Kim Reynolds

Governors: Revised Bottom Lines

Bottom Lines are our most current take on a race.

ALABAMA

When Republican Gov. Robert Bentley resigned on April 10 of last year to avoid impeachment, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey was sworn in as the state’s new chief executive. She has spent her time in office working to stabilize the ship of government in the wake of the scandals that forced Bentley from office. Ivey has also focused on the crowded GOP primary she faces in her bid for a term in her own right. There are four announced candidates and a couple more contemplating bids. For now, Ivey is the frontrunner, but she can’t take anything for granted. Democrats have always believed that they would have a credible candidate here, but are more enthusiastic after their stunning upset in the special U.S. Senate election. Former state Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb was the first candidate in the race, but she doesn’t have the field to herself. Her most serious opponent is Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. Despite Democrats’ enthusiasm, 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 first-tier 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 announced along with a host of minor candidates. Recent polling showed Newsom leading the field with Villaraigosa in second place. On the Republican side, state Rep. Travis Allen, businessman John Cox and former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose have announced. None of these candidates has much of a shot at winning a slot in the general election, leaving voters with 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 five announced Democratic candidates, including former Denver CFO Cary Kennedy, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynn, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis. Polis is believed to be at least the nominal frontrunner, but the state’s caucus system means that none of these candidates can take anything for granted. There are nine announced Republicans, including Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and state Treasurer Walter Stapleton. The primary got upended when former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo entered the race. Tancredo ran for Governor in 2010 as the Constitution Party’s nominee and then lost the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2014. A staunch conservative, he takes a hard line against immigration. GOP strategists fear that the crowded field could provide an opening for Tancredo, who would doom their chances in the general election if he is the nominee. Party caucuses start in March and should shed some light on how competitive some of these candidates really are. The primary is June 26. For now, the race is in the Lean Democratic column, and the rating will be reassessed once the parties have chosen their nominees.

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 significant enough to trigger a law requiring the Governor to take cost-cutting measures, 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. At this point, there are at least nine Democratic candidates who have announced or who have formed exploratory committees. It’s safe to say that no one has emerged as the frontrunner yet. On the Republican side, there are at least 12 candidates who have announced or formed exploratory committees, and like their Democratic counterparts, this field is without a frontrunner. Connecticut holds late primaries, meaning all the focus will be on those nominating contests until the fall. Once there are nominees, the short sprint to the general election should be very competitive. In fact, despite Connecticut’s solid blue hue and that this is shaping up to be a good year for Democrats, this may be Republicans’ best shot to pick up a Democratic-held governorship. The race is in the Toss Up column.

FLORIDA

Both parties will hold competitive primaries in this open-seat contest. On the Democratic side, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, housing investor Chris King and Miami Mayor Phil Levine have all announced. Gillum had gotten good early reviews, but his campaign has struggled. Graham, whose father is former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham, is a solid candidate, although some Democrats fear that she may be too moderate. Levine, who is the most recent entry into the primary field, is the only candidate on television in an effort to raise his name identification outside his Miami base. For Republicans, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has long been considered the frontrunner against state House Speaker Richard Corcoran and activist Bob White, but that status has been threatened in the wake of U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis’ announcement that he would run. DeSantis is a favorite of conservative groups while Putnam is considered a more establishment Republican. Florida is a swing state, which makes this open seat up for grabs. It is in the Toss Up 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, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has announced that she will challenge him in the primary. Hanabusa served in the state Senate before being elected to the U.S. House in 2010. She gave up her seat in 2014 to run in the Democratic primary in the special U.S. Senate election, losing the nomination. She was re-elected to her House seat in 2016. There has also been some speculation that an independent candidate might emerge, but no names have been floated. Regardless of Ige’s fate in the primary, this seat seems destined to remains in Democrats’ hands. The race is in the Solid Democrat 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 spent most of the first three years of his term locked in an ugly battle with House Speaker Mike Madigan and the Democratic-controlled state legislature over the budget. The state went over 700 days without a budget, accumulating over $15 billion in unpaid bills and a budget deficit over $6 billion. Rauner faces a primary challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who is running because she feels that the Governor has betrayed conservatives. Rauner is heavily favored to win the nomination, but Ives might inflict some damage. There are seven announced Democratic candidates, but billionaire J.B. Pritzker has emerged as the frontrunner as he racks up endorsements and dominates the television airwaves. 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. Most expected that businessman Chris Kennedy would present the biggest threat to Pritzker, but that threat might well come from state Sen. Dan Biss, who is running as the progressive anti-billionaire. 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, 2017 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 announced his candidacy. The list of announced Democrats now numbers seven, and there isn’t a frontrunner at this point. Democrats are enthusiastic about their chances here, arguing that Reynolds is struggling in her new post. That said, the Democratic field hasn’t gotten stellar reviews. The race is worth watching and is in the Likely Republican column.

