Our Gubernatorial Ratings: A Rundown

Introduction

Split Ticket is proud to announce our first set of race ratings for the 2022 cycle. This installment covers all 36 of next year’s gubernatorial contests, with a focus on the most competitive contests. Our Senate ratings will debut on Wednesday, followed by a look at some of the most watched House races on Friday. All of our ratings will follow the Tossup-Lean-Likely-Safe progression that is widespread throughout the forecasting world.

Competitive Races

Since most observers are here for analysis of the most watched contests, we are going to discuss competitive races first. All races here are on the board, meaning they have a rating of likely or less. For the sake of this article, the word competitive only applies to general elections.

Arizona (Tossup)

Republican Governor Doug Ducey is term-limited next year after an easy reelection in 2018. The Grand Canyon state is undoubtedly more favorable to Democrats than it was a decade ago, but it is still an evenly-matched swing state. Biden, Kelly, and Sinema can all trace their victories in federal races back to Maricopa County, a one-time Republican bastion that is now marginal. Democrats have not won the governorship here since 2006, and a favorable environment could keep them in the wilderness come 2022. It is also unclear if federal trends will be as potent in a state-level race, since gubernatorial contests are usually more flexible and depolarized than their Senate counterparts.

Over the summer, it seemed like Treasurer Kimberly Yee’s candidacy would dominate the Republican primary field for the open mansion; that no longer seems like the case. The candidate to beat now is Kari Lake, a Trump-endorsed former news anchor. Lake has established firm leads in early polls, with former Congressman Matt Salmon her nearest challenger. Steve Gaynor and Karrin Taylor Robson are also running. Next year’s primary is one of many across the country that will test the strength of Trump’s endorsement in his post-Presidency. 

The Democratic frontrunner seems to be Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. She faces opposition from Aaron Lieberman and Marco Lopez Jr, but has led both men handily in publicly-available polling. 

As with Arizona’s Senate race, tossup is the only appropriate rating this far out. We know the Grand Canyon state’s future is auspicious for Democrats, but we also recognize the fundamental advantage the GOP may develop here in a watershed midterm. It is also worth saying that the Republicans currently seem to have a better chance of winning the governorship than they do the Senate race. Like it or not, an incumbent Senator in a federal race is stronger than a relatively-invisible SoS in an open state-level contest.

Colorado (Likely Democratic)

Democratic incumbent Jared Polis, the nation’s first openly-gay Governor, remains a favorite for reelection next year. Easily elected in 2018, the former Boulder Congressman currently enjoys a 57% approval rating according to recent polling. If anything, Colorado has become more favorable for Democrats in the last decade. The Centennial State’s Governorship has evaded Republicans since 2002.

The Republican frontrunner is Heidi Ganahl, a member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents. Ganahl also happens to be the last Republican elected statewide, winning in 2016 as Democrats carried the state at the Presidential level. It is very early, but no significant primary opposition has materialized yet.

The reasoning behind our Likely Democratic rating is rather simple. Polis is a popular incumbent in a Democratic state, but Ganahl could be a potent candidate in a Republican environment. The likely rating simply means that one party is clearly favored, but not prohibitively so.

Connecticut (Likely Democratic)

Despite their collapse in competitive federal races, Republicans remain viable in gubernatorial and legislative contests throughout New England. But Connecticut is one of the few states in the region that has obviated them as of late, albeit narrowly. Dan Malloy won two razor-thin elections against Tom Foley, and former Senate candidate Ned Lamont eked out a modest victory over Bob Stefanowski in 2018. With a 64% approval rating, Governor Lamont is popular enough to be an ostensible favorite so far.

Themis Klarides, the ex-state House Minority Leader, is definitely going to enter the GOP primary. Spurred on by the speculation of a favorable environment, Stefanowski is reportedly considering a rematch as well. Lamont is assuredly in a stronger position going into reelection than Malloy was in 2014, a red year, but we are not comfortable moving the Nutmeg State off the board given its gubernatorial history.

