Republican governors sprint right, eyeing reelection and 2024
Republican governors seeking reelection this year are embracing the bunker mentality of Trump-era culture wars as they seek their place in the new Grand Old Party, both at home and across the nation.
The tones many have adopted are a stark reminder that even if former President Trump is no longer in the White House, and his once-iron grip over the Republican Party is slipping, the divisiveness he embodied has become a guide for others chasing the path to success.
It is also a sign of just how much turbulence Trump stirred up within his own party. If Ronald Reagan taught Republicans never to fight each other, Trump has taken the opposite tact, attacking at will and inspiring outsiders to take on incumbents who must now fight back.
In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) this week signed a new law making it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion, with exceptions only in the case of a medical emergency. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed laws banning transgender girls from high school sports, controlling the way schools teach about race and gender and eliminating permit requirements for carrying concealed weapons.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R), a low-key politician who rarely makes headlines outside of her state, has launched campaign advertisements that echo Trump’s evidence-free false statements about the 2020 election results.
“The fake news, Big Tech and blue state liberals stole the election from President Trump. But here in Alabama, we’re making sure that never happens,” Ivey says in her first ad. “The left is probably offended. So be it.”
All three governors face potentially competitive primaries. Polls show Kemp leading former Sen. David Perdue (R), who has Trump’s support. Two conservative groups have spent money attacking Stitt; former state Veterans Affairs Director Joel Kintsel (R) launched a campaign against Stitt earlier this week, accusing the governor’s administration of “corruption, self-dealing and cronyism.”
Ivey faces a challenge from Lindy Blanchard (R), a businesswoman who served as Trump’s ambassador to Slovenia and who has spent her own money on an early advertising onslaught.
Other conservative incumbents who once would have coasted to renomination now find themselves accused of heresy. Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R), Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R), Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) all face primary challenges, though all are favored to win both renomination and another term.
Those who face primary challenges are racing to catch up with other governors who have a clear path to November’s midterm elections and who have already staked out their trenches in the culture wars ahead.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is near the front of the pack. This year, he has signed legislation establishing a new state agency to combat supposed election fraud, banning abortions after 15 weeks and limiting education on sexual and gender identity for children, a bill opponents call the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
That law is among the conservative measures that has gained traction in other states. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has said he will make a similar version a priority when the legislature returns to Austin next year.
Abbott is in the midst of his own effort to focus attention on the border with Mexico. Abbott has deployed the National Guard to help secure the border, and he has ordered stepped-up inspections on trucks crossing into his state — a move Jim Henson, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin and executive director of the Texas Politics Project, called “a straightforward middle-finger to the Biden administration.”
Abbott’s administration has also sent at least three buses full of undocumented immigrants to Washington, D.C., where they unload just outside the office building that hosts several media bureaus, including that of Fox News.
The respective motivations for each governor is drawn from their relative political positions. DeSantis will face the winner of a late Democratic primary, while Abbott knows the identity of his opponent: former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D). Both Republicans are favored to win reelection, leading some to suspect that they have set eyes farther down the road.
“The difference is national attention and ambitions,” said Brent Buchanan, an Alabama-based Republican strategist and pollster. “DeSantis and Abbott are building national profiles. Ivey and Kemp are just focused on reelection so they can continue implementing conservative policies within their respective states.”
Defeating a sitting governor is rare, and the national landscape is so favorable to Republicans right now that every governor seeking reelection is favored to win.
But the governors embracing Trump’s culture wars show the salience those issues have among the primary voters who will renominate most, if not all of them.
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