In the hubbub of the Presidential and Senate contests, one can easily forget that there are twelve state governors up for election this year. And these races are worth paying attention to, because they will likely have a larger impact on people’s day-to-day lives than the President or Senators. Just ask the people of Indiana, whose governor, Mike Pence (above) signed a “religious liberty” bill that many interpreted as allowing discrimination against LGBT individuals, sparking mass protests and causing many businesses to pull investments from the state. Anyway, we’ll take a look at these races the same way we normally do. I spent my Valentine’s Day taking a first look at these races (not sure what that says about me, or the women I date…), so I’ll try to make sure this post isn’t straight out of the Department of Redundancy Department.
As of now, Delaware, Oregon, and Washington look safe for the Democrats, while North Dakota and Utah appear safe for the Republicans. Beyond that, though, there are some real competitive slugfests emerging, some surprisingly so. For fun, I’ll make a prediction in each contest, just like always. First, we look at the races that are leaning toward one party or the other.
Montana: Back in February, I said that despite Steve Bullock’s (D) generally good approval numbers, he could have a tough fight on his hands if the Republicans came up with a strong challenger. Republicans believe they have done so with Greg Gianforte, a wealthy businessman whose campaign is relatively well-organized. Working in Gianforte’s favor is the fact that Donald Trump will very likely carry Montana, as its demographics are favorable to him. In order for Bullock to win, he’ll have to convince a lot of people to split their tickets, and remember that he only won with about 49% of the vote originally. That said, I think Bullock is popular enough to eke out reelection, provided he doesn’t do anything stupid. Prediction: Democratic hold
North Carolina: Pat McCrory, famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for his signing of HB2, the bill requiring transgender individuals to use the bathroom corresponding to their birth gender, has seen his position worsen as entities like the NCAA and NBA have moved events out of the state because of the bill. His opponent, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, has led in the last six public polls of the race, leaving McCrory in an unusually vulnerable position for an incumbent. This late in the race, it may be difficult for him to make a comeback, but a polling miss could easily make Cooper sweat it out on election night. I’m smelling a Democratic takeover here though.
The rest of the races are true toss-ups, as there seems to be a lot more uncertainty in the gubernatorial races this year than normal.
Indiana: Mike Pence almost lost to John Gregg in 2012 even before the aforementioned controversy over the “religious liberty” bill, winning by only around 3 points in a cherry-red state. The question is whether voters will blame Lieutenant Governor Eric Holcomb as much for the bill as they blame Pence. If so, Gregg could very easily win. Gregg could also benefit from increased turnout due to popular Democratic Senator Evan Bayh seeking a return to his seat. The extent to which Donald Trump’s position has deteriorated in Indiana since winning its Republican primary could be a factor too. Remember also that a Democratic presidential candidate carried Indiana as recently as 2008, so if the recent tape of Trump making lewd comments about women (or his myriad other controversies) has made that race closer, that could help Gregg too. I am genuinely torn about my prediction on this race because there are so many “ifs, ands, and buts,” but my gut tells me this will be a Republican hold.
Missouri: Somewhat amazingly, Republicans picked a candidate in the primary that I didn’t even mention in my February update, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens. Greitens is the founder of The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that helps veterans readjust to life at home, which is often a very difficult transition. He definitely has charisma, as I saw when I watched Jon Stewart interview him on The Daily Show before he announced his run. One would think that in a red state like Missouri in an outsider-type year, he’d be a clear favorite. Not so! Attorney General Chris Koster has jumped out to a clear lead, the size of which is anywhere from 2 to 16 (!) points, depending on whom you ask. Koster’s lead is probably somewhere in the middle of that range (if I had to guess, it’s probably in the 4-5 point range), but like John Gregg in Indiana, he’s going to have to convince many voters to split their ticket while voting for Donald Trump. To that end, he has courted some traditionally conservative constituencies, gaining the endorsement of the National Rifle Association. Despite his lead, there really haven’t been that many polls taken of the race, so it’s entirely possible this is a mirage. But with the evidence I have, I’ve got to predict a Democratic hold. Democratic Senate candidate Jason Kander must be thanking his lucky stars Koster is doing so well, because he may be able to draw out some Democratic voters that could help him score an upset win over Republican Roy Blunt.
New Hampshire: Republicans made what I believe to be the smart move, nominating Executive Councilor Chris Sununu for this seat. But even his family name and pedigree may not be enough for him to secure victory. Donald Trump is becoming increasingly toxic in the state, and Sununu has said he will stand by Trump even as other officials in the state, including Senator Kelly Ayotte, have pulled their endorsements of him with the revelations in the aforementioned tape. In a funny twist, the Democratic nominee, Colin van Ostern, is also an Executive Councilor. If liberal voters are turning out to vote for Hillary Clinton, they’ll likely find him acceptable, as he was a prominent voice in the movement to expand Medicaid under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act during his time on the Executive Council. He also been a strong champion of abortion rights and commuter rail, other positions Democrats will find attractive. Prediction: Democratic hold
Vermont: It’s said that American voters have short memories (cough, Anthony Weiner, cough). But in Vermont, they have especially short memories, as it is one of two states (along with New Hampshire) that elects its governor every two years. Peter Shumlin was reelected to a second term, but declined to run for a third after his approval ratings began to slide. This is another race that suffers from an irritating lack of polling, but Phil Scott would seem to be the type of Republican that could get elected here. He is pro-choice, supports gay marriage, and has called for Obamacare to be reformed rather than fully repealed. Despite that, I think the partisan gravity of Vermont is going to prevail. If we were in a midterm year, I would be more bullish on Scott, but I’m not sure enough voters in the bluest of blue states are going to embrace him unless he runs a great campaign. Prediction: Democratic hold
West Virginia: West Virginia, in many ways, is the anti-Vermont. It has taken a sharp turn in the red direction since about 2000, and State Senate President Bill Cole should be favored. But Democrats selected businessman Jim Justice, who was a Republican until last year, when he switched his registration in order to run in this race. Justice had previously said he wasn’t voting for Hillary Clinton for President, and now says he simply won’t vote at all in the presidential race, after Trump’s comments surfaced. Justice also opened The Greenbrier, a resort he owns, to victims of recent flooding in West Virginia, earning him lots of praise in the state. Republicans aren’t too thrilled with the campaign Cole has run, and even they seem to concede that polling shows Justice ahead. In another prediction I didn’t think I would make, I’m going to predict a Democratic hold here. Justice seems to be very good at retail politics and connecting with his community (he coaches a girls basketball team at a local high school), so I think he’s the favorite.