DemDaily: On the Ballot: The 2020 Governors Races

October 13, 2020

While the coronavirus pandemic has shined a light on the role and powers of governors, with just eleven gubernatorial seats up in 2020, including nine incumbents running for reelection, little attention has been given to the races in play.

Republicans currently hold 26 Governors' seats to Democrats' 24. Eleven states are holding gubernatorial elections in 2020, with Republicans defending seven seats compared to Democrats' four.

The Office
As a state's highest-ranking elected official, governors are administrators of their state, responsible for dictating policy, overseeing the budget, agencies, military forces and its executive branch.

(Image: FiveThirtyEight)

The power of each governor varies with each state constitution, depending on his or her veto power over legislation and the official body that draws the state's electoral map in redistricting.

As chief executive of his or her state, a governor is more similar to a US President, but on a smaller state scale (and why serving as Governor is considered the best training ground for the White House).

Politically, Governors are more independent, in practice, and in the eyes of the voters. There are twelve states where both state legislative chambers are controlled by one party, but have elected Governors of a different party.

The Landscape
Democrats made great gains in 2018, when thirty-six states held gubernatorial elections. They flipped seven Republican-held gubernatorial seats in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin, while Republicans picked up the open gubernatorial seat in Alaska, which had previously been held by an independent.

(AP/Matt Volz)

Of the three contests in 2019, Republicans held Mississippi's governorship, Democrats held Louisiana's, and Kentucky switched party hands from Republican to Democratic.

Although only four gubernatorial seats are competitive in 2020, their significance goes beyond just the race for the governor's mansion.

In Play
Unquestionably the most competitive governor's race is Montana, where incumbent Democratic Governor Steve Bullock is term limited.

Bullock's lieutenant governor, Mike Cooney, is the Democratic nominee, running against Montana's at-large Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte, who unsuccessfully challenged Bullock in 2016.

Although Montanans gave Trump a 20 point victory in 2016, they have backed a Democrat in the last four gubernatorial elections.

Bullock, who won reelection by 4% in 2016, is also on the ballot again, in a dead heat contest to unseat first-term Republican US Senator Steve Daines.

State Republican Democrat Race Rating Presidential State Rating
John Carney
Solid D Solid D
Eric Holcomb
Woody Myers Solid R Likely R
Mike Parson
Lean R Likely R
Montana (Open/Bullock Term Limited) Greg Gianforte Mike Cooney Toss Up Likely R
New Hampshire
Chris Sununu
Dan Feltes Likely R Lean D
North Carolina
Roy Cooper
Lean D Toss Up
North Dakota
Doug Burgum
Shelley Lenz Solid R Solid R
Utah (Open/Herbert Retiring) Solid R Likely R
Phil Scott
David Zuckerman Solid R Solid D
Jay Inslee
Solid D Solid D
West Virginia
Jim Justice
Ben Salango Solid R Solid R

Incumbent Republican Mike Parson, formerly lieutenant governor, became governor when Eric Greitens resigned in 2018, following investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct and misuse of campaign information.

Missouri State Auditor and Democratic nominee for Governor Nicole Gallaway

Parson is being challenged by Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway who was appointed in 2015, and was elected to a full term in 2018, defeating her challenger by 6% of the vote.

In Missouri, which Trump won by 18.5% in 2016, the Republican-controlled state legislature is responsible for congressional redistricting but subject to gubernatorial veto, making this an important target for Democrats to flip.

New Hampshire
While incumbent Republican Chris Sununu is favored to win reelection, New Hampshire, which Hillary Clinton won by only 0.4% is considered a presidential battleground state.

Democrats control the legislature, having flipped both state chambers in 2018, and hence control drawing the new congressional and state legislative district boundaries. That map, however, is subject to veto by the governor.

Sununu, who was first elected in  2016 with 49%, and reelected in 2018 with 53%, is being challenged by State Senator Dan Feltes who, at 41, is also the youngest Majority Leader in New Hampshire history.

Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes is challenging Sununu

Incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, also on the ballot, is expected to handily defeat her Republican challenger, corporate attorney and retired Army General Bryant "Corky" Messner.

North Carolina
The Tar Heel State is one of seventeen states that elect governors and lieutenant governors separately, and one of three, along with Louisiana and Vermont, with a governor and lieutenant governor from different parties.

Incumbent Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, who unseated Governor Pat McCrory (R) in 2016 by 0.2%, is being challenged by Dan Forest, the state's lieutenant governor, who was re-elected in 2016 with 52% of the vote.

North Carolina, which Trump narrowly won in 2016, is a battleground state, where Democrats broke Republican supermajorities in both the State Senate and the State House in 2018 and are targeting control of the legislature, which has full control of redistricting, in 2020.

Republican US Senator Thom Tillis is also on the ballot in one of the tightest reelection contests of 2020, where is he running neck-and-neck with Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham.

DemList will keep you informed.

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Kimberly Scott

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Resources: Ballotpedia, Cook Political Report, Inside Elections, Sabato Crystal Ball, FiveThirtyEight

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