Our Final Governor’s Ratings

The board is set. There are only a few days left before Election Day, and thus Split Ticket has now made final forecasts for the 2022 gubernatorial elections. The map is immediately below, followed by an explanation of each race. Overall, the result is a modestly good night for the GOP:

This map incorporates 9 rating changes, split with 5 favoring Republicans and 4 favoring Democrats. 

Arizona: Tossup to Leans Republican

Connecticut: Likely Democratic to Safe Democratic

Kansas: Tossup to Leans Democratic

New Mexico: Lean Democratic to Likely Democratic

Nevada: Tossup to Leans Republican

Oregon: Tossup to Leans Democratic

South Dakota: Likely Republican to Safe Republican

Texas: Likely Republican to Safe Republican

Wisconsin: Tossup to Leans Republican

Explanations for the races that are not rated as “Safe”, are listed below. 

Alaska (R-Held, Dunleavy)

Alaska is normally a Republican state – and that likely benefits incumbent governor Mike Dunleavy. The only reason this race is competitive is the introduction of the new ranked-choice system, which injects volatility into what would otherwise be a safe race. The left-of-center coalition is split between two candidates, former State Rep. Les Gara (D) and former Gov. Bill Walker (I). Gara and Walker have polled roughly evenly, which maximizes the chances of ballot exhaustion for the left-of-center coalition. This imperils the efforts to unseat Dunleavy, particularly because his polling averages place him fairly near the 50% required to win in the first round. Ranked-choice voting is good for left-wing candidates when a base is broad and unified – and that is materially untrue in Alaska. Solely for the potential uncertainty that Alaska’s electoral system exhibits, this race is on the board, but Dunleavy should win comfortably. 

Final rating: Likely Republican

Arizona (R-Held, Open)

Arizona’s gubernatorial race is the first genuinely tossup contest being analyzed. As outgoing Republican governor Doug Ducey cannot run, both Democrats and Republicans see a victory here as critical to determining the future trends of this currently-purple state. The Democrats have nominated Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, while the Republicans have nominated TV anchor Kari Lake. Lake is famous for her false allegations that the 2020 election was somehow “rigged”, but those have not dented her image as much as Democrats have hoped. Lake’s poise on camera as well as the coupling of fiery conservative policy with nonthreatening verbal and visual cues have played to her advantage. Hobbs, by contrast, has been much more wooden on the stump and has earned some negative press for refusing to debate Lake. Both Democratic and Republican insiders believe that in the matter of campaign operations, Lake has outclassed Hobbs. 

Furthermore, looking to quantitative factors, polling has Lake at or very close to 50% of late, with Hobbs trailing. Polling errors in favor of Democrats are theoretically possible, but 1) without strong precedent in modern Arizona elections and 2) less likely in an environment with the wind at Republicans’ backs. The antidote to a bad national environment is a candidate quality delta, and it is not apparent that Hobbs has conducted a strong enough campaign to outswim the red tide. Split Ticket’s first tossup race moves off the board, with Lake favored as the winner, in a victory for MAGA Republicans. 

Final rating: Leans Republican

Connecticut (D-Held, Lamont)

Incumbent Gov. Ned Lamont has shaken off the unpopularity of his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy. His handling of the pandemic earned him high praise, and this goodwill has also been furthered by his handling of the fiscal issues that have plagued the Constitution State for a long time. Republican businessman Bob Stefanowski is running for a second time, as a less overtly-Trumpian Republican. But now his moderate image might be too late – Lamont’s incumbency cake is baked, and polling indicates that voters are going to return him to Hartford with more than a 3-point win. In fact, Lamont is likely to become the first Democrat to win a Connecticut gubernatorial election by more than 5 points since 1986. 

Final rating: Safe Democratic

Georgia (R-Held, Kemp)

The only reason Georgia’s gubernatorial race is on the board is because of the highly competitive concurrent Senate race between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Georgia football star Herschel Walker (R). Incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp remains fairly popular by more than one would expect a Republican in an evenly-divided state to be. Part of this is undoubtedly attributable to residual goodwill among less-ideological moderates and liberals in the state, who have commended his refusal to be an accessory to Donald Trump’s 2020 election-rigging schemes in the state. His Democratic opponent, former State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, is making a messianic return for the governorship after losing in 2018.

The key swing demographics in Georgia that broadly determine the outcome of statewide elections are: college-educated whites, and black men. Comparing the two top-ballot Democratic incumbents, Warnock is popular with both groups. Abrams is emphatically not. This approval delta among these groups is precisely why Warnock actually won his election in 2021, and Abrams is reduced to claiming she somehow won her election in 2018. On a polling front, Kemp has established a solid lead over Abrams, that should enable him to win with over 50%, obviating the need for a runoff election. A high-single-digit Kemp win seems like the median outcome in Georgia, with thousands of Warnock voters crossing over. 

