Governor, Texas’s Greg Abbott (R). Though Democrats have shown some enthusiasm for Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D) campaign against Sen. Ted Cruz (R), no prominent Democrats have declared any interest in taking on Abbott. Bar owner Jeff Payne (D) is the only candidate of any note in the race, and with the filing deadline under three months away there is no sign of anyone more serious stepping up. (Some Democrats are trying to recruit Rep. Joaquin Castro (D) into the race, but that seems more a pipe-dream than a realistic possibility at this point). Even if a credible Democrat did emerge, they would face all but insurmountable challenges: Abbott is quite popular and universally known, and Texas, while trending toward Democrats, is brutally inelastic. As a result, we feel confident in marking this as the safest seat of all.