With days to go before high-profile elections in Virginia and New Jersey, Democrats remain in a strong position to grow over the next year from their nadir in governor seats.
The combination of open seats, which abound thanks to term limits and retirements, and President Trump’s tumultuous first year creates a plethora of opportunities for the minority to bounce back.
But Republicans also have pickup chances among the 38 governorships on the ballot between now and November 2018, including in our list of 10 seats most likely to flip as outlined here in our second rankings of the cycle.
Republicans show promise in Democratic-held Minnesota and have posted qualified candidates in light-blue Colorado. States like Tennessee, Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota prefer federal Republicans but have picked Democrats for governorships.
Reelection campaigns on our watch list include independent Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, who could face two major-party challengers. Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf is Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbent, with Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo close behind. New GOP Govs. Kim Reynolds in Iowa and Henry McMaster in South Carolina are facing challengers in the primary and general elections. Also worth watching: Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Larry Hogan of Maryland and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts.
1. New Jersey—Open (R—Chris Christie term-limited) (Previous ranking: 1)
Polls have tightened with less than two weeks left in the campaign, but Democrat Phil Murphy continues to lead Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno by double digits in credible, public surveys. The former ambassador has raised about four times more than Guadagno since the June primaries, more than enough to make the race about two unpopular sitting Republican officeholders—Christie and Trump—rather than about property taxes, which is Guadagno’s preferred topic and perceived strength, or her new priority of sanctuary cities.
2. New Mexico—Open (R—Susana Martinez term-limited) (2)
After next month’s election in New Jersey, this will be Democrats’ top pickup opportunity. After eight years of Martinez and in a state that Democrats have dominated in federal races for the past decade, the winner of the contested Democratic primary will be favored over likely GOP nominee Steve Pearce. The general election would feature two House members if Michelle Lujan Grisham, who leads the field in fundraising and recently hired a campaign manager, emerges with the nomination.
3. Maine—Open (R—Paul LePage term-limited) (5)
Sen. Susan Collins’s decision not to run puts the race to replace the controversial LePage higher up on Democrats’ target list. Competitive candidates include Attorney General Janet Mills, former state House Speaker Mark Eves, and former House candidate Adam Cote, who will face a GOP nominee from a yet-to-be-defined field. But the state’s ongoing consideration of ranked-choice voting and the likelihood of a competitive independent candidate make this race more unpredictable.
4. Nevada—Open (R—Brian Sandoval term-limited) (4)
The mass shooting in