The Slatest

Democrats Sure Look Good in a Bunch of Big Governor’s Race

Georgia's Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, would become the first black woman to be elected governor in U.S. history.
Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, would become the first black woman to be elected governor in U.S. history. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry/File Photo

Two weeks out from Election Day, most major nonpartisan handicappers and number-crunching forecasters agree that Democrats will likely retake the House—despite a host of structural disadvantages working against them—while Republicans will probably hold on to the Senate, thanks in large part to a historically favorable set of contests. Nothing is assured, of course, but that’s where the best available evidence points—and has been pointing for some time.

The gubernatorial landscape, however, defies such simple summation—not for a lack of polling or predictions, but for a lack of an easy metric. The difference between Democrats winning 22 House seats and winning 23, for instance, is the size of the speaker’s gavel. But there isn’t that kind of national tipping point for the governors’ races. No aggregate outcome—such as either party winning a majority of the open seats—can have a greater effect than the sum of its parts.

Still, we can say this: Democrats are poised to win a number of marquee governor’s races this year, many of which will have national implications. More than a dozen Democratic candidates have a credible chance of replacing a Republican governor, a list that includes states that were central to Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory and races where the Republican nominee is a Trump acolyte, an established political heavyweight, or both.

One major reason why Democrats seeking governorships are running downhill is that they simply have far more room to do so: 26 of the 33 gubernatorial seats currently controlled by Republicans are up in the midterms, compared to just 9 of Democrats’ 16 seats. (The missing state: Alaska, where independent Gov. Bill Walker recently abandoned his bid for reelection.) But the picture only looks brighter for Democrats the more you zoom in.

Consider the Midwest: At least seven gubernatorial seats have a legitimate chance of flipping from red to blue this fall, including three of the region’s most populous states: Illinois, where J. B. Pritzker is the odds-on favorite to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner; Michigan, where Gretchen Whitmer has a sizeable lead on Republican Bill Schuette to replace the state’s term-limited Republican governor, Rick Snyder; and Wisconsin, where Democrat Tony Evers is running slightly ahead of Gov. Scott Walker, who among governors, has been the left’s white whale for nearly a decade.

Or look to the South, where rising Democratic stars have a shot to replace term-limited Republican governors in the region’s two most populous states: Florida, where Andrew Gillum has begun to pull away from Ron DeSantis in the polls, and in Georgia, where Stacey Abrams is within striking distance of Brian Kemp. The fact that Gillum and Abrams are proud progressives looking to make history as their states’ first black governors while DeSantis and Kemp are Trump-tastic would only make those wins sweeter for the left.

The list doesn’t end there, either. The Cook Political Report currently rates 12 of the 26 Republican-held governor’s seats up this year as tossups or better for Democrats, including Michigan and New Mexico, where Cook gives them the advantage. (A 13th state, Oklahoma, “leans Republican” but is still seen as competitive.) Meanwhile, Democrats are protecting just two seats rated as tossups, Connecticut and Oregon, while five others now appear more or less safe, including Pennsylvania and Minnesota, which both looked far dicier for the Dems at the start of the year.

It would take a miracle for Democrats to sweep all those states, of course—they’re called tossups for a reason—but FiveThirtyEight’s classic model has them on pace to hold 24.1 governor’s mansions when all is said and done, a net gain of roughly eight seats from where they now stand. No, 24 is not a majority of 50, but the size of each state matters (unlike in a certain upper chamber of Congress), and according to the site, those 24.1 seats represent nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population. Even if there are a few surprises on Nov. 6, a majority of Americans will most likely be living in a state with a Democratic governor once the incoming class is sworn in.

There’s also this: 30 of the 36 governors elected this fall—including all 13 in the GOP-held races Cook currently believes to be competitive—will be involved in redrawing their state’s congressional map following the 2020 census, a process that happens every 10 years. Each one of those contests that Democrats win this year, then, will make life that much easier for the party in the House come 2022 and beyond. Put another way, the next midterm battle for control of the lower chamber is already under way.