Final rating: Likely Republican 

Kansas (D-held, Kelly)

Kansas is traditionally a very Republican state, but on the state level, the governor’s mansion has been held by Democrats more than one would think. Since the 1970s, Kansas has alternated between electing Democratic and Republican governors. 

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly remains popular – and faces Republican AG Derek Schmidt. Schmidt, for his part, is a fine candidate, and in a red-leaning national environment he should be the favorite – but for a few reasons. 

Laura Kelly is fairly popular. FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregate has her projected vote share at 48.6% – that puts her in a strong position to win. An incumbent Democrat leading comfortably in a state Trump carried by 15 points is nothing to laugh about. 

Schmidt needs every conservative vote he can get to oppose her – but complicating this is the presence of State Sen. Dennis Pyle, running as a hard-right candidate who views Schmidt as insufficiently conservative. Pyle is from the deeply-Republican area of northeastern Kansas. Pyle’s district, where he is likely to garner the strongest support, straddles both the Topeka and Kansas City media markets. Those two markets cover the overwhelming bulk of Kansas’s voting electorate. If he is campaigning, the bulk of his efforts will be here, likely to the detriment of Schmidt, with some amount of conservative defections to Pyle being priced in. Third-parties are often overestimated, and Split Ticket does not expect Pyle to achieve the 7% he has gotten in some polls, but it is virtually assured that Pyle’s presence on the ballot hurts Schmidt and not Kelly.

Finally, speaking from a statistical point of view – there are always one or two races which buck the national environment due to a few quirky localized factors. Kansas has a very good chance of being one – due to a combination of Kelly’s brand, the presence of Pyle, as well as an ongoing factional war in the state GOP between traditional pragmatic conservatives and far-right MAGA Republicans. This divide was shown with many moderate conservatives voting in an August referendum to protect abortion rights – rights that Kelly avowedly supports and Schmidt opposes. 

Tautologically, the bar for picking a favorite is making a clear case that they are favored. That is simply not possible for Derek Schmidt. It is possible that Schmidt wins, but at this point, it would be considered a relatively not-surprising upset. Kelly is currently the favorite because of the aforementioned reasons. 

Final rating: Leans Democratic

Maine (D-held, Mills)

The Maine gubernatorial race is currently rated as Likely Democratic – which roughly means that the main way a Republican victory occurs is through a fundamental misreading of the political environment and the electorate. Split Ticket confirms this as the rating – because Democratic Gov. Janet Mills remains fairly popular, and consistently is ahead of former Republican Gov. Paul LePage in polling. Everyone may point to the famed Maine polling miss against Susan Collins in 2020, but there is no precedent for a similar-sized error anywhere else in the past 20 years of Maine statewide elections. Mills is roughly at 49% in polling, and LePage cannot achieve much more than 43% of affirmative support in polling. Historically, both LePage gubernatorial victories were brought about by the presence of nontrivial third-party spoilers. That situation no longer applies, as the one independent on the ballot, Sam Hunkler, does not appear to have the resources necessary to be a significant draw from either party. Mills should win, barring something truly exceptional here – although as with Paul LePage before, never say never.

Final rating: Likely Democratic

Michigan (D-held, Whitmer)

Michigan’s Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer has always been in a strong position for re-election. She has remained popular despite her status as a conservative archvillain. Whitmer has led virtually all of the polls except for one from highly suspect “Wick Insights” done a few weeks ago. Her smashing lead has lessened of late, but this is due to Republican Tudor Dixon’s consolidation of her party’s base. 

Still though, Whitmer should be a favorite given the polling indicators and the fundamentals indicating that even in the midst of an unfavorable environment, Whitmer’s candidacy is materially stronger than Dixon’s, enabling her to outswim the current of Republican enthusiasm. Compounding this is the abortion rights ballot initiative that will be voted on, alongside the gubernatorial race. Whitmer maintains the standard Democratic position on the issue, while Dixon has taken a maximalist anti-abortion viewpoint, opposing protections for the procedure even in cases of rape and incest. Abortion is broadly popular as an issue in Michigan, and while voters may exhibit idiosyncratic preferences at the ballot box, conceptualizing a person who votes for Dixon and in support of abortion rights statewide is about as logical as a leprechaun riding a unicorn. That is to say, not logical at all. The presence of this ballot initiative will likely spike Democratic turnout and provide a boost to Whitmer. It is highly probable the present course will continue, and that unless there is a truly massive polling error, Whitmer should win re-election. 

