Governors: Revised Bottom Lines (IL, ME, RI, TX)

Bottom Lines are our most current take on a race.

ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:

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 also 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. Rauner eked out a 51-percent to 49-percent primary victory over state Rep. Jeanne Ives. Too much is being read into this result as it changes nothing. An inanimate object likely would have gotten 40 percent against an incumbent who rarely adheres to Republican orthodoxy and doesn’t support President Trump. Ives’ late surge in the primary can be attributed largely to a multi-million dollar contribution from conservative donor Robert Uihlein and Democratic Governors Association-sponsored television ads touting Ives as a true conservative in the primary. Billionaire J.B. Pritzker won the Democratic nomination with 45 percent in a seven-way field. State Sen. Dan Biss got 27 percent and businessman Chris Kennedy got 24 percent. That victory came with a $70 million price tag; $34 million of was spent on advertising. Rauner put $50 million into his campaign in December of 2016 and spent roughly $16 million on advertising, although most of those ads were aimed at Pritzker. He didn’t pay much attention to Ives, although he eventually responded to her television ads. The combination of spending made this the most expensive non-presidential primary on record. This battle of the billionaires may also break general election records. Rauner is as vulnerable today as he was at the start of the cycle, and his efforts at securing a second term is made all the more difficult by the poor political environment for Republicans nationally. In fact, polling taken during the primary show Rauner trailing Pritzker in the general election. Incumbents never start a cycle with a rating favoring the other party. As such, the race is in the Toss Up column.

MAINE GOVERNOR:

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 is more complicated than they want it to be, given that there is a very credible independent candidate running in state Treasurer Terry Hayes. In the past two gubernatorial contests, a credible left of center independent candidate hurt Democrats’ chances in the general election. There are six Democrats vying for the nomination, including Attorney General Janet Mills. On the Republican side, there are five announced candidates, including former state Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, state House Minority Leader Ken Fredette and state Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason. Voters here may well be ready for a change after eight years of the often-controversial LePage, but it’s possible that such change may not necessarily be in the form of a Democrat. The race is in the Toss Up column.

RHODE ISLAND GOVERNOR:

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 Republican candidates. Cranston Mayor and 2014 GOP nominee Allan Fung wants 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 former Gov. Lincoln Chafee is looking at the race. Both parties now need to worry about independent candidates. Matt Brown, a former Democratic Secretary of State, is running as a progressive, threatening to cut into Raimondo’s base. Brown aborted a campaign for U.S. Senate in 2006 and disappeared from state politics. Republican state Rep. Joe Trillo, a conservative who chaired Trump’s campaign in the state, threatens to siphon votes from the eventual Republican 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 the two independent candidates add a great deal of uncertainty to the race. It is worth watching developments here; the contest will stay in the Likely Democratic column for the time being.

TEXAS GOVERNOR:

In 2014, Democrats were enthusiastic about their nominee Wendy Davis and their chances in this open-seat contest. Davis, though, fell well short of 50 percent, taking 39 percent to 59 percent for Republican Greg Abbott. Abbott starts his bid for a second term in solid shape. No one emerged from the nine-way Democratic primary with 50 percent of the vote, forcing a May 22 run-off between former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who took 43 percent in the primary and investor Andrew White, who got 29 percent. White’s late father was former Gov. Mark White. Regardless of who wins the nomination, Democrats have a long way to go to make this race competitive. The contest is in the Solid Republican column.