KANSAS

The U.S. Senate recently confirmed Republican Gov. Sam Brownback as Ambassador-At-Large for international religious freedom. As a result, he plans to resign on January 31, and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer will be sworn in as the new Governor. This was supposed to be an open seat, but Colyer, a surgeon by training, will run as an incumbent, seeking a full term in his own right. Brownback has had a tumultuous tenure in office and Colyer is going to have to separate himself from Brownback while defending his record as his second in command. But, Colyer first must survive a competitive primary. There are seven announced candidates. Colyer may be the nominal frontrunner, but candidates like Secretary of State Kris Kobach, wealthy businessman Wink Hartman, and state Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer are all viable candidates. While Kansas is a reliably red state, Brownback was 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. But, there is concern that the presence of Greg Orman, a businessman who is running as an independent, could siphon votes away from Democrats in the general election. Orman ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014, giving GOP U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts a competitive race. 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 truly competitive. 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, given that there are several credible independent candidates running. In the past two gubernatorial contests, a credible left of center independent candidate hurt Democrats’ chances in the general election. There are eight Democrats vying for the nomination, including Attorney General Janet Mills. On the Republican side, there are at least five announced candidates. Former state Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, a LePage appointee, is running as the true conservative in the race and may be the nominal frontrunner as a result. 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 seven announced candidates, including former NAACP CEO Ben Jealous, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. 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.

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. 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.

NEBRASKA

The biggest threat to Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ re-election effort won’t come from a Democrat, but might come from independent candidate and state Sen. Bob Krist, who is a moderate Republican. He has not been reticent to criticize the Governor. Despite lots of talk that Ricketts would get a competitive primary, the only announced challenger is writer Krystal Gaber. Democrats don’t have much of a bench here and will have a difficult time finding a first-tier candidate to take advantage of any opening that Krist’s candidacy might provide. The only announced Democrat to date is Tyler Davis, an instructor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The contest is 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. But, before they can take on Republicans, they must deal with a primary between two Clark County Commissioners: Chris Giunchigliani and Steve Sisolak. On the GOP side, state Attorney General Adam Laxalt and state Treasurer Dan Schwartz have announced. While Laxalt is better known, he is also more controversial. Democrats have reason to be optimistic given that Republicans have held the governorship since 1998. The contest is in the Toss Up column.

NEW YORK

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. Despite the attention this race might generate, Cuomo is in a strong position and the race is in the Solid Democratic column.

OHIO

This is yet another open Republican-held seat that is high on both parties’ target lists. By the time incumbent Gov. John Kasich leaves office in January of 2019, Republicans will have held the governorship for 24 of the last 28 years. In the era of Trump, Democrats believe they have a shot at breaking Republicans’ streak. There has been a great deal of movement on the Democratic side, as candidates have dropped out of the race or stepped back to join a ticket in the Lieutenant Governor’s slot. There are currently six announced candidates, including former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Richard Cordray, former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, former state Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, former state Rep. Connie Pilich, and state Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni. Cordray is something of a hero to progressive Democrats as the first director of the agency established as part of the Dodd-Frank financial services reform law, although his tenure will provide Republicans with plenty of fodder. There are two announced Republican candidates: state Attorney General Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. DeWine is the frontrunner at this point. This contest is in the Lean Republican column, but has the potential to become a toss up race once the parties choose their nominees.

