DemDaily: 2022 Governors Races: The Final Battlegrounds

October 26, 2022

Voters in 36 states will cast their ballots for Governor on November 8 in many races that may have a profound effect on the 2024 presidential election.

While the scope of gubernatorial power varies from state to state, most significantly with the level of veto authority, governors are also more independent -- in practice and in the eyes of the voters. There are 12 states where partisan control is split between state legislative chambers and the party holding the governor's mansion, and seven where the governor's party is different from that of both US Senators.

Governors serve four-year terms in all but two states, Vermont and New Hampshire, where they serve for two years. Virginia is the only state to limit its governor to one term.

The Landscape
The 2018 midterms, when the same 36 states were last up for election, were a boon for Democrats, who won 16 seats and flipped seven -- their greatest gains since 1982.

In the three 2019 gubernatorial contests, Democrats were able to hold their seat in Louisiana and flip the governor's seat in Kentucky, while Republicans held on to the open Mississippi seat.

In 2020 the status of the 11 gubernatorial elections up that year remained relatively unchanged. Just one state, Montana, flipped political control to the GOP -- increasing Republicans' share of the nation's governorships to 27 compared to Democrats' 23.

In the two 2021 gubernatorial elections, incumbent Governor Phil Murphy (D) narrowly won reelection, while Democrats lost the open Virginia seat in a devastating blow that reversed many of the gains that had placed the Commonwealth in the blue category just two years before.

In 2022, Democrats are defending 16 seats, including three term-limited open seats, and Republicans are defending 20, five of which are open. In addition, three territories are holding gubernatorial elections, with Democrats defending two and Republicans holding one.

The Race Ratings
Democrats are favored in 14 states, including anticipated flips in Massachusetts and Maryland, where two moderate GOP governors are leaving office -- and the Trump-endorsed Republican candidates are considered too far-right.

They are struggling, however, to hold onto the country's top four toss-up seats -- in Kansas, Nevada, Oregon and Wisconsin.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, the only incumbent Democrat running for reelection in a state that Trump won in 2020 (56.21%), is defending her seat against Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who has the former President's full support.

Kelly's reelection took on new meaning when it became ground zero for the reproductive rights battle after traditionally conservative Kansas voters resoundingly rejected a state constitutional amendment to ban abortion last August.

In Nevada, incumbent Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak is neck and neck with Trump-endorsed challenger and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo. Sisolak was elected the first Democratic Governor of Nevada in 20 years when he defeated Republican nominee and then-Attorney General Adam Laxalt in 2018, 49.4% to 45.3%. Laxalt is now challenging incumbent Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) in the country's most competitive Senate contest.

The open seat in Oregon to succeed term-limited Democratic Governor Kate Brown has narrowed to a statistical dead heat in the last two weeks between former State House Speaker Tina Kotek (D) and former Republican State House Minority Leader Christine Drazan.

In the critical swing state of Wisconsin, which Biden won by less than 1% in 2020, just one point separates incumbent Democratic Governor Tony Evers and his GOP challenger, Trump-endorsed businessman Tim Michaels.

The Badger State is also home to the high-profile US Senate contest where incumbent Republican Ron Johnson holds a 5-point lead over Democratic nominee Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes.

In a state where the voter identification is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, the outcome of both contests will be viewed as a bellwether for the 2024 presidential race.

Republicans are now favored in 18 states, having recently expanded their leads in two battleground states.

According to recent polling, former Fox news anchor, election denier and Trump favorite Kari Lake is now leading Secretary of State Katie Hobbs by double digits in the race to succeed term-limited Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey. Democrats are hoping that the top-targeted US Senate seat, where incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Kelly has a 2-point edge over challenger Blake Masters, can help close the gap.

In the high-profile rematch between Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and former House Minority Leader and voting rights activist Stacy Abrams, polling shows Kemp ahead by 10 points in The Peach State, which put Biden over the top in 2020 by 0.23%. Georgians will also be voting in the US Senate race between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and controversial challenger and legendary football player Hershel Walker (R), which has dominated the headlines nationally.

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: Ballotpedia, FiveThirtyEight, RealClearPolitics, New York Times


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