Final rating: Likely Democratic

Minnesota (D-held, Walz)

Minnesota’s Democratic Gov. Tim Walz remains popular, and his Republican opponent Scott Jensen has failed to make a real dent in the race. From a demographics point of view, there isn’t much “low-hanging fruit” left to realign for the Republicans in rural Minnesota, outside of the mining communities in the northeastern part of the state. On a statewide basis, that does not matter enough to close what is now a 9-point polling gap. Even in 2010, 2014, and 2016, the state has remained fool’s gold for Republicans. The blue trends in the Twin Cities should keep Minnesota tantalizingly out of reach for the GOP barring an exceptional result.

Final rating: Likely Democratic

New Mexico (D-held, Lujan Grisham)

New Mexico, with its high Latino population, is often talked about as a pickup target for Republicans, especially with the governor’s race. But incumbent Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has held strong against Republican weatherman Mark Ronchetti. Ronchetti came within 5 points of defeating Rep. Ben Ray Lujan in the 2020 Senate election, largely attributed to his presence in the Albuquerque media market which covers nearly the entire state. The polling and spending indicate that Democrats should have this race nearly sealed up though – the GOP’s largest efforts in the Land of Enchantment are in the southern 2nd congressional district. The 2nd is the most conservative seat in the state, but there is no indication that the Democratic redoubts in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and the rural north are in any serious danger of falling. Michelle Lujan Grisham should win barring a spectacular polling miss, though the margin may be close due to different state-level partisanship. 

Final rating: Likely Democratic

Nevada (D-held, Sisolak)

Nevada is probably the single most competitive governor’s race in the country. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak is highly unpopular, partially as a legacy of his handling of the pandemic – a crisis that shook the faith in his administration among many Nevadans. Furthermore, Nevada Republicans have arguably the best non-incumbent recruit of the cycle – Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who is running as a relatively non-Trumpian Republican. Lombardo has significant pull in Clark County, where roughly ⅔ of the state’s votes are cast – and where he doesn’t in Washoe County/Reno, he has turnout cross-pollination from Adam Laxalt’s Senate campaign to help out.

Demographically speaking, Nevada has a very low rate of college attainment that is increasingly prone to swinging rightward as educational polarization sets in. Democrats offset this with the famed “Reid Machine” – but it remains to be seen whether the organizations part of the Machine have the mettle to meet the rising tide of Republicanism. Finally, the early voting data as parsed by Jon Ralston shows that Democratic-leaning ballots are in a weaker position than in either 2018 or 2020. Democrats depend upon an early-voting “firewall” to offset Republican-leaning election-day votes. If that firewall isn’t as tall as it needs to be – judging by partisan registration – that lowers the chances of Democratic victory. But – partisan registration isn’t the same as voter intent – registered Republicans theoretically could vote for Sisolak at higher-than-expected ratios. Thus, neither side is prohibitively favored, but Split Ticket is tipping the Silver State to the GOP. 

Final rating: Leans Republican

New York (D-held, Hochul)

New York’s gubernatorial race has recently drawn buzz due to the possibility of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) becoming the first Republican to win a statewide election in New York since 2002. Democratic pollsters in New York State are privately extremely concerned – but it remains to be seen exactly how much of this is merited. Until more data is made public indicating the precarity of Hochul’s position, it makes sense to maintain the present rating. In theory there is a path for Zeldin, but given that New York gives Democrats a two-million raw vote advantage, it is questionable that Zeldin has the resources to overcome this, even with a hyperfocused campaign on crime and inflation. From a fundamentals point of view, Hochul isn’t expected to win by Biden’s 24 points, but she should still win comfortably – though the qualitative reactions from campaign operatives and Hochul’s campaign indicate that the race may be close.

Final rating: Likely Democratic

Oklahoma (R-held, Stitt)

In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt has antagonized virtually every major power broker in the state. Tribal leaders, business organizations, other key civic leaders have endorsed Joy Hofmeister, the ex-Republican now-Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction. In another time, Joy Hofmeister would be the easy favorite – but it is 2022 in the post Trump era, in a deeply conservative state such as Oklahoma. This election, for Oklahoma voters is boiling down to raw partisanship versus every other available public signal. Polling from the Republican camp indicates that the race is indeed going to be closer than the 30-point presidential win, with some even showing Hofmeister leads. But Hofmeister is still a Democrat under 50% in Oklahoma – and undecideds are deeply conservative. It would be somewhat surprising if she actually won, though it is not completely out of the question. 

