With most of the primaries now out of the way and nominees selected, the Texas Citizen Journal is releasing our first forecast for the governors’ races in the 2022 midterm election. You can view our predictions for the House and Senate here.
The Texas Citizen Journal model predicts that Democrats will flip the governor’s mansions in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Arizona. Republicans will likely flip Kansas narrowly. All other states will remain controlled by the party that currently holds them. The model is based on data as things stand in early August. It will be updated monthly until November.
When it comes to gubernatorial elections, candidate quality really, really matters. Voters are more willing to split their tickets if they like a certain candidate for governor. That is how a Republican like Governor Larry Hogan can win in a deep blue state like Maryland. Concerning candidate quality, Republicans really dropped the ball in a number of states this year.
Although the Texas Citizen Journal is still skeptical about how much the abortion issue will impact the 2022 midterm, the issue could drive Democratic turnout in some gubernatorial races, especially in states where control of the governor’s mansion could determine whether abortion will remain legal.
Let’s start with the states expected to flip this cycle. Kansas is currently the only state our model expects Republicans to flip this year. Incumbent Governor Laura Kelly narrowly beat an unpopular GOP candidate in the 2018 blue wave year. This year, she will be faced a stronger opponent in a much less favorable environment. Although Kansas is an odd state politically, for example, they recently voted against a pro-life ballot proposition by nearly 60%, it is still a very red state, and despite being a popular incumbent, Kelly will be working against all the fundamentals to hold this seat.
Democrats are almost guaranteed to pick up both Maryland and Massachusetts. Moderate Republicans Hogan and Governor Charlie Baker were able to win in these deep blue states by carving out independent brands, however, they are both retiring. The GOP nominated MAGA candidates in their places. It is safe to say that a right-wing MAGA candidate will not be winning either Maryland or Massachusetts, so these states are essentially automatic pick-ups for the Democratic Party.
In no state did the Republicans drop the ball more than in Arizona, where the insane Arizona GOP seems intent on complete self immolation. Extremely popular Republican Governor Doug Ducey is retiring, and primary voters nominated a deranged conspiracy theorist and all around nutjob: former local news anchor Kari Lake. Arizona was a very winnable state for the GOP, however, Lake is easily the most problematic candidate this cycle, and will lose handily to the Democratic nominee: Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
Speaking of Republicans dropping the ball, the GOP is still reeling from one of the worst acts of political malpractice this year, when several of their top gubernatorial candidates were disqualified for submitting invalid signature to get on the ballot. They ended up nominating the strongest remaining candidate, Tudor Dixon, however, Dixon has little name idea and little time to catch up. Early polls before the GOP signature debacle indicated Democrat incumbent Governor Gretchen Whitmer could be vulnerable, however, she got a very lucky break having her most formidable challengers disqualified, and is now favored to win re-election.
Republicans may have messed up in Pennsylvania as well by nominating Doug Mastriano, a far-right state legislator. Mastriano is a champion of the “Big Lie” conspiracy theory, however, since winning the GOP nomination he has sought to pivot to talking about more kitchen table issues. Mastriano’s problem seems to be the opposite of Dr. Oz, the GOP nominee for Senate. Whereas many in the base are skeptical of Oz, the base absolutely loves Mastriano. Mastriano has a very strong grassroots movement behind him, and should not be counted out. The question now is whether he will be able to win over enough moderates and independents to carry the state.
There are three states Republicans could possibly flip, although the Democrats are still the favorites: Maine, New Mexico, and Nevada. In Maine, former GOP governor Paul LePage is challenging Democrat Governor Janet Mills. LePage has strong name ID, however, the political environment is much more polarized than when he first ran, and he is facing an uphill climb. In New Mexico, unpopular incumbent Democrat Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham could face an upset from Republican meteorologist Mark Ronchetti. Nevada is one of the GOP’s best pickup opportunities, however, incumbent Democrat Governor Steve Sisolak is expected to fend off Republican challenger Joe Lombardo.
Oregon is somewhat of a wildcard. Democrat Governor Kate Brown is leaves office deeply unpopular. Brown’s baggage casts a shadow over the Democratic choice to replace her, Tina Kotek. Not only is Kotek facing the GOP candidate, former Oregon House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, she must also defeat progressive independent candidate Betsy Johnson. Johnson’s presence in the race could help the Republican by siphoning off votes from Kotek, however, Oregon is still a pretty blue state.
Colorado’s libertarian-leaning Democratic Governor Jared Polis and Texas’ Republican Governor Greg Abbott are both expected to cruise to re-election. In Georgia, Republican Governor Brian Kemp will defeat election denier Stacey Abrams by a much larger margin than in 2018. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis should also comfortably win re-election by a larger margin than is usual for Florida, setting him up nicely for a potential 2024 presidential run.
The one state we left blank is Wisconsin, because the outcome of the primary, which has not yet occurred, will determine the state’s rating for the general election. Democrat Governor Tony Evers is a very ineffective and charismatic candidate, and Wisconsin is a prime pick-up opportunity for Republicans. If the GOP nominates former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who served with Scott Walker, they will likely take Wisconsin back. However, if they nominate Tim Michels, a relative nobody elevated by Donald Trump’s endorsement, Evers will be favored to hold on. Wisconsin’s rating will be included in next month’s forecast.
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