Governors: Bottom Lines – Alabama to Iowa

Bottom Lines are our most up-to-date take on a race.

NEW JERSEY: In early June, Democrats nominated Phil Murphy, who spent the majority of his career at Goldman Sachs, retiring as a senior director after which he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany. Republicans tapped Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Despite the fact that this is an open seat, the primary contests were utterly dull and did little to define either candidate. Murphy, though, has a number of advantages in the general election, not the least of which is the solidly Democratic nature of the state. His other significant advantage is Christie’s standing with voters; he now has one of the lowest job approval ratings among the nation’s Governors. While Christie was elected in 2009 to help get the state back on track, he has had limited success. He has also been hobbled by the Bridgegate scandal, as well as voter unhappiness with his failed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and his close relationship with President Donald Trump, who took just 42 percent of the vote last November. As Christie’s Lieutenant Governor, Guadagno must carry the burden of the Christie Administration into the general election. Post-primary polls showed Murphy over 50 percent and Guadagno in the high 30-percent range. With numbers like these, the general election may be as boring as the primaries were. The race is in the Likely Democratic column.

VIRGINIA: Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Republican strategist Ed Gillespie will face off in November to pick a successor to term-limited Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Virginia has been trending toward Democrats in recent years. President Obama carried the state in 2008 and 2012, while Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won it in 2016. The last time a Republican won a U.S. Senate race was in 2002 when then-Sen. John Warner won re-election. In fact, the last Republican to win a presidential, U.S. Senate or gubernatorial contest was Bob McDonnell, who was elected Governor in 2009. This is what makes Gillespie’s task so difficult. That said, Gillespie is a battle-tested candidate, who came close to scoring an upset over Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner in 2014, and survived a challenge to his right in the GOP primary this year. He is also an able fundraiser. Northam benefits from the state’s demographics, a unified base, and voters’ unfavorable views of President Trump. This race is in the Lean Democratic column today, but it’s entirely possible that it could become a Toss Up race. Today, the onus is on Gillespie to make that happen.

ALABAMA: When Republican Gov. Robert Bentley resigned on April 10 of this year to avoid impeachment, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey was sworn in as the state’s new chief executive. She has spent her brief time in office working to stabilize the ship of government in the wake of the scandals that forced Bentley from office. What she hasn’t done is say whether she will run for a full term in her own right, and she isn’t likely to make that decision until sometime this fall. If Ivey does run, she will get a primary; there are already seven announced candidates. Democrats believe that they will have a credible candidate here, pointing to former state Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb’s announcement that she would be a candidate. Cobb is not likely to have the field to herself, though. The special U.S. Senate election is likely to suck up most of the political oxygen through the fall, which will give Ivey some room to make her decision. The race is in the Solid Republican column.

ALASKA: In 2014, independent candidate Bill Walker upset incumbent GOP Gov. Sean Parnell, 48 percent to 46 percent. Since taking office, Walker hasn’t aligned himself with either party, and polls show that voters aren’t especially happy with his performance in office. Democrats seem content to sit this race out in 2018, but Republicans plan to contest the seat and there are some very credible candidates looking at running. Contests tend to develop late here so there might not be much to report until early next year, despite the fact that the race is in the Toss Up column.

ARIZONA: Republican Gov. Doug Ducey campaigned in 2014 on his record of success in business and a promise to focus on the state’s economy. In office, he has made good on that promise, and has largely avoided getting caught up in the ideological battles that rage within the party and the legislature. Democrats have argued that Arizona is becoming a blue state, although they don’t have many statewide victories to bolster their case. What they can point to are close races, like Donald Trump’s four-point victory last year, and GOP U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake’s three-point win in 2012. While they hope to give Ducey a competitive race, citing education consultant David Garcia as first-tier candidate, although there are two other candidates seeking the nomination. Ducey doesn’t have any obvious vulnerabilities, but the race is worth watching in a mid-term election year in a state where issues like immigration deeply divide votes. The race is in the Likely Republican column.

ARKANSAS: In 2014, Republican Asa Hutchinson won this open seat by defeating former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Ross by 13 points, while Tom Cotton was knocking off Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor by 17 points. In 2016, Donald Trump carried the state with 61 percent. Margins like this don’t provide Democrats with any serious hope of making this race competitive, nor has Hutchinson given voters cause to deny him a second term. Not a single candidate name has emerged as a potential challenger to Hutchinson. The race is in the Solid Republican column.

CALIFORNIA: The state adopted a top two primary system in 2012 and it has had the effect of shutting Republicans out of statewide office in this very Democratic state. As such, Democrats will dominate the primary for this open seat. To date, four Democrats – state Treasurer John Chiang, former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – have already announced, while at least two more, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and wealthy environmental activist Tom Steyer may run. On the Republican side, state Rep. Travis Allen and businessman John Cox have announced, while former NFL star Rosie Grier and former st. Rep. David Hadley have expressed interest in running. None of these candidates has much of a shot at winning a slot in the general election. GOP strategists would like to see San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer run, but he seems reluctant to enter the race. Voters are likely to see a general election between two Democrats, putting this in the Solid Democrat column.

COLORADO: Democrats have controlled the Governor’s office for the last decade, which gives Republicans some hope that voters might be ready for a change. At the same time, Democrats believe that Colorado has become more blue than purple. Both sides will host competitive primaries. There are six announced Democratic candidates, including U.S. Reps. Earl Perlmutter and Jared Polis, which may make this primary another battle between the establishment and more progressive wings of the party. There are five announced Republicans and the field may grow. At this point, there isn’t a clear frontrunner. This race has a long way to go before it gets any clarity. It is in the Lean Democratic column.

CONNECTICUT: This is one of the most Democratic states in the nation, but Republicans have a shot at winning this seat being vacated by two-term Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy. The state is in difficult financial shape; the budget deficit is about $5 billion, and major employers like General Electric and Aetna are decamping for more business friendly states with lower taxes. Malloy’s job approval numbers are abysmal and a factor in the incumbent’s decision not to seek a third term. There are five announced candidates, but most observers are waiting to see whether Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman runs. Republicans contend that Wyman and the Democrats currently in the race won’t be able to escape Malloy’s record. There are currently six announced Republicans, although there isn’t a frontrunner at the moment. Connecticut holds late primaries, meaning all the focus will be on those contests until next fall. Once there are nominees, the short sprint to the general election should be very competitive. The race is in the Toss Up column.

FLORIDA: Both parties will hold competitive primaries, and while there are already announced candidates, neither field is set. On the Democratic side, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and housing investor Chris King have campaigns up and running. Miami Mayor Phil Levine and trial attorney John Morgan are considering getting into the race. While some believe that Gillum is the current frontrunner, the campaign trail has been rocky as his administration (though not him directly) is the subject of investigation and he has come under criticism for using a city email account for political business. For Republicans, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and activist Bob White have announced, and state House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis are actively exploring bids. Regardless of how many candidates get in, Putnam, who has been prepping for this race for years, is the frontrunner. Florida is a swing state, which makes this open seat up for grabs. It is in the Toss Up column.

GEORGIA: Republicans have held the Governor’s office since 2003. That, the fact that Donald Trump only got 50 percent last year, and Democrats’ belief that the state is trending their way, have strategists arguing that they can make this race competitive. Democrats are hosting primary contest of the Staceys. The two announced candidates are state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and state Rep. Stacey Evans. It’s not clear whether the field will grow, but EMILY’s List has already sided with Abrams. There are four announced Republican candidates: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, and state Sens. Hunter Hill and Michael Williams. In recent cycles, Democrats have been enthusiastic about a number of contests ranging from the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races in 2014 to the special election in the 6th congressional district in June, only to come up short. While this race has the potential to become more competitive, it’s not there now. The contest is in the Solid Republican column.

HAWAII: Democratic Gov. David Ige may be very vulnerable, but not to a Republican since the party doesn’t have an obvious first-tier candidate. Instead, Ige may get a primary challenge. There has also been some speculation that an independent candidate might emerge, but no names have been floated. Regardless of Ige’s fate, this seat seems destined to remains in Democrats’ hands. The race is in the Solid Democrat column.

IDAHO: Given how solidly Republican this state is, the race may well be decided in the primary. The three announced candidates are Lt. Gov. Brad Little, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and developer Tommy Ahlquist. Ahlquist has already aired television ads. Labrador can very controversial, which might have the effect of turning this primary into a contest between the establishment and Tea Party conservatives. On the Democratic side, businessman A.J. Balukoff is going to run again. He was the party’s nominee in 2014 against incumbent Butch Otter, taking 39 percent. All the action should be in the Republican primary. Unless that primary produces a damaged nominee, Republicans should hold the seat. The race is in the Solid Republican column.

ILLINOIS: There is little doubt that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is the most vulnerable incumbent up for re-election next year. Not only is he a Republican in a very blue state, but Rauner has been locked in a three-year battle with House Speaker Mike Madigan and the Democratic-controlled state legislature over the state budget. After over 700 days without a budget, the state has over $15 billion in unpaid bills and a budget deficit over $6 billion. There are eight announced Democratic candidates, but billionaire J.B. Pritzker appears to be emerging as the frontrunner as he racks up endorsements. His willingness to spend freely of his personal wealth is very appealing to Democratic activists as it levels the playing field against Rauner, who is also wealthy and has already put $50 million into his campaign. The state’s budget woes aren’t going to be solved any time soon as Democrats believe it gives them an upper hand going into an election year. Incumbents never start a cycle with a rating favoring the other party. As such, the race is in the Toss Up column.

IOWA: Republican Kim Reynolds was sworn in as Governor on May 24 after Gov. Terry Branstad resigned to become the U.S. Ambassador to China. She now gets to run for a full term as an incumbent. She doesn’t have a clear path to the nomination; Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett has already announced his candidacy. The list of announced Democrats now numbers seven with a host of others either considering bids or mentioned as potential candidates. At this point, there isn’t a frontrunner. The race is now in the Solid Republican column, but this is a contest that is likely to become much more competitive as the cycle progresses.