OREGON

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown faced voters in 2016 for the right to serve the remainder of John Kitzhaber’s term. Kitzhaber resigned in 2015 in the wake of several controversies. Brown didn’t do as well as a Democrat might be expected to do in a presidential year, taking just over 50 percent. Brown must run for a full four-year term in 2018. Republicans tend to do better in statewide races in this Democratic-leaning state in mid-term election years, but they need a first-tier candidate. At this point, state Rep. Knute Buehler and businessman Sam Carpenter are the only announced candidates. GOP strategists point to the state’s fiscal woes, including a substantial budget deficit, as evidence that Brown may be vulnerable. Brown starts the race as the favorite, but it’s worth watching developments here. The contest is in the Likely Democratic column.

PENNSYLVANIA

Gov. Tom Wolf has the dubious distinction of being the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent this cycle. In 2014, Wolf’s defeat of GOP Gov. Tom Corbett was one his party’s bright spots in an otherwise bad election year. A political newcomer, Wolf ran on the strength of his resume as a successful businessman and promised more transparency and ethics in government. Once in office, Wolf had to address a weak economy and stagnant revenues. Buoyed by their victories in the presidential and U.S. Senate races in 2016, Republicans are targeting Wolf. At this point, there are two announced GOP candidates – businessman Paul Mango and state Rep. Scott Wagner. Mango is running as a pragmatic, solution-oriented executive while Wagner has embraced Trump and his agenda. The contest is currently in the Lean Democratic column, but has the potential to become a toss up race.

RHODE ISLAND

One of Republicans’ challenges in 2018 gubernatorial contests is that there are only nine Democratic-held seats up, providing them with few target opportunities to offset their own vulnerable seats. As a result, they are looking at races that might not seem like obvious targets. First-term Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s bid for a second term is one of them. Raimondo’s tenure hasn’t been free of controversy, but she also has accomplishments on which to run, including an improving economy. At this point, there are three announced candidates. Cranston Mayor and 2014 GOP nominee Allan Fung wants for a rematch, but he needs to defeat state House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan and former state Rep. and former Alex & Ani CEO Giovanni Feroce in the primary. Raimondo faces a primary challenge from environmental activist Paul Roselli while state teacher’s union executive director Bob Walsh is looking at the race, as is former Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Chafee lost the Democratic nomination to Raimondo in 2014. While he was unpopular when he left office, Chafee does have the personal financial resources to run a credible campaign. Given the state’s solidly blue hue, Republicans may need some stars to align for them, and they will need to worry about the independent candidacy of state Rep. Joe Trillo, a conservative who will siphon votes from the OGP nominee. National Republicans have been attacking Raimondo’s record and will continue to do so – comparatively speaking, Rhode Island is a pretty inexpensive state – but it remains to be seen how competitive they will make this race. It is worth watching developments here; the contest starts in the Likely Democratic column.

SOUTH CAROLINA

This seat was supposed to be open as the incumbent, Republican Nikki Haley, was term limited. Haley, though, joined the Trump Administration as Ambassador to the United Nations and Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster succeeded her and will now run as the incumbent. He isn’t getting a free ride to the nomination, though, as three candidates, including the current Lieutenant Governor, have announced challenges to him. There are two announced Democrats: tech consultant Phil Noble, who has deep political roots in the state, and state Rep. James Smith. Democrats contend that McMaster has struggled to get his footing and that a scandal that has enveloped the state GOP could provide an opening for them. Regardless of whether they are right about this, the onus is on them to make the race competitive. Until that happens, the contest is in the Solid Republican column.

WISCONSIN

Republican Gov. Scott Walker is seeking a third term. Between his first gubernatorial election in 2010, a recall election in 2012, the race for a second term in 2014 and his unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nominee, Walker is about as tested a candidate as any incumbent Governor seeking re-election in 2018. He is a strong fundraiser and, as evidenced by his party’s successes in 2016, has built and maintained a solid grassroots organization. This won’t stop Democrats from targeting him. To date, at least 10 Democrats have filed committees with the Secretary of State’s office. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers is the only candidate to have won statewide office. At this point, the primary seems wide open. Wisconsin is a swing state so it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see this race become competitive. It starts in the Lean Republican column.

WYOMING

Democrats don’t seem interested in contesting this open seat given how heavily Republican the state is. President Trump took 68.5 percent in 2016. While a number of Republican names have been mentioned, only businessman Bill Dahlin and attorney Harriet Hagman have announced. The sole announced Democrat is former state House Minority Leader Mary Thone. The race is in the Solid Republican column.

Image: Kim Reynolds (IA-GOV) | Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall