Analysis: Where Republicans Have the Edge in Gubernatorial Races | Elections

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Of the 36 gubernatorial races on tap for 2022, Republicans hold 20 of them – and they are favored, to one degree or another, to hold 17 of them in November.

By our reckoning, the Democrats are favored to win 12 of the 16 seats they currently hold and that are being contested this year. The Democrats are also favored to flip two GOP-held governorships, in Maryland and Massachusetts.

The remaining five seats are considered pure tossups between the two parties. We will soon publish articles on the Democratic-leaning seats and the tossup seats in subsequent articles.

For this article, we categorize the gubernatorial seats as Safe Republican, Likely Republican or Lean Republican. In the article on Democratic-leaning seats, we’ll classify governorships as Safe Democratic, Likely Democratic or Lean Democratic, while our third article will cover the seats that rate as Toss-Ups.

Most of the states on our list below tend to vote for Republicans in statewide races, with two exceptions: blue-to-purple New Hampshire and blue Vermont, where pragmatic Republicans Chris Sununu and Phil Scott have cracked the code for winning the governorship as a Republican.

Overall, Republicans control 28 gubernatorial seats, while Democrats hold 22. Our analysis is based on reporting with dozens of political observers in the states, plus national party officials and a look at historical, demographic and polling data.

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Below are nine races we rate as Safe Republican (down from 13 in January), six we rate as Likely Republican (up from three in January), and two we rate as Lean Republican (up from zero in January).

The Safe Republican seats are listed in alphabetical order by state. In the Likely and Lean Republican categories, we’ve ranked the states in descending order, from most likely to vote Republican to most likely to vote Democratic.

Safe Republican (9 races)

Alabama: Gov. Kay Ivey (R)

Ivey won a four-way primary with an impressive 55% of the vote. In a state as red as Alabama, she will be an overwhelming favorite against the Democratic nominee, teacher Yolanda Flowers.

Arkansas: Open seat (Republican Asa Hutchinson is term-limited)

In solidly Republican Arkansas, former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the easy favorite over Democrat Chris Jones, a nuclear engineer, pastor and nonprofit executive. While Jones is running a credible campaign, Sanders has recently begun spending millions of dollars on the airwaves, which should cement her chances of victory in November. In mid-September, Sanders announced that she had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had undergone surgery; her doctors reported an “excellent prognosis.”

Idaho: Gov. Brad Little (R)

Little, a pragmatist, survived a primary challenge from the right and should cruise to victory over Democratic nominee Stephen Heidt, a college instructor and National Guard veteran. Militia activist Ammon Bundy is running as an independent and could siphon some votes on the right flank of the GOP, but his campaign has been low-profile so far.

Nebraska: Open seat (Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts is term-limited)

University of Nebraska Board of Regents member Jim Pillen, the favored candidate of the outgoing Ricketts, prevailed in the GOP primary over businessman Charles Herbster, who had been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Pillen’s refusal to debate his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Carol Blood, has attracted some negative publicity, and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is forcing Republicans to answer challenging questions about abortion. Still, in such a Republican state, Pillen remains the strong favorite.

New Hampshire: Gov. Chris Sununu (R)

Sununu, a pragmatic Republican, is serving his third two-year term, and he is on track to win a fourth against the Democratic nominee, state Sen. Tom Sherman. Sherman is a credible candidate, and New Hampshire Democats are targeting Sununu’s signing of a 24-week ban on abortion last year, which has become an even more salient issue for voters than it was then. The focus on abortion, combined with the fact that the GOP ticket this year consists of more strongly Trump-aligned candidates than Sununu is, may keep the incumbent from matching the nearly 32-point margin of victory he managed in 2020. But that gives lots of room for error.

South Carolina: Gov. Henry McMaster (R)

McMaster faces former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, who chose as his running mate attorney Tally Parham Casey, the first female fighter pilot in the South Carolina Air National Guard and a veteran of three combat tours over Iraq. But even the strongest Democrats have fallen short in South Carolina in recent years, making McMaster the favorite for reelection.

Tennessee: Gov. Bill Lee (R)

Lee faces Democratic nominee Jason Martin, a physician. Tennessee has gone solidly Republican in every recent statewide election, and Lee should have no trouble winning another term.

Vermont: Gov. Phil Scott (R)

Scott has thrived as a moderate Republican in this blue state, and he is on a glide path to winning a fourth two-year term in 2022. He should easily defeat Brenda Siegel, who is the nominee for the Democrats and progressives.

Wyoming: Gov. Mark Gordon (R)

Gordon, an establishment Republican, won this year’s GOP primary with more than 60% of the vote, and that’s tantamount to reelection in solidly red Wyoming. He should have no trouble defeating Democratic nominee Terry Livingston, an Air Force veteran and special education teacher who has also worked for the Bureau of Land Management.

Likely Republican (6 races)

Iowa: Gov. Kim Reynolds (R)

In a state that has trended conservative in recent years, Reynolds remains the favorite to win a second full term against Democratic nominee Diedre DeJear, the unsuccessful secretary of state nominee in 2018. Reynolds has a big fundraising edge; her approval numbers are solid; and the state’s economy is relatively strong. Theoretically, Reynolds’ anti-abortion stance could serve as a motivator for Democratic voters to come to the polls. But on balance, Reynolds is a clear favorite.

Ohio: Gov. Mike DeWine (R)

DeWine, a pragmatist, defeated two major primary challengers to win the nomination for another term. In November, he faces former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, the Democratic nominee. While Democrats have been encouraged by better-than-expected polling in the U.S. Senate race, where Rep. Tim Ryan is looking competitive with GOP nominee J.D. Vance, Ohio has become an ever-tougher place for Democrats to win statewide races, and Whaley has not polled as strongly as Ryan has. DeWine is on track to win by double digits.

South Dakota: Gov. Kristi Noem (R)

Like Stitt in Oklahoma, Noem should be able to win easily in solidly red South Dakota. But as with Stitt, Noem’s reelection might not be a slam dunk. She faces State House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, who’s styled himself as a moderate, playing off Noem’s reputation as a favorite of Trump. Noem has also been battling a long-running controversy regarding allegations of special treatment in the granting of her daughter’s real estate appraiser’s license.

Noem won her first term only narrowly over Democrat Billie Sutton, and while she remains the favorite, her margin may be similarly narrow in 2022. A leaked internal poll for Noem’s campaign had the incumbent up by only two points.

Alaska: Mike Dunleavy (R)

Dunleavy is favored to win a second term, but Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system remains a wild card. In November, he’ll face the other three top finishers: Democrat Les Gara, independent and former Gov. Bill Walker, and Republican Charlie Pierce. In Dunleavy’s favor is a large fundraising edge, plus credit for enacting the third largest inflation-adjusted Permanent Fund Dividend in state history. (That’s the annual payout to residents from the state’s investments.)

However, falling oil prices have erased a surplus that had been projected earlier this year, and Dunleavy has faced ethics challenges for alleged campaign finance improprieties. The incumbent won 40% of the primary vote in mid-August, but votes for Gara and Walker totaled 46%, leaving at least a theoretical path to victory for someone other than Dunleavy.

Oklahoma: Gov. Kevin Stitt (R)

By all rights, Stitt should be in the driver’s seat in such a red state. But his opponent, Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, fared surprisingly well in a Sooner Poll/News9/Newson6 survey released in mid-September. The poll found Stitt leading by only a 43.7%-42.7% margin. An Amber Integrated poll in late September also found the race within the margin of error. Hofmeister, who switched to the Democratic Party in order to challenge Stitt, still faces an uphill climb to oust the incumbent in such a red state.

Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott (R)

Abbott easily dispatched challengers from the right in the GOP primary and now faces former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. O’Rourke will have trouble performing as well as he did in 2018, when he nearly unseated GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, in part because O’Rourke took some liberal stands during his presidential run that he’ll now have to answer for in a red state. Abbott has consistently maintained a 7 to 12 percentage point lead in the polls. Abbott is concentrating on immigration, crime and inflation, and he’s relentlessly tying O’Rourke to President Joe Biden.

Lean Republican (2 races)

Florida: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)

DeSantis has become a national figure, though not an uncontroversial one, particularly in advancing a socially conservative agenda that targets gender policies in K-12 schools. In November, DeSantis faces former Gov. Charlie Crist, who served as a Republican governor but later switched to become a Democrat. DeSantis has become a fundraising juggernaut and is beloved by the GOP base, which is energized by antipathy to Biden.

DeSantis also benefits from a reddening of the state in recent years, while Democrats have grappled with organizational challenges; Republican voter registration has overtaken Democratic registration in the state for the first time. No Democrat has defeated a Republican incumbent for any statewide office in Florida for more than 30 years. It’s unclear whether DeSantis’ decision to fly Venezuelan asylum-seekers to Martha’s Vineyard will have an impact either way on persuadable voters, and the aftermath of Hurricane Ian will be a wild card, presenting DeSantis with a challenge for empathetic, pragmatic, nonpartisan leadership rather than the in-your-face partisan warfare he’s displayed for most of his term. Crist may keep the contest reasonably close, but this race is DeSantis’ to lose.

Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp (R)

Kemp, who won his first term in 2018 as a staunch conservative and has governed that way during his tenure, nonetheless drew the ire of Trump for his certification of Biden’s narrow 2020 win in Georgia. Trump convinced former U.S. Sen. David Perdue to challenge Kemp in the GOP primary, but Kemp ended up winning easily. Kemp’s win may have burnished his reputation as an establishment figure and bolstered his chances in November, when he faces a rematch with Democrat Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost to Kemp in 2018.

Kemp has tended to lead Abrams in polls by mid-single-digit margins, an edge that has been consistently more favorable to the Republican nominee than polling in the state’s high-profile Senate race, which pits Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock against Republican Herschel Walker. Trump has been relatively quiet about Kemp since the primary, which should help the consolidation of the GOP electorate behind the incumbent. Kemp has an edge in this race, though Abrams could keep the margin close.

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