Late polls show Dems gaining in governor races
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A new round of surveys in states electing governors this November show Democrats poised to pick up seats and gain some ground on Republicans in governors’ mansions. 

Democrats were initially uncertain about their chances to make strides at the gubernatorial level, given the number of conservative states — Missouri, West Virginia and Montana among them — the party had to defend. But the recent polls have given them a reason to be more optimistic.

“We’re in a map right now where we’re pleased, on a race-by-race basis, at how this looks,” said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association. “Everyone expected that 2016 would be a difficult cycle for Democrats because we were defending more.”

A Ball State University poll released Wednesday, conducted for WISH-TV in Indianapolis, shows former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg (D) leading Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) by a 48 percent to 43 percent margin in the race to replace Republican Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceOvernight Health Care: Following debate, Biden hammers Trump on coronavirus | Study: Universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 lives | Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight Democrats play defense, GOP goes on attack after Biden oil comments McConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session MORE, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE’s running mate.

A Monmouth University poll released last week showed Gregg with a wider 50 percent to 38 percent edge.

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In North Carolina, another Republican-led state, three surveys released this week show Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) locked in a tight race with Gov. Pat McCrory (R). Polls conducted by CNN and Survey USA showed Cooper with a narrow lead, while a survey conducted by the conservative Civitas Institute showed McCrory slightly ahead.

McCrory has been in a precarious political position even before a dispute over a measure regulating transgender access to bathrooms earned national attention.

Surveys in two states led by Democrats, Oregon and New Hampshire, show Democrats up by significant margins in gubernatorial races.

A University of New Hampshire poll conducted for WMUR showed Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern (D) leading fellow Executive Councilor Chris Sununu (R) 44 percent to 38 percent. A MassInc poll conducted for WBUR released last week showed Van Ostern up 47 percent to 44 percent. Current Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is running for Senate, hoping to boot the vulnerable GOP Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Senate makes SCOTUS nominee Barrett a proxy for divisive 2020 Senate Republicans scramble to put Trump at arm's length GOP anxiety grows over Trump political roller coaster MORE.

In Oregon, polls conducted for The Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting show Gov. Kate Brown (D) leading her opponent, little-known physician Bud Pierce (R), by double digits. Republicans had hoped Oregon voters might punish Brown for supporting a ballot measure that would raise corporate tax rates, though the opportunity never materialized. 

With two weeks remaining before November’s elections, Republicans’ best opportunity to pick off a Democratic-held seat appears to be in Vermont, where unpopular Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) decided not to seek a fourth two-year term. A Castleton Institute poll conducted for Vermont Public Radio this week, the first poll of the race, showed Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (R) and former state Transportation chief Sue Minter (D) in a statistical tie, with Scott up 39 to 38 percent. 

Minter will campaign this weekend with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Trump mocks Joe Biden's drive-in rallies at North Carolina event Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE (I), who is wildly popular in his home state. Democrats hope Minter can overcome any drag Shumlin creates on the ticket. Republicans have sought to portray Scott as a New England Republican divorced from the national party’s conservative reputation in a state Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Ballot initiatives in Colorado, Louisiana could restrict abortion access Trump mocks Joe Biden's drive-in rallies at North Carolina event MORE will win by a huge margin.

Democrats are also on defense in Missouri, where Gov. Jay Nixon (D) is term-limited. But Attorney General Chris Koster (D) led retired Navy SEAL Eric Greitens (R) by a 46 percent to 43 percent margin in a Monmouth poll released two weeks ago. 

In West Virginia, coal executive Jim Justice (D) leads state Senate Majority Leader Bill Cole (R) by a comfortable margin, according to the first poll of the race.

In Montana, both Democrats and Republicans believe Gov. Steve Bullock (D) is likely to win a second term. 

Though governor races tend to be viewed differently by voters than federal races, some Republicans worry that Donald Trump’s increasingly perilous political standing could begin to bleed down ticket, especially in North Carolina and New Hampshire, two presidential swing states.

And Republicans are poised to lose seats in the Senate and the House, making governorships the party’s only likely path to boost their ranks.

“With a half-dozen or more gubernatorial races within the margin of error in the latest polls, Republicans have a unique opportunity to add to their ranks of governors, flip Democrat seats and continue to drive reform in the states,” said Jon Thompson, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association. 

Democrats face a deep minority among the nation’s governors. Republicans currently hold 31 governorships, after notching big gains in 2010 and 2014. Democrats hold only 18. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is an independent, though he ousted a Republican incumbent two years ago. 

Republicans have not held as many governorships since the 1920s, when they controlled 34 state executive offices.  

Control of the governor’s mansion matters in the 35 states where a governor plays a role in the redistricting process. In those states, the governor is allowed to veto congressional district lines drawn by state legislatures. 

If current leads hold, Democrats could win as many as 10 of the 12 races up for election this year. That would match their best showing in any election cycle since the party was founded, said Eric Ostermeier, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota and author of the Smart Politics blog. 

Republicans have been on a winning streak since the 2010 cycle. In the 94 governor's races since President Obama's first midterm election, Democrats won just 35 contests, the party's worst-ever decade for gubernatorial races.