Florida (Likely Republican)

2018 was a mostly Democratic year, but Republicans still accomplished twin successes in Florida. One of those successes was Ron DeSantis, a Congressman who narrowly held the Sunshine State governorship for the GOP. Since his election, DeSantis has crafted a national image that has made him one of his party’s national darlings. Many consider him a potential Presidential candidate in 2024.

There are three prominent Democrats running in the primary to face off against DeSantis. Each of them has unique strengths and weaknesses that could upend traditional primary expectations. Congressman Charlie Crist seems to be the establishment’s choice. A former Republican Governor, Crist lost a close race to Rick Scott in 2014 as a Democrat. If he wins the primary and loses the general, it’s safe to say his time in the Democratic spotlight will be over. 

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone statewide Democratic victor in 2018, joins Miami-Dade state Senator Annette Taddeo in rounding out the field. There hasn’t been any primary polling here since Taddeo’s entry, but early metrics seem to show a closely-divided contest.

The 2020 cycle was harsh for Florida Democrats. Most of them watched in disbelief as a stronger-than-expected Trump performance in Miami-Dade County sank Biden’s Presidential chances in their state. If Democrats could not put together a winning coalition in two favorable years, how are they expected to assemble one in a potential red wave? The answer is fairly clear-cut: they aren’t. National dynamics aside, DeSantis is an moderately-popular incumbent running in what is arguably a conservative state. Even if the environment were hostile to his party, there is a non-zero chance that he would still be a favorite for reelection. For now, we consider the race Likely Republican.

Georgia (Tossup)

Georgia might currently be the most electorally-interesting state in the nation. Reliably-Republican a decade ago, the Peach State has begun to open its doors to Democrats once again. But the Democratic politicians of today are a far-cry from the post-reconstruction world of Jim Crow and southern conservatism personified by Herman Talmadge, Lester Maddox, and Dick Russell. Today, Georgia’s Democrats are fresh, bold, and progressive; names like Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff, and Stacey Abrams come to mind. 

The Democratic coalition is different too. Rural white Talmadgites in the sultry southeast and Zell Miller unionists in the brisk north no longer vote in their ancestral ways. Black voters, essential to the modern Democratic base, have since been complemented by college-educated suburban whites and a burgeoning Hispanic population. Democrats no longer enjoy the rural white support they once had, and thus rely on the fertile ground of greater Atlanta to achieve victory.

But statewide wins eluded the party in the years following the 2002 armageddon that saw Governor Roy Barnes and Senator Max Cleland lose reelection. Democrats tried hard to win Senate races in 2008 and 2014, but faltered on both occasions. In hindsight, Stacey Abrams’s 2018 gubernatorial loss seems to have primed the pump for Democratic success two years later; it was, in some respects, the first sign that Dems could finally leave the wilderness.

2020 saw Joe Biden carry Georgia, the first Democratic Presidential nominee to do so since Bill Clinton in 1992; twin-January runoff victories by Warnock and Ossoff capped off the cycle, delivering the tied Senate to Democrats to complete Biden’s hamstrung trifecta. With trends like this, there is no doubt that Democrats have a bright future in the state. But is it bright enough to hold a swing state in a hostile environment? Possibly.

Brian Kemp was elected in 2018 as a conservative outsider, defeating Lt. Governor Casey Cagle handily in his party’s primary runoff. He bested Abrams in November, accomplishing a critical hold for the GOP amid a difficult national environment. But 2020 saw his ‘conservative credentials’ greatly diminish in the eyes of President Trump and his closest followers after he refused to ‘overturn’ Biden’s victory in Georgia, an impossible feat regardless of his personal feelings. His lack of fealty has now come back to haunt him.

Former Senator David Perdue joins proselyte Republican Vernon Jones in challenging Kemp from the right next year. Current expectations lend credence to Perdue keeping the race close, and potentially upsetting the Governor in a primary runoff. Because Abrams has the luxury of a cleared field, Kemp’s general election chances could be significantly damaged by a volatile primary against Perdue. It is never advisable for an incumbent in a marginal state to spend months of valuable campaign time distracted by a primary challenge, even if he or she ultimately prevails. (Split Ticket sources have made clear that a difficult primary could weaken Kemp enough to make the race competitive, a stance shared by Georgia reporters).

