Since our last Split Ticket gubernatorial ratings update, a lot has changed in the political landscape. Accordingly, we are making ratings changes to reflect the updated pictures in the national and statewide political environments as the election nears.
Our current ratings are listed below. Democrats are favored to win 21 governorships, while Republicans are favored to win 25. We are changing our ratings for seven races, with our new ratings detailed below.
Currently, we have incumbent governor Mike Dunleavy (R) rated at Safe Republican. This rating is now changing because of the volatility introduced by the new top-4 ranked choice voting system for the 2022 cycle. As Rep. Mary Peltola’s recent win shows, Republicans who do not consolidate a wide base of support are somewhat vulnerable to Democratic and third-party challenges.
In the all-party primary, Dunleavy got 40% of the vote as an incumbent. The four candidates advancing to the general election are Dunleavy, former State Rep. Les Gara (D), former Governor Bill Walker (I), and Charlie Pierce (R). Dunleavy’s strong position in the first round, combined with a left-coalition split between Gara and Walker means that the incumbent is in a strong position to win. This is because each of Gara and Walker’s voter bases will exhaust some of their ballots making it more difficult to catch up to Dunleavy in further rounds of ranked choice voting. As of now, the latest polling from Ivan Moore’s Alaska Survey Research (the polling firm that nailed the final special election result) indicates that the non-Dunleavy candidate is centered around 47-48% in the final round. This gives Dunleavy a healthy but not insurmountable lead, subject to polling errors. The race can be deemed competitive.
Rating change: SAFE REPUBLICAN to LIKELY REPUBLICAN
Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) has always been in a strong position for re-election, enjoying broad support from independents and even some conservatives. He has never trailed in a poll, and has hovered at or near 50 percent in each of them. His Republican opposition, Regent Heidi Ganahl, is the last GOP statewide elected official in the Centennial State. But on the heels of a lackluster campaign focused on right-wing culture war elements, she has played second fiddle to senate candidate Joe O’Dea. The most national GOP energy directed to Colorado is focused on the Senate race, and most GOP politicians have largely left Polis untouched. This is a symbol of where insiders see the race: wholly uncompetitive. Any chance that Ganahl may have had is quickly slipping away.
Rating change: LIKELY DEMOCRATIC to SAFE DEMOCRATIC
The 2022 gubernatorial race in Georgia was billed by Democrats as the chance for Stacey Abrams to triumphantly ascend to the governor’s mansion in a newly blue Georgia. Having narrowly lost the 2018 contest, she hoped to build on the success of Georgia Democrats in the previous cycle, in which Joe Biden, Jon Ossoff, and Raphael Warnock all won statewide. However, incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has so far held up strongly to Abrams’ challenge, maintaining a steady lead that is unlikely to fade.
First, Kemp has been a solid voice for conservative policy in Georgia, signing new restrictions on voting procedure and abortion. This has consolidated his standing with the conservative Republican base in the state. Second, his relatively high-profile fight with Donald Trump over the validity of the 2020 election results in the state (which Biden won) fortified his standing with moderates and independents, who saw him as a quasi “anti-Trump” figure. Third, he handily defeated a more “MAGA Republican” candidate in the primary, former Senator David Perdue, in the primary, garnering over 70% of the vote while being positioned as a sufficiently moderate conservative who was independent enough from the Trumpiest wing of the party. Putting this all together, Kemp is highly unlikely to lose.
Against a popular incumbent Governor, challengers rarely succeed, and Stacey Abrams is no exception here, remaining unpopular with a large bloc of moderate college-educated whites; in virtually every poll, she runs substantially behind statewide counterpart Raphael Warnock with this demographic. Her denial of her loss in 2018 and her increased national profile have likely hurt her brand in the state of Georgia. As polling continues to sour for Abrams, her chances continue to fade, and we believe it is increasingly unlikely that Stacey Abrams will become the first Democratic Governor of Georgia since 1998.
Rating change: LEANS REPUBLICAN to LIKELY REPUBLICAN
Maine’s gubernatorial race features incumbent Gov. Janet Mills (D) and former Gov. Paul LePage (R). With Maine’s propensity for ticket splitting, there exists on paper a viable path for LePage’s comeback. In 2010 and 2014, many liberals aghast at LePage’s staunch conservative views refused to believe that a path to a LePage victory existed, but nevertheless, due to a split vote, he won twice. However, when looking at the tea leaves, it is unlikely that lightning will strike a third time for LePage due to four main factors.
First, Mills is popular. Incumbent governors rarely lose re-election with positive approval ratings, and doubly so in Maine, where incumbent politicians of any office rarely lose. Democratic Rep. Jared Golden’s 2018 victory over incumbent Bruce Poliquin in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District was the first federal incumbent defeat in over a century in Maine. Similarly, Sen. Susan Collins (R) was widely left for dead by most national observers, and yet still won a fifth term convincingly. Mills is unlikely to be an exception, with net-positive approval ratings and an A rating from the Sportsmans Alliance of Maine, a key gun-rights organization in a very gun-friendly state.
Second, without a strong third-party candidate as in 2010 and 2014, LePage is unlikely to approach anything close to the requisite 50% that he would need to win a two-way contest. In 2010, LePage won with a 38% plurality, and in 2014, he won with a 48% plurality. The 2014 result is telling – as a 4 year incumbent, LePage being held under 50% is a tell-tale sign that his electoral strength was weaker than it seemed. LePage’s hard-right coalition has a solid base in Maine, but it is not enough to numerically defeat Mills. The one independent candidate on the ballot, Sam Hunkler, is unlikely to make any major impact on the race, though he does seem to be a “common-sense” centrist.
