What’s at Play in the 2018 Governors’ Races

By

Our Latest 2018 Prediction

16 Democrats
27 Republicans
7 Toss-Ups

Jump to the list of competitive seats.

This year’s gubernatorial races are especially critical, as Republicans now hold a record 26 state trifectas — meaning they control the executive branch and both state legislatures** — and governors will play a role in their state’s congressional redistricting following the 2020 Census. Democrats have steadily lost ground in both federal and state elections over the last decade thanks in part to gerrymandering — a recent AP report found that Republicans hold up to 22 more House seats than they should based on the average vote share, which is nearly enough to close the 24-member gap in the chamber. Most governors have veto power over their state legislatures’ congressional redistricting efforts, which means the more Democratic governors in power in 2020, the more the party will get out of this once-in-a-decade chance to combat Republican gerrymandering in Congress.

Democrats held 29 governors’ seats in 1994, the year of the Gingrich revolution in Congress. In that midterm year, the party lost ten states, giving Republicans a 30-to-19 seat advantage (Maine was held by an independent). Democrats have struggled ever since, and Republicans now hold 33 to Democrats’ 16 (Alaska’s Bill Walker is an independent). However, this also means that Republicans have far more seats to defend this year: 26 versus the Democrats’ nine. Democrats also got a confidence boost in 2017 thanks to wins in both Virginia and New Jersey, picking up the latter state after the crash-and-burn second term of Republican Chris Christie. And while it’s harder to predict what effect Trump may have on gubernatorial races than it is on congressional ones, Republican strategists are reportedly worried about a surge in Democratic turnout that could swing open seats. The more money Republicans spend defending vulnerable seats of their own, the less they have to swing Democratic seats. (Unfortunately for Democrats, should the scandal-plagued Missouri Governor Eric Greitens resign, his seat would be filled by the Lieutenant Governor until the next election in 2020.)

To get a better sense of how the next election cycle may play out, we’ve pulled together analysis of the most competitive seats, relying on data from election-analysis sites as well as the latest polling, approval ratings, and party target lists. As of early January, we’ve determined 15 competitive races.

The Current Map

33 Republicans

16 Democrats

1 Independent

Election outcomes of this scenario, broken down by state
State Party affiliation of Governor
Alabama Republican
Arizona Republican
Arkansas Republican
Florida Republican
Georgia Republican
Idaho Republican
Illinois Republican
Indiana Republican
Iowa Republican
Kansas Republican
Kentucky Republican
Maine Republican
Maryland Republican
Massachusetts Republican
Michigan Republican
Mississippi Republican
Missouri Republican
Nebraska Republican
Nevada Republican
New Hampshire Republican
New Mexico Republican
North Dakota Republican
Ohio Republican
Oklahoma Republican
South Carolina Republican
South Dakota Republican
Tennessee Republican
Texas Republican
Utah Republican
Vermont Republican
West Virginia Republican
Wisconsin Republican
Wyoming Republican
California Democratic
Colorado Democratic
Connecticut Democratic
Delaware Democratic
Hawaii Democratic
Louisiana Democratic
Minnesota Democratic
Montana Democratic
New Jersey Democratic
New York Democratic
North Carolina Democratic
Oregon Democratic
Pennsylvania Democratic
Rhode Island Democratic
Virginia Democratic
Washington Democratic
Alaska Independent
Ralph Northam of Virginia and Phil Murphy of New Jersey were sworn in this January, adding two Democratic seats.

If Trump’s Low Approval Rating Costs Republicans

17 Republicans

32 Democrats

1 Independent

Election outcomes of this scenario, broken down by state
State Party affiliation of Governor
Alabama Republican
Arkansas Republican
Idaho Republican
Indiana Republican
Kansas Republican
Kentucky Republican
Mississippi Republican
Missouri Republican
North Dakota Republican
Oklahoma Republican
South Carolina Republican
South Dakota Republican
Tennessee Republican
Texas Republican
Utah Republican
West Virginia Republican
Wyoming Republican
Arizona Democratic
California Democratic
Colorado Democratic
Connecticut Democratic
Delaware Democratic
Florida Democratic
Georgia Democratic
Hawaii Democratic
Illinois Democratic
Iowa Democratic
Louisiana Democratic
Maine Democratic
Maryland Democratic
Massachusetts Democratic
Michigan Democratic
Minnesota Democratic
Montana Democratic
Nebraska Democratic
Nevada Democratic
New Hampshire Democratic
New Jersey Democratic
New Mexico Democratic
New York Democratic
North Carolina Democratic
Ohio Democratic
Oregon Democratic
Pennsylvania Democratic
Rhode Island Democratic
Vermont Democratic
Virginia Democratic
Washington Democratic
Wisconsin Democratic
Alaska Independent
Governors’ races could be especially rough for Republicans this year since they happen concurrently with midterms, when voters are more likely to vote against the incumbent party. If Trump’s approval rating stays below 50 percent, this could hurt Republicans at all levels.

If Incumbents With an Approval Rating Under 50 Percent Lose

29 Republicans

20 Democrats

1 Independent

Election outcomes of this scenario, broken down by state
State Party affiliation of Governor
Alabama Republican
Arkansas Republican
California Republican
Connecticut Republican
Florida Republican
Georgia Republican
Hawaii Republican
Idaho Republican
Indiana Republican
Kentucky Republican
Maryland Republican
Massachusetts Republican
Mississippi Republican
Missouri Republican
Nebraska Republican
Nevada Republican
New Hampshire Republican
North Dakota Republican
Ohio Republican
Pennsylvania Republican
Rhode Island Republican
South Carolina Republican
South Dakota Republican
Tennessee Republican
Texas Republican
Utah Republican
Vermont Republican
West Virginia Republican
Wyoming Republican
Arizona Democratic
Colorado Democratic
Delaware Democratic
Illinois Democratic
Iowa Democratic
Kansas Democratic
Louisiana Democratic
Maine Democratic
Michigan Democratic
Minnesota Democratic
Montana Democratic
New Jersey Democratic
New Mexico Democratic
New York Democratic
North Carolina Democratic
Oklahoma Democratic
Oregon Democratic
Virginia Democratic
Washington Democratic
Wisconsin Democratic
Alaska Independent
The majority of governors are term-limited (usually to two four-year terms), and that means, of the 35 races next year, 17 will be for open seats. However, unpopular incumbents could harm their party’s chances even if they aren’t up for reelection.

But larger trends alone can’t predict individual races, where (of course) the actual candidates themselves affect the results. Below, we go deep on each competitive race, looking at a range of factors that will influence the election, including fundraising ability, statewide presidential vote in 2016, and whether challengers will face an incumbent or vie for an open seat. And we took cues from the parties themselves, each of which have identified their own target lists of vulnerable candidates and flippable seats.

Competitive Seats: Governors

Click on each candidate for an analysis of his or her race.

Incumbent Competitive Analysis for the Gubernatorial 2018 Midterms
State Incumbent Party Margin of
Victory (2014)
Presidential
Winner
Latest 2018
Prediction
 

*Based on a weighted average of election predictions by the three leading election-analysis sites: the Cook Political Report, Inside Elections, and Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

**Nebraska, which is also considered a Republican trifecta, has a unicameral legislature.

What’s in Play in the 2018 Governors’ Races