Scott Walker

Governors: Bottom Lines – Ohio to Wyoming

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

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 are already four announced candidates, including former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, but strategists are waiting for a decision from Richard Cordray, the current director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray is something of a hero to 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 if he does run. If Cordray opts out of the race, it’s possible the field may grow. In the meantime, Sutton, who represented a district in the northern part of the state until losing re-election in 2012, is the nominal frontrunner by virtue of her geographical base. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley is also considered a competitive candidate. There are four announced Republican candidates including: state Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. Any of these candidates would be competitive in a general election. Renacci is the least known of the four, but has personal resources to close the name identification gap; he recently put $4 million into his campaign. For now this contest is in the Lean Republican column, but has the potential to become a toss up race once the parties choose their nominees.

OKLAHOMA: Democrats believe that they will have a first-tier candidate in former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson in this open-seat contest, although he will have primary opposition. Republicans are facing a crowded primary that will include Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, state Auditor Gary Jones, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, former U.S. Attorney and 2002 independent gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson, and Gateway Mortgage CEO Kevin Stitt. Some strategists believe that Lamb starts with a small advantage, but acknowledge that this will be a competitive primary. Oklahoma is among the most Republican states in the nation. President Trump took 65 percent in 2016, and Republicans dominate statewide offices, the congressional delegation, and the state legislature. Edmondson will make this a more competitive race for Democrats than they are accustomed to having here, but they begin the contest as the underdogs. It is in the Solid Republican column for the time being.

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 is the only announced candidate, but 2016 nominee Bud Pierce and Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer are looking at the race. 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 – but the field is likely to grow, making it difficult to handicap the primary. 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, it appears that Cranston Mayor and 2014 GOP nominee Allan Fung is preparing for a rematch, though a number of other names have been floated as potential candidates. Given the state’s solidly blue hue, Republicans may need some stars to align for them. Independent candidates have played pivotal roles in the last two gubernatorial races, and it’s possible an independent candidate could help Republicans in 2018. There is also a chance that Raimondo could get a primary. The state teachers union has threatened to recruit a challenger. While Raimondo would be favored in a primary, it would burn up resources and the Governor could sustain some damage, thus helping the GOP nominee. 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. In truth, the GOP primary is the main event as Democrats don’t have much of a bench here and aren’t likely to mount a competitive general election. The contest is in the Solid Republican column.

SOUTH DAKOTA: All the action in this open-seat contest will be in the Republican primary. There are already four announced candidates, including At-Large U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and state Attorney General Marty Jackley. Observers in the state put a thumb on the scale for Noem, but acknowledge that this will be a competitive primary. The only announced Democratic candidate is state Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton. Whether it’s Sutton or another Democrat, the nominee will face a very uphill challenge. The race is in the Solid Republican column.

TENNESSEE: There is no shortage of interest in the open Republican-held seat. There are already six announced Republican candidates, including U.S. Rep. Diane Black and state House Speaker Beth Harwell. On the Democratic side, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh have announced. Some Democratic strategists are encouraged by Dean’s candidacy and believe he can make the general election competitive. This is especially true if a crowded Republican primary next August produces a damaged nominee. The race begins in the Likely Republican column.

TEXAS: 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. Thus, it’s not a surprise that Democrats don’t seem willing to contest Abbott’s effort to win a second term. At this point, only Jeffrey Payne, a businessman and political newcomer, has announced. No other names have been floated. The race is in the Solid Republican column.

VERMONT: Vermont is one of two states that still elect their Governors every two years. Republican Phil Scott won this open-seat contest in 2016 with 53 percent and boasts very high job approval ratings as he gears up to run for a second term. The only announced Democrat is James Ehlers, the executive director of Lake Champlain International. No other names of either Democrats or independents have been mentioned, though gubernatorial contests tend to start late here. Given how solidly Democratic the state is, the race is in the Likely Republican column.

WISCONSIN: Republican Gov. Scott Walker has signaled his intention to seek 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, 10 Democrats have filed committees with the Secretary of State’s office, although several are still in the exploratory phase. However, none of these candidates has been elected to a statewide office nor do any have a meaningful base. As such, the primary contest is wide open today. 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, including state Treasurer Mark Gordon and Secretary of State Ed Murray, only businessman Bill Dahlin has announced. The race is in the Solid Republican column.