Third, the polling overwhelmingly favors Mills. LePage has never risen above 42% in a single poll, even if Mills herself may have had a lower-than-hoped-for share. People may point to Susan Collins as an idea that Maine polls are broken, but there is simply no precedent for any non-Collins Republican to have a similar polling dynamic. Even Donald Trump only outperformed his FiveThirtyEight polling average here by just under 3 points. And with no left-leaning independents to siphon votes from Mills, her floor remains much higher.
In anything remotely resembling neutral environment, these factors combine to make the case that LePage is a significant underdog; while a lane to victory exists for him, it is quite narrow at the moment.
Rating change: LEANS DEMOCRATIC to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has always been in a strong position, buoyed by her appeal to moderates and liberals while maintaining her position as an anti-Trump bulwark. This made her a prime target for the Michigan Republican Party, but a series of snafus regarding ballot access and failed candidacies resulted in a shockingly inexperienced statewide ticket, with none of the GOP nominees having any statewide experience of any kind.
Running at the head of the GOP slate is Tudor Dixon, who is a businesswoman and former actress. She has tacked to the hard right on the issue of abortion, which has become a flashpoint after the Supreme Court issued the now-infamous Dobbs decision. Opposing abortion even in the case of rape and incest has made Dixon widely unpopular. Adding insult to injury, her inability to fundraise puts her at a severe disadvantage, with only $523,000 on hand to counter Whitmer’s $14 million, and with no TV ads aired. Whitmer is widely seen as a heavy favorite, and it would take a monumental polling error to put Dixon ahead.
Rating change: LEANS DEMOCRATIC to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC
The toughest rating change made at Split Ticket is Oregon. The Democrats have held the governorship here continuously since the 1980s, albeit with some close shaves, notably in 2018, when Kate Brown beat moderate Republican Knute Buehler by only 6 points (for comparison, Hillary Clinton won the state by 11 points and Joe Biden won it by 16 points, for comparison). In 2022, former Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek is facing former State House Minority Christine Drazan (R) and former State Sen. Betsy Johnson (I).
Johnson’s entry into the race marks the onset of a rare genuine three-way competition for the governorship. Polling confirms that Kotek and Drazan are well ahead of Johnson. The next question, then, is who Johnson voters would cast ballots for in a strict two-way race between Kotek and Drazan. Johnson has a strong presence in northwestern Oregon’s logging country and is running a centrist campaign with a focus on rural issues, bringing a rare perspective as an openly pro-gun Democrat.
Relative to the staunch left-of-center politics popular in the Portland area that are increasingly dominant in the Oregon Democratic Party, Johnson is widely seen as a conservative. Drazan, when cast against more right-wing elements of the Oregon GOP, is seen as a moderate Republican, though more conservative than 2018’s Knute Buehler. Split Ticket’s estimations posit that the presence of Johnson on the ballot detracts from both Kotek and Drazan, though slightly more for Kotek.
With this new volatility in the race, and with many recent polls showing a slight but persistent lead for Drazan, this race is now a free-for-all. If we had to pick today, we would pick Kotek due to the overwhelmingly blue lean of this state, but the criterion for tossup is that either side must be able to convincingly make the argument for them being favored at the moment. That is clearly the case here.
Rating change: LEANS DEMOCRATIC to TOSSUP
The Pennsylvania governor’s race is a demonstrable example of the power of candidate quality. Incumbent Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) has amassed a solid lead over State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) in polling, endorsements, and fundraising, and that shows no sign of stopping.
Shapiro, who rose to fame for his investigation of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal, was already the strongest candidate Pennsylvania Democrats could have nominated, outrunning Joe Biden on the same ticket in 2020 by nearly four percent in margin. Shapiro’s strength shines in polling too, with the Attorney General airing ad after ad trumpeting his experience as a candidate and his support for abortion rights. However, this rating change is arguably more about Mastriano’s pervasive weakness as a candidate.
It is difficult to comment on the state of Mastriano’s campaign, on account of the fact that many senior figures in Pennsylvania politics are currently unsure about whether any such operation actually even exists. The state senator from Gettysburg has done no TV or mail outreach in the fifth-largest state in the nation, and several senior Republicans have simply declined to endorse him altogether, given his exceptionally controversial stances in a purple state.
Mastriano’s positions can best be described as far-right, with the candidate promoting a no-exceptions abortion ban in a state that voted for Joe Biden. He also repeatedly echoed Trump’s baseless election fraud claims and even attended the January 6th insurrection, which significantly limits his appeal to crucial suburban moderates. Furthermore, his financial woes have put him in dire straits, with the campaign announcing more fasts (1) than TV ads (0).
Given the double-digit polling deficit Mastriano faces and the massive fundraising and advertising gaps in this race, the RGA has simply refused to get involved, with chair Doug Ducey simply saying “we don’t fund lost causes”. Moreover, the only outside group that was spending on his behalf has now withdrawn, criticizing Mastriano’s nonexistent campaign. Republican politicians have widely triaged the gubernatorial race and are now focused on saving Dr. Mehmet Oz in the Keystone State’s marquee Senate race, with their working assumption being that Shapiro is nearly guaranteed to win, barring a herculean polling error several orders of magnitude greater than those of 2016 and 2020. Split Ticket concurs, and will be downgrading Mastriano’s chances accordingly.
Rating change: LEANS DEMOCRATIC to LIKELY DEMOCRATIC