Gubernatorial Ratings Update: 6/1

Michigan

In a stunning turn of events, the top three candidates for the GOP gubernatorial nomination were kicked off the ballot for signature fraud, leaving Republicans with a splintered field of underwhelming nominees and an upset primary electorate.

The chaos surrounding the fracas has deeply angered many Michigan Republicans, and as a result, not one of the remaining candidates cleared 30% against incumbent Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer in a recent Target Insyght poll of the race.

Meanwhile, Whitmer is strongly poised to contend for a second term, with a surging Michigan economy and high favorables serving as key factors in her re-election campaign. Interestingly, Whitmer appears to outrun Biden significantly, with large swaths of the electorate disapproving of the president while giving the governor high marks on her recent performance.

In general, it is more difficult than not to oust a popular incumbent governor, and with the primary being in early August and no candidate even cracking 20% in polls for the GOP nomination, Whitmer’s challengers may be forced to spend far more burnishing their credentials and standing among the right wing at the expense of independents and moderates. With Whitmer enjoying a strong fundraising and polling lead and outrunning Biden significantly in recent polls, we think she stands as the current favorite to win based on the information we have right now, and so the race moves from Tossup to Lean Democratic.

Massachusetts

We initially rated the Bay State governorship Likely Democratic because of its lingering tradition of moderate Yankee Republicanism, widespread Democratic infighting, and Bay Staters’ historical proclivity for ticket-splitting – especially among wealthy high-education suburbanites.

Five out of the last six governors of Massachusetts have been Republican – a Democrat has not succeeded another Democrat since 1982 when Michael Dukakis beat conservative Democrat Ed King in the primary.

But the Massachusetts GOP’s luck is no more; the heavy favorite to win the nomination is right-wing firebrand Geoff Diehl, a former St. Rep. who challenged Elizabeth Warren in 2018 as a Trump-aligned Republican. Diehl faces moderate intra-party challenge Chris Doughty, but the hard right has all the momentum going into the fall primary.

In the Democratic frontrunner, Attorney General Maura Healey, Diehl faces a candidate with a stellar electoral record and a broadly positive approval. She also has no record of underperformance, unlike Diehl’s most recent Democratic opponent, Senator Elizabeth Warren.

The contest now faces an erosion of the historical principles governing Bay State elections: Diehl tramples underfoot his party’s legacy of Yankee moderation; the Democratic party base is largely united around Healey; finally, Diehl’s conservatism will stand as radioactive to the educated suburbanites he needs to win.

Thus, we do not see a viable path to victory for Diehl. Healey is safely on track to become the first Massachusetts Attorney General to successfully achieve higher office since Republican Ed Brooke in 1966, and the race is moved from Likely to Safe Democratic.

Georgia

In perhaps the only good news for Republicans in this batch of ratings changes, we are shifting our current rating of Tossup for the governor’s race in the Peach State. Georgia had been a relatively red state for about a decade before national trends caught up to the diverse state with a large section of college-educated suburban Republicans ripe for realignment.

Last week, Georgia’s incumbent governor Brian Kemp easily dispatched former Senator David Perdue’s Trump-backed primary challenge with a landslide 73.7% of the vote.

This victory clearly came on the back of a vast swath of pro-Kemp Republican primary voters, but data would also suggest that some otherwise-loyal Democrats took to the polls and drew Republican ballots, as even the once-vulnerable Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger won the election-day vote, an outcome thought impossible due to the historical preferences of the generally Trump-friendly election-day voter. When combined with current polling data, this suggests that Kemp is the narrow favorite at the moment, with five months to go until election day.

A combination of strong Kemp turnout in the primary election and polling data suggests that Georgia seems hesitant to fire its governor. Split Ticket is moving this race from Tossup to Lean Republican to help reflect the clearer image of the race that we now have.

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