Governors: Post-Primary Bottom Lines (AL, AR, CA, GA, IA, MN, NM, SD)

The following Bottom Lines have been updated following this week's gubernatorial primaries in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, South Dakota


Republican Gov. Kay Ivey fended off four challengers in the June 5 primary to win the nomination with 56 percent of the vote, easily avoiding a run-off. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle finished second with 25 percent. Ivey became Governor in April of 2017 when Gov. Robert Bentley resigned to avoid impeachment, and she is now seeking a full term in her own right. Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox won the Democratic nomination with 55 percent, beating out five other challengers. Democrats have believe that Maddox will be a very competitive candidate, and argue that the party’s upset victory in last December’s special U.S. Senate election provides them with a roadmap to victory. In reality, they will face a different political landscape and an opponent who isn’t damaged goods, making this an uphill fight for Maddox. The race is in the Solid Republican column.


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.  Hutchinson faced minor opposition in the June 5 primary, beating gun range owner Jan Morgan, 70 percent to 30 percent. Jared Henderson, the former state executive director of Teach for America, won the Democratic nomination with 67 percent against Leticia Sanders, a hair braider. The Governor hasn’t given voters much reason to deny him a second term. The race is in the Solid Republican column.


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 result, most observers (us included) expected Democrats to dominate the primary for this open seat, winning both slots on the general election ballot. As it turns out, Republican businessman John Cox managed to place second with 26 percent of the vote. Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom placed first with 33 percent; 25 other candidates split the remaining 41 percent. Perhaps the biggest surprise on primary night was the weak showing of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who despite running an aggressive and well-funded campaign, placed third with 13 percent. That Cox secured a general election slot isn’t so much a victory for Republicans as it is a gift for Democrats. Cox is a newcomer to California politics, although he’s made several runs for office, including a U.S. Senate seat … in Illinois. He also ran for President in 2008. He is much more conservative than a majority of California voters. Newsom shouldn’t have much trouble defeating Cox in November, and the Democrats have been spared what would have been a divisive and very expensive race. The contest is in the Solid Democrat column.


Republicans have held the Governor’s office since 2003. That, the fact that Donald Trump only got 50 percent of the vote in 2016, and Democrats’ belief that the state is trending their way, have strategists arguing that they can make this race competitive. To that end, they nominated former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams as their standard bearer. She defeated state Rep. Stacey Evans, 76 percent to 24 percent. Progressive groups rallied around Abrams in the primary. They believe that nominating a progressive African-American female candidate will draw minority voters who usually sit out mid-term elections to the polls on Election Day. In short, Abrams’ candidacy is something of an experiment in how Democrats can make inroads in Republican-leaning states. Republicans will host a run-off on July 24 between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Cagle finished first in the primary with 39 percent, followed by Kemp, who took 26 percent. Three other candidates split the remaining 35 percent. While this race has the potential to become more competitive, it’s not there now. The contest is in the Solid Republican column.


Republican Kim Reynolds was sworn in as Governor on May 24, 2017 after Gov. Terry Branstad resigned to become the U.S. Ambassador to China. She must now run for a full term in her own right. She got a clear path to the nomination after Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett failed to make the ballot. In the Democratic primary, former Equitable Life CEO Fred Hubbell won the nomination with 57 percent, easily clearing the 35-percent threshold needed to avoid a nominating convention. Labor union official Cathy Glasson finished second with 21 percent, while four other candidates split the remaining 22 percent. Democrats are enthusiastic about their chances here, arguing that Reynolds has struggled in her first year in the job. Hubbell proved himself to be a very able candidate during the primary. There hasn’t been a poll showing a general election match-up since January and Reynolds held a slim four-point advantage (41 percent to 37 percent) over Hubbell in that survey for the Des Moines Register. This has all the makings of a very competitive race and moves to the Toss Up column.


Over the past week, the filing deadline closed and both parties held their endorsement conventions. While both events turned the contest for the Democratic nomination upside down, it also brought some clarity to the race as a number of candidates ended their campaigns. State Rep. Erin Murphy won the party’s endorsement, but must now compete in a five-way primary. Her toughest competition will come from U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and state Attorney General Lori Swanson. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson won the party’s endorsement at the Republican convention, but he faces former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the primary. Pawlenty didn’t compete in the convention endorsement process, which tends to reward conservatives over establishment candidates, but he is the favorite in the primary.  Democrats say that they are confident that they can hold the seat given retiring Democratic Gov. Mark 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. The question is whether Pawlenty, who served as Governor from 2002 to 2011 and recently resigned as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, represents this change.  At this point, neither party has an advantage. The race is in the Toss Up column.


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. U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham won the Democratic nomination in the June 5 primary with 66 percent of the vote to 22 percent for media executive Jeff Apodaca, whose father was Governor in the late 1970s; and 12 percent for state Sen. Joe Cervantes. On the Republican side, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce was not challenged for the nomination. 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. It is up to Pearce to put this contest back in the Toss Up column. Today, it is in the Lean Democratic column.


Republicans hosted a more competitive than expected primary between U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and state Attorney General Marty Jackley. At the start of the contest, Noem was considered the favorite, but Jackley ran a strong campaign and some polls showed a tied contest. Once Noem’s campaign started attacking Jackley, she regained her footing and won the nomination with 56 percent to 44 percent for the Attorney General. The Democratic nominee is state Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton. Democrats believe that Noem’s tenure as a member of an unpopular Congress provides them with an opening. This may be true, but Sutton starts the race as the clear underdog. The contest is in the Solid Republican column.