Final rating: Likely Republican

Oregon (D-held, Open)

Republicans have had their best shot at the governor’s mansion this cycle in years, due to the unpopularity of outgoing Gov. Kate Brown (D), and persistent issues about the perception of Portland as a symbol of liberalism run amok. Further hurting the Democrats is the presence of independent State Sen. Betsy Johnson, who is running a Joe Manchin-style campaign aimed at winning over moderate voters. Johnson’s coalition is mostly taking from Democratic House Speaker Tina Kotek – which in theory put a close race in Republicans favor. But, as with all third parties, Johnson’s share has dropped dramatically, raising Kotek’s floor. Furthermore, Republican House Minority Leader Christine Drazan has yet to reach much beyond 43% in polling. With Johnson becoming increasingly a nonfactor in the race, Drazan cannot win Oregon with just 43% of affirmative vot share. Compounding the problem is that in a blue state such as Oregon, undecided voters are not likely to be a secret army of Republican voters – but are likely soft Democrats who back Kotek when the time comes.

In short, the data and fundamentals favor Kotek, but a Drazan win would not be especially shocking if the right conditions materialize, such as a better-than-expected Johnson showing. But for now, Oregon Democrats seem poised to extend their streak as the longest for single-party control of a governor’s mansion, which has remained unbroken since 1986.

Final rating: Leans Democratic 

Pennsylvania (D-held, Open)

Given Pennsylvania Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s strength as a candidate, and given Republican State Sen. Doug Mastriano’s weaknesses, this should by rights not be discussed as a seriously competitive race – but Mastriano’s strong appeal to MAGA Republicans in the rural central part of the state will provide him with a decent floor. His archconservative stances on everything ranging from abortion to gay rights to election issues, combined with his utter lack of money or a campaign operation, virtually eliminate his ability to expand beyond this base. 

And if the Senate race being run concurrently between Dr. Mehmet Oz (R) and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (D) is a dead heat, the fact that polling shows the governor’s race anywhere between 6 and 10 points more Democratic, establishes that a tied race is the absolute worst-case scenario for Democrats. Candidate quality matters more in governor’s races than in Senate races, and in a case like Pennsylvania, where Mastriano’s problems as a candidate extend so deep, this is another case of bucking the national environment. Out of an extreme abundance of caution, this race is not moving completely off the board – but, for practical purposes, this race is secure for Shapiro in all but name. If Mastriano somehow wins, Split Ticket’s post-mortem situation will have many more problems than a wrong call.

Final rating: Likely Democratic

South Dakota (R-held, Noem)

There was a time when South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem appeared vulnerable to losing, but it has since passed. Noem is not hyperpopular like other South Dakota Republicans like Rep. Dusty Johnson or Sen. John Thune, but she is net-positive in a state Trump won by 26 points. Democratic State Rep. Jamie Smith at one point had a theoretical path, but it seems to have evaporated now. Noem will likely underperform Trump’s 26-point margin, but she seems a sure bet for a victory nonetheless. 

Final rating: Safe Republican

Texas (R-held, Abbott)

Texas is a big state – one that Republicans win by hundreds of thousands of votes. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) is mounting a spirited challenge to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott – but the Democratic trends in Texas do not seem likely to materialize in a red-leaning year. Any previous ambivalence about the rating had more to do with the overall picture of the national environment than with any misgivings about Abbott’s candidacy. O’Rourke may have a lot of fight, but he doesn’t seem likely to get a lot of votes that he needs to win. This race moves off the board. 

Final rating: Safe Republican

Wisconsin (D-held, Evers)

In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is popular, and has a higher chance of winning than Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes in his run for Senate, but the simple fact remains: Wisconsin is not kind to Democrats in red-leaning years of any hue. Wisconsin as a state is very elastic and responsive to the national environment – furthermore, trends in rural areas will likely weaken Evers’ vote share relative to 2018. Where can Evers make up these lost votes? In theory, the highly-educated suburbs in Waukesha and Ozaukee counties that have swung to Biden might offer some salvation. But Ron Johnson’s Senate campaign in those areas has uniquely strong appeal and he has a high chance of pulling up Republican margins there. 

The most recent Marquette poll has the race tied among likely voters – but again, Evers is under 50. Undecided voters in Wisconsin in a red year, are probably not Democratic voters. It is theoretically possible for Evers to win, particularly if the Senate race at the top of the ticket is closer than expected, but right now, the political headwinds seem set to sink Evers’ candidacy, in a victory for election deniers and MAGA Republicans in the state of Wisconsin. 

Final rating: Leans Republican

The governor’s ratings for Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wyoming are all Safe for the currently-favored parties and are not considered competitive. 

Conclusion – Author’s Note

This article brings an end to our long and storied coverage of the governor’s races at Split Ticket. It is important to note that the ratings are intended to give an overall picture of how we expect the night to break out, but that probability is always involved – races rated as “Leans” for one party could easily break for the other party as outlined in the above article. Now that the predicting is over, the viewing is upon us, and soon, the analyzing.

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