There is also Trump, easily the biggest elephant in the room. His rhetoric was potent enough to discourage enough rural whites from going to the polls on Senate runoff day, and it might be enough to make 2022 Kemp’s annus horribilis regardless of the primary outcome. 

It seems reasonable to expect Warnock to outperform Abrams in the concomitant Senate race, but that on its own is not a justification to move the gubernatorial race out of the tossup category. Given the uncertainty the that the GOP primary currently poses, there is simply no other reasonable rating regardless of the national environment. 

Illinois (Likely Democratic)

Elected in 2018 over an unpopular Republican incumbent, J.B. Pritzker has since become the caricature of a standard Illinois Democrat. The Land of Lincoln is certainly not Republican anymore, but the national environment could still put the nation’s richest Governor in a precarious situation despite his respectable approval rating.

The Republican performance here will be contingent on candidate quality, so Rodney Davis’s declination puts the GOP in something of a hole. Retiring Congressman Adam Kinzinger has considered running, though he would probably lose a primary. Bombastic state Senator Darren Bailey currently seems like the primary frontrunner against his three competitors. Other options include unsuccessful candidates Bill Brady and Jeanne Ives, along with businessman Todd Ricketts. Likely Democratic seems like a fair rating at the moment.

Kansas (Lean Republican) Flip

Kansas has trended Democratic over the last decade, but it remains a reliably-Republican state at the federal level. Democrats have been more successful at the state level (think Sebelius) but incumbent Governor Laura Kelly’s 2018 win is still widely regarded as a fluke precipitated solely by Kris Kobach’s ineptitude. 

Given the environmental expectations for next year, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Kelly is the first Democratic Governor that we consider an underdog for reelection. Her GOP opponent is Derek Schmidt, the state’s long-time Attorney General. With former Governor Colyer ending his primary bid, Schmidt will have a whole year to focus on the general election. Lean Republican stands.

Maine (Lean Democratic)

Maine’s next gubernatorial race could get very interesting, especially given the fact that Ranked Choice Voting does not apply to it. That minute detail definitely enthuses Paul LePage, the former Republican Governor making a comeback bid next year; he won both of his terms with pluralities of the statewide vote. LePage will be facing Governor Janet Mills, who currently enjoys a 57% approval rating. The Biden-won Pine Tree State could definitely end up voting Republican depending on how bloated the national environment is, but Mills still begins the cycle as a favorite in our view. We consider Lean Democratic a safe start for this contest.

Maryland (Likely Democratic) Flip

Larry Hogan is one of multiple successful Republicans governing states that voted for President Biden handily. The secret to his electoral reliability? His brand. Like Baker and Scott, Hogan is a moderate with a knack for appealing to independents and Democrats. Silent pragmatism certainly helped him pull off an under-the-radar upset in 2014. Unfortunately for the GOP’s chances next year, Hogan is term-limited.

On the Republican side, there are two main contenders; both would be long-shots in a general election, though one more so than the other. The first is Maryland Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schulz, Hogan’s anointed successor. She is being challenged by delegate Dan Cox, Trump’s pick. There has certainly been some tension between Hogan and the former President, and this endorsement face-off could tear these two dissimilar Republicans even further apart. If Cox wins the primary, Maryland moves off the board altogether. Should Schulz win, the GOP might be able to keep it within reach.

The Democratic primary is far more crowded, as one would expect in an open race in a Biden +30 state. Candidates include Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, Comptroller Peter Franchot, ex-AG Doug Gansler, former Education Secretary John King, Wes Moore, and former DNC Chair Tom Perez. We haven’t seen any recent polling here, so the race could reasonably be anyone’s game. If endorsements are any indication, though, Franchot might be an early frontrunner.

Regardless of the Democratic nominee, it would be the Democrats’ race to lose. We consider it Likely Democratic, making it one of two R to D flips we are projecting so far. It is one of three overall flips on our board.

