Charlie Baker

Governors: Bottom Lines – Kansas to New York

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

KANSAS: This is supposed to be an open seat as Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is term-limited. President Trump, though, has nominated Brownback to be Ambassador At-Large for international religious freedom. Assuming he is confirmed, he will leave office before the end of his term, elevating Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to Governor. Colyer, a surgeon by training, has been mulling a gubernatorial bid, but hasn’t made a formal announcement. If Colyer runs, as most expect, he will do so as an incumbent, but he may not be able to clear the primary field. Brownback has had a tumultuous tenure in office and Colyer is going to have to separate himself from the outgoing Governor while defending his record as Brownback’s second in command. There are three announced candidates, none of whom have expressed a willingness to step aside for Colyer. While Kansas is a reliably red state, Brownback is so unpopular that Democrats believe that they can make the general election competitive. Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and former state Agriculture Commissioner Josh Svaty have both announced. There is little doubt that voters have had enough of Brownback and his agenda, but the onus is on Democrats to prove that they can make this race interesting. For now, though, all eyes will be on the GOP primary. The contest is in the Likely Republican column.

MAINE: Republican Gov. Paul LePage is term-limited and Democrats believe that this open seat is one of their best pick-up opportunities. They have good reason to be optimistic, but the race might become more complicated than they want it to be. On the Republican side, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is taking a serious look at the race. While she is the most popular politician in the state and would be a strong favorite in a general election, she might have a problem in the primary given her moderate profile and recent votes against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. LePage has already said that he will work to defeat her. Former state Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, a LePage appointee, has already announced and is running as the true conservative in the race. If Collins doesn’t run, it is unlikely that Mayhew will get a free ride to the nomination. On the Democratic side, there are already five announced candidates, including state Attorney General Janet Mills, and the field may grow include U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree. In the past two gubernatorial contests, Democrats have been hurt by the presence of independent candidates on the ballot. The question is whether there will be a viable, left-of-center candidate in 2018. Voters here may well be ready for a change after eight years of the often-controversial LePage. The race is in the Toss Up column.

MARYLAND: Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has solid job approval numbers, even in this heavily Democratic state. He has largely governed from the center and has a good working relationship with the Democratic-controlled state legislature. That hasn’t stopped a number of Democrats from lining up for the right to challenge him. There are five announced candidates, including former NAACP CEO Ben Jealous and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, and another three candidates exploring bids. Democrats hope that 2018 will be a repeat of 2006 when the political environment was so bad for Republicans nationally that then-GOP Gov. Bob Ehrlich was swept out of office despite having job approval ratings over 50 percent. It is a good bet that the Democratic primary will be hard fought and expensive. It is hard to assess the party’s general election chances against Hogan until there is a nominee. For now, the race is in the Likely Republican column.

MASSACHUSETTS: By almost any measure, Republican Charlie Baker is one of the most popular Governors in the nation. He is also the most moderate of the nation’s 34 Republican Governors, which is an important asset in this solidly blue state. Baker has focused on issues that voters care about like infrastructure improvements and even signed pay equity legislation. That hasn’t stopped three Democrats from announcing their intention to challenge him. Newton Mayor Setti Warren may be the nominal frontrunner, but he will need to work very hard to win the nomination. Unless the political landscape nationally becomes absolutely toxic for Republicans, Baker shouldn’t have much trouble winning a second term. The race is in the Likely Republican column.

MICHIGAN: Democrats have this Republican-held open seat high on their list of targets this cycle. There are already four announced Democrats, with former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer getting the most attention to date. However, the field may not be complete. On the Republican side, there are also four candidates; the best-known candidates are Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and state Attorney General Bill Schuette. Calley will be forced to defend Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, particularly when it comes to its response to the Flint water crisis. Schuette, on the other hand, can campaign on his efforts to root out those responsible for the crisis. Like so many races at this point, it’s hard to see the contours of the general election without knowing the identities of the nominees, but it’s hard to call this contest anything but a Toss Up.

MINNESOTA: Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has opted not to seek a third term, creating a free-for-all in both parties for the right to succeed him. Both sides will host crowded and competitive primaries, and it’s fair to say that neither field is settled nor does either party boast a frontrunner for their respective nominations. The parties’ caucus/convention/primary system further complicates efforts to sift through the candidate fields. Democrats say that they are confident that they can hold the seat given Dayton’s largely successful tenure. Republicans contend that if the results of the 2016 election proved anything it’s that Minnesota remains a swing state and that voters are ready for change after eight years of Democratic leadership. In the early going, neither party has an advantage. The race is in the Toss Up column.

NEBRASKA: While there is talk that Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts might get a nominal challenge for the nomination and there is an already moderate Republican state legislator who is likely to run as an independent candidate, not a single Democrat has stepped up to challenge him at this point. In fact, not a single name has been floated. It is unlikely that Democrats will give Ricketts a free ride, but it will be difficult to make the general election truly competitive. It’s in the Solid Republican column.

NEVADA: Democrats point to their success in the state in 2016 as evidence that they are well positioned to pick up this GOP-held open seat this cycle, arguing that Nevada has turned blue. Their challenge, though, is that they don’t have a very deep bench. So far, Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak is the only announced candidate, although others are looking at the race. On the GOP side, state Attorney General Adam Laxalt and state Treasurer Dan Schwartz are all but announced. While Laxalt is better know, he is also more controversial. Democrats have reason to be optimistic given that Republicans have held the governorship since 1998, but their success here is hardly a foregone conclusion. The contest is in the Toss Up column.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Republican Gov. Chris Sununu was elected in 2016 by just over 16,000 votes and must run for a second term in 2018. Voters rarely turn away incumbents after one term, but that doesn’t mean that Democrats won’t try. So far only former Portsmouth Mayor and 2016 gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand has announced, but a number of other candidates are looking at the race. Given that the office is up every two years, these races tend to start late, meaning that there might not be a lot of clarity in this contest until early in 2018. For now, the race is in the Lean Republican column.

NEW MEXICO: This Republican-held open seat is one of Democrats’ best opportunities for a pick up this cycle. Outgoing Gov. Susanna Martinez is not very popular and the state has a heavy Democratic tilt. Democrats will have a competitive primary for their nomination: U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham; media executive Jeff Apodaca, whose father was Governor in the late 1970s; and state Sen. Joe Cervantes have all announced. On the Republican side, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce was a surprise entrant last month and has largely cleared the field. After eight years of a Republican at the helm, voters may well be ready for a change in a state where the governorship tends to volley between the parties. Pearce could make this very interesting, particularly if the Democratic primary produces a damaged nominee, but the race is in the Lean Democratic column today.

NEW YORK: All indications are that Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo intends to further follow in his father’s footsteps by seeking a third term as Governor. Regardless of how competitive Republicans make this race, there will be lots of eyes on Cuomo as he is a potential candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Unlike some other Democratic states that will elect a Republican Governor every few years, New York has only elected one Republican to that office in the last 40 years. And while there is occasional grumbling about Cuomo’s performance in office, Republicans don’t have a bench of first-tier statewide candidates ready to challenge him. A number of potential challengers are looking at the race, including 2014 nominee Rob Asterino, but no one has announced. Despite the attention this race might generate, Cuomo is in a strong position going into 2018 and the race is in the Solid Democratic column.