Gonzales

Ratings Changes: Duking It Out in Six Gubernatorial Races

State races could have national impact

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has won three statewide elections, including a recall contest, but his race for a third term is likely to get more competitive, Gonzales writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

While most of the national attention is on the fight for Congress and President Donald Trump’s tweets, this year is also huge for gubernatorial races, providing an opportunity for Democrats to bounce back from a couple of disappointing cycles.

Republicans are defending 26 of their 33 governorships this year, while Democrats are defending nine of their 16 governorships. One independent governor in Alaska is up for re-election as well.

While gubernatorial contests are state races, Pennsylvania is a great example of the potential federal impact of holding the governor’s office. Earlier this year, when the state Supreme Court threw out the congressional map as an illegal partisan gerrymander, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf declined to approve the replacement proposed by the Republican-led Legislature. Ultimately, the state Supreme Court chose a new map that was more favorable to Democrats.

That’s the blueprint Democrats would like to follow until they gain control of more state Legislatures.

We’ve changed our Inside Elections ratings for governor in six states. You can read more analysis of these races and each of the 36 races for governor in the April 6 issue of Inside Elections.

Three move in favor of Democrats.

Wisconsin

You should always be careful in extrapolating results from a state Senate special election or a nonpartisan race for the state Supreme Court. But it’s clear that Democrats are over-performing up and down the ballot and across the country, including in the Badger State. And even though GOP Gov. Scott Walker has won three statewide elections, including a recall contest, his bid for a third term is likely to get more competitive. The race moves from Likely Republican to Leans Republican.

Nevada

Democrats haven’t won a race for governor in Nevada since 1994, but this looks like the cycle for them to break their losing streak in the Silver State. Popular GOP incumbent Brian Sandoval is term-limited, so both parties will choose a nominee in competitive primaries on June 12. Even though Republicans will have a statewide elected official as their standard-bearer, it’s difficult to see them winning an open seat race in a state Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 when Democrats have the enthusiasm edge and have been over-performing in special elections. Moves from Toss-up to Tilts Democratic.

Michigan

It’s been more almost five decades since a Michigan governor was succeeded by someone from the same party, so Republican incumbent Rick Snyder being term-limited isn’t great news for the GOP. Trump won Michigan, but with 47.5 percent of the vote, and he hasn’t proved his coalition is transferable to other GOP candidates. If the election were held today, state Attorney General Bill Schuette might win, but if ratings were merely a reflection of the current polls, then there wouldn’t be any need for them. Similar to Nevada, it’s tough to see Republicans holding this governorship in a positive environment for Democrats. Moves from Toss-up to Tilts Democratic.

And three move in favor of Republicans.

Minnesota

Former two-term GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s entry into the race will force the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party to pay attention, but any Republican would likely struggle in a marginal state in this political environment. Democrats are still working through a crowded primary, but the DFL nominee should still have the advantage in the end. Moves from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic.

Alaska

Democrats helped Bill Walker defeat GOP Gov. Sean Parnell four years ago, but they don’t have any interest in helping him win a second term as an independent. Walker may end up winning the Democratic nomination, but without the party infrastructure and help from Washington, it’s tough to see him surviving in a Republican-leaning state. Moves from Toss-up to Tilts Republican.

Rhode Island

Polls show that Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo still has work to do to convince voters to give her a second term and, if the election were held today, she might lose to Republican Allan Fung. But the Democratic cycle could bail her out, although an independent run by former Democratic Secretary of State Matt Brown could complicate her re-election effort. Moves from Solid Democratic to Likely Democratic.

Watch: The Many Ways to Draw a Gerrymander

Correction 4:18 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misspelled Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung’s first name. 

Correction 4:02 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated the new rating for the Rhode Island governor’s race.

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