Dems see chance to cut into GOP governorships

Dems see chance to cut into GOP governorships

Democrats are contesting a huge number of Republican-held governorships across the country, seeking to put a dent in the GOP’s grip on state mansions.

Republicans hold 33 governorships across the country, near the party’s all-time high. Democrats hold the governor’s office in only 16 states. Alaska’s governor, Bill Walker, is an independent.

Democratic ranks are almost certain to swell this fall as the party competes for governorships in Midwestern, Mountain West and even Southern battlegrounds.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who runs the Democratic Governors Association, says the “incredible energy” seen among opponents of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE at his inauguration has increased, with people volunteering and organizing.

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“You’re seeing this all across the country. It’s not isolated, it’s not limited,” he said.

Republicans acknowledge they are playing more defense than offense. But the party and most of its incumbents sit on massive stockpiles of political cash, and hope the financial advantage can insulate races that are typically decided on more local issues like education, jobs and roads.

“We’re playing heavy defense, that’s no question. However, we’re in a very strong position to defend our majority in a lot of states,” said Jon Thompson, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association.

The core of the Democratic battleground runs through the Midwest, where a combination of open seat races in Michigan and Ohio and potentially vulnerable incumbent Republicans like Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) provide opportunities. 

Democrats caught a break this week when the strongest potential Republican running in Minnesota, where the Democratic governor is retiring, lost his primary to a more conservative challenger.

The party also has high hopes in the Mountain West, where Republicans control governorships in all but two states.

In New Mexico, Rep. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamReexamining presidential power over national monuments State Department: Allegations of racism 'disgusting and false' Women candidates set nationwide records MORE (D) is the front-runner over Rep. Steve PearceStevan (Steve) Edward PearceCook moves status of 6 House races as general election sprint begins Congress, require BLM to respect the rights of private landowners Dems see chance to cut into GOP governorships MORE (R). And in Nevada, a pitched fight between Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D) and Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) has exposed divisions within both parties; the former Democratic mayor of Las Vegas has endorsed Laxalt, while outgoing Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, has declined to back his party’s nominee.

Even the Republican-dominated South gives Democrats hopes for some pickups. Florida, where Democrats and Republicans will choose their nominees on Aug. 28, will be a key battleground; front-runners Gwen GrahamGwendolyn GrahamOvernight Energy: Warren bill would force companies to disclose climate impacts | Green group backs Gillum in Florida gov race | Feds to open refuge near former nuke site Green group backs Gillum in Florida governor race Rasmussen poll: Gillum leads DeSantis by 6 points in Florida governor’s race MORE (D), a former member of Congress, and current Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisDeSantis ally called Obama racial slur on Twitter Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls DeSantis says doesn't 'think anything's changed' between him and Trump MORE (R) must get through crowded fields before their anticipated November showdown.

And while they remain long shots, or underdogs at best, Democrats have nominated potentially strong candidates in Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and South Carolina, some of the reddest states in the country. It is likely that Republicans will win all four of those states in November, but Democrats are confident they are at least in the game.

If there is one region where Republican governors seem to have successfully insulated themselves from a national wave, ironically, it is in Northeastern states that reliably vote Democratic in presidential elections.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) are two of the most popular governors in the country, and both are running far ahead of their Democratic rivals. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) are less secure, though both are the favorites to win a second two-year term.

Republicans even hope to make gains in the Northeast. In Connecticut, deeply unpopular Gov. Dan Malloy (D) is leaving office after two tumultuous terms; in Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) suffers from low poll numbers and a challenge in the Democratic primary. Democrats are favored to keep both states, though doing so will not be easy.

The lone remaining Northeastern battleground is in Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage (R) is leaving office after two terms. Attorney General Janet Mills (D) and state university trustee Shawn Moody (R) are locked in a battle that polls show is virtually tied.

“It’s not impossible that you have all of New England having a Republican governor at the end of the cycle,” Thompson said.

While federal races for House or Senate seats tend to focus on national issues like the president's job performance, the economy or national security, governor’s races are less likely to be determined by the national field. Both Democrats and Republicans say their candidates will talk more about roads and education than about Trump.

“Our candidates are not going to lead with talking about Trump,” Inslee said in an interview. “They’re going to lead by talking about economic growth and improving education. You don’t have to mention Trump very much.”

If Democrats try to make a governor’s race a referendum on Trump, they may have a difficult time. Republicans tried to tie Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) to former President Obama when his job numbers were underwater in those states, and both Bullock and Edwards survived.

“They think tying Trump to all of these candidates is going to work, but it isn’t,” Thompson said. “It took us a couple of election cycles to learn that, really.”

In many of the most contentious races, Republicans have a fundraising edge. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ended June with almost $6 million in the bank, for example, while Democratic nominee Tony Evers spent almost all his campaign cash just to win the primary.

The Democratic Governors Association is propping up Evers, as well as Michigan nominee Gretchen Whitmer (D). The group is running early advertisements in both states meant to insulate them from attacks.

But the Republican Governors Association has a massive cash advantage, with more than $87 million in the bank as of the last reporting period, compared to just $18 million for Democrats. The national Republican group is on the air in 12 states — Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, Maryland, Nevada, Michigan, Colorado, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts and Tennessee.