Massachusetts (Likely Democratic) Flip

Much like in Maryland, Massachusetts is governed by a moderate Republican. The two-term incumbent is Charlie Baker, reelected easily in 2018. Unlike his friend down south, Baker does not face term-limits. That didn’t stop him from announcing last week that he would forgo a reelection in a race he would be heavily-favored to win, assuming primary victory. It fact, primary insecurity was probably a primary factor (pun intended) in Baker’s decision to retire. He performed poorly against Scott Lively in 2018, and Trump had already endorsed challenger Geoff Diehl this time around. With Baker and Polito out of the running, Republicans are expected to lose this mansion next year. 

So who’s running on the Democratic side? No one significant so far, though Attorney General Maura Healey is reportedly interested in making a bid. That would be a bold choice on her part given the ‘curse’ state AGs have faced in attempting to win the Governorship over the last few decades. Keep an eye on Labor Secretary Marty Walsh too. The former Boston Mayor is reportedly mulling whether to resign from the cabinet to make a bid.

Michigan (Tossup)

Michigan may lean Democratic on paper, but Governor Gretchen Whitmer could be in serious trouble next year. A Republican environment would only exacerbate the pressure on the nationally-visible incumbent, who first won the open mansion in 2018 and was at one point considered for the VP slot on the 2020 Democratic ticket. At 50%, Whitmer’s approval is not that impressive compared to some of her counterparts.

Whether or not Whitmer holds on depends on who her opponent is. Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig is the most prominent candidate in the race so far, but the Republican field is expected to grow. Two-time Senate nominee John James, who outran expectations on both occasions, could be a very formidable candidate in a red year. Ex-AG Mike Cox is also considering another bid at the Wolverine State’s mansion.

Minnesota (Lean Democratic)

Democratic Governor Tim Walz is a favorite so far in his bid for reelection as Minnesota’s Governor. The former Congressman faced a lucky break in 2018 after ex-Governor Tim Pawlenty lost the GOP primary to a more conservative candidate. The North Star State, unlike Michigan, is markedly Democratic.

Three state Senators make up the Republican field so far: Michelle Benson, Paul Gazelka, and Scott Jensen. 2018 Senate candidate Karin Housley is considered another potential hopeful, though the eventual Republican performance here will probably not rely too much on individual candidate strengths. Lean Democratic is an acceptable rating that recognizes Minnesota’s status as a competitive state while demonstrating that Walz is an early frontrunner.

Nevada (Tossup)

Nevada is shaping up to yield competitive Senate and Gubernatorial elections next year, though both will probably end up breaking in the same direction when it comes to partisan outcome. Libertarian, tourist-industry dominated, inelastic (to an extent), and subject to the vicissitudes of Hispanic turnout, the Silver State is truly unique. Incumbent Democrat Steve Sisolak won an open race in 2018 against Adam Laxalt, the descendent of two Senators who is now running for Senate himself. Since his election, he has not been particularly compelling. He is one of the most vulnerable Democratic Governors up for reelection next year.

His ‘establishment’ opponent seems to be former Senator Dean Heller, who lost to Jacky Rosen in 2018. But recent polling suggests Heller might be in some trouble next year. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is his most prominent challenger. We have no idea what will happen in the primary this far out, but analysts shouldn’t take the loftiness of Heller’s former position as any sign that he is an indefatigable primary favorite. In a Republican year, Nevada is definitely a tossup.

New Mexico (Lean Democratic)

Compared to her northern neighbor Jared Polis, Michelle Lujan Grisham is not as secure as one might think. The Land of Enchantment has a strong Democratic lean, but Republicans are not anathema. New Mexico elected a GOP Governor in 2014, and last year’s Senate race was more competitive than expected. A recent sexual harassment settlement involving Grisham’s administration certainly doesn’t help Democrats either.

The same Republican who outran expectations against Ben Ray Lujan last year, weatherman Mark Ronchetti, is running for Governor next year. A strong Republican environment, coupled with midterm turnout dynamics, could do some weird things to the conventions we associate with the Hispanic electorate. (Armin will have a detailed piece on the way religion and educational attainment impact New Mexico Hispanics) We are going bold here with Lean Democratic.

Oregon (Likely Democratic)

Oregon is fundamentally a Democratic state, but a Republican national environment could make it unusually competitive. Even in 2018, a blue year, Knute Buehler put up a respectable performance. Thankfully for Democrats, incumbent Governor Kate Brown is term-limited; she is currently the most unpopular state executive in the nation. The race is still Likely Democratic, but Brown is no longer a liability that Dems have to consider in their political calculus.

Treasurer Tobias Reed and state House Speaker Tina Kotek are the most formidable Democrats in the race so far. The Republican field is nothing more than a dumpster fire at the moment, though the expected entry of state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan could change that. Drazan would be a very formidable general election candidate for the GOP assuming she survives the primary.

Pennsylvania (Tossup)

Two-term Democratic Governor Tom Wolf is term-limited next year, creating an open gubernatorial contest in one of the country’s most contested swing states; the Pennsylvania race could end up being the closest in the nation. It is a quintessential tossup.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro has cleared the Democratic field already, and seems to be running his campaign as if he were the incumbent. And if you consider him an extension of Governor Wolf, he pretty much is. Shapiro is not a shoo-in if the environment continues to worsen for his party, but his ability to outrun Biden in the Keystone State proved his electoral prowess.

The Republican gubernatorial primary, much like its Senate counterpart, is packed. Congressman Lou Barletta and former US Attorney William McSwain rounded out a crowded field that lacked credibility and worried many Republicans. But Senate President Jake Corman’s recent entry into the race seems to have dispelled those fears. If he wins the primary, he would probably be the most formidable challenger to Shapiro.

Texas (Likely Republican)

Republican incumbent Greg Abbott is a strong favorite for reelection next year, but Beto O’Rourke’s entry into the race ensures that it is not quite safe for the GOP. Texas is getting more favorable for Democrats long-term, but trends alone probably will not be enough to make next year’s statewide race close. O’Rourke reinvigorated the Texas Democrats with his close Senate bid in 2018, but his Presidential campaign nationalized his image in a way that will probably undercut his credibility in a red state in a red year. The race starts at Likely Republican.

Wisconsin (Tossup)

Elected narrowly on the crest of the blue wave in 2018, Tony Evers is now one of the most vulnerable Democratic Governors in the country. Wisconsin may be a swing state at its core, but it might be fairer to characterize it as Republican leaning if the national environment inherently disadvantages Democrats as it is expected to next year. Former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch is already in the race, though some have speculated that former Congressman Sean Duffy will also enter with the Trump endorsement. This race is definitely a tossup.

Safe Races

These races are not currently expected to have competitive general elections, though some of them could get closer as the campaign develops and surprises rear themselves. In many of these states the primary election is tantamount to November victory and will therefore receive the most attention.

Alabama – Governor Kay Ivey is running for reelection next year. She remains a primary favorite against her start-up challenger Lynda Blanchard, a former Trump Administration Ambassador who dropped out of the Senate race to run for Governor.

Alaska – Like all three of Alaska’s recent Governors, Mike Dunleavy is unpopular. So unpopular, in fact, that he was the subject of recall speculation last year. Alaska’s new RCV system certainly helps him when it comes to winning a primary, though, and former Governor Bill Walker doesn’t seem like a formidable general election challenger. Walker, unpopular in his own right, ended his reelection campaign at the last minute in 2018.

Arkansas – With Leslie Rutledge dropping her gubernatorial bid to run for Lieutenant Governor, former WH Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the commanding favorite to succeed term-limited Governor Asa Hutchinson. Huckabee Sanders is the daughter of ex-Governor Mike Huckabee. If both Huckabee Sanders and Rutledge win their races, Arkansas will be governed by its first ever female executive duo.

California – After surviving an easy recall earlier this year, Governor Newsom seems on track to an easy reelection next year. California is just too blue for the GOP to win, even if the environment is atrocious for Democrats. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is probably the best option to face Newsom out of the current Republican field, which also includes Larry Elder and Caitlyn Jenner.

Hawaii – America’s premiere tropical paradise usually doesn’t get much political attention, but next year’s Democratic primary could glean some; two-term Governor David Ige term-limited. Three candidates are running so far: Lt. Governor Josh Green, ex-Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, and Vicky Cayetano. Early polling showed Green with a commanding lead.

Idaho – For first-term Governor Brad Little, reelection should be assured; yet it isn’t. The fly in his ointment happens to be his own Lt. Governor: Janice McGeachin. After usurping Little’s authority on Covid rules while he was out of the state earlier this year, McGeachin proceeded to announce a primary challenge. She has been endorsed by Trump. Little has yet to announce his decision on reelection.

Iowa – Governor Kim Reynolds faced a tough election in 2018, but has since solidified her political image in what is ostensibly a Republican state. Reynolds faces no credible Democratic opposition, and will probably be helped by Senator Grassley’s landslide reelection. The increase in her approval rating since the last Covid surge should also help her chances.

Nebraska – Incumbent Republican Pete Ricketts is term-limited next year, setting up what could be the most crowded GOP gubernatorial primary in the nation. Former Governor Dave Heineman is seriously considering a bid for his old job, and would probably clear the field if he were to run.

New York – Andrew Cuomo’s resignation earlier this year placed upstate Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul into the spotlight as the Empire State’s first female state executive. Hochul is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Attorney General Letitia James, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Congressman Tom Suozzi, and NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio. Despite the exploding list of opposition, Hochul has led early primary polls. She will be tough to beat next year assuming she dominates upstate while her opponents fracture the NYC vote.

New Hampshire – Chris Sununu declined to run for Senate because he has no risk of losing reelection as Governor. After a close victory in 2016, Sununu has tailored his image to perfectly fit the libertarian Granite State. Ticket-splitting gave him an easy reelection in 2020, even as Biden won the state.

Ohio – Incumbent Republican Mike DeWine has held basically every elected office in Ohio over the course of his long career, giving him a resume to rival even that of California’s John Garamendi. The former Senator and Attorney General is popular, and would be a shoo-in for reelection assuming he beats his primary challenger: former Congressman Jim Renacci.

Oklahoma – Republican incumbent Kevin Stitt is running for reelection, and seems to be more highly-regarded among the Oklahoman public than his predecessor Mary Fallin ever was. He should cruise to a second term next year.

Rhode Island – Democrats are expected to easily hold Rhode Island’s mansion next year. Incumbent Governor Dan McKee took over after Gina Raimondo resigned to join the Biden Cabinet. McKee faces multiple challengers for the Democratic nomination, but seems well-poised to win it. Challengers include SoS Nellie Gorbea, former SoS Matt Brown, Treasurer Seth Magaziner, and Helena Foulkes.

South Carolina – Henry McMaster is expected to win reelection over former Congressman Joe Cunningham next year. 2018 nominee James Smith did much better than most pundits expected in a favorable Democratic environment, but it is unlikely Cunningham would have the same chance in a red wave.

South Dakota – Incumbent Kristi Noem, a former Congresswoman, had a very close race in an otherwise Republican state in 2018. But Billie Sutton is not running next year, and Noem’s hopes are high. She very well could parley a strong reelection victory into a 2024 Presidential campaign.

Tennessee – Republican Bill Lee is expected to win reelection easily next year. He won a fractured primary over Randy Boyd and Diane Black to replace Bill Haslam in 2018. Democrats are no longer able to properly contest the governor’s mansion here.

Vermont – The most liberal of the moderate eastern Republicans is Phil Scott. Like Sununu in neighboring New Hampshire, Scott realizes that running for reelection as Governor is safer than making a Senate bid. After endorsing Biden in 2020, Scott won an easy reelection as a Republican while the former Vice President swept his state at the top of the ticket. Scott is currently the most popular Governor in the country.

Wyoming – There isn’t much to say about Wyoming in general, and the same thing applies to its gubernatorial race. Incumbent Republican Mark Gordon is expected to easily win reelection in 2022.

My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, and fitness.

Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or harrisonwlavelle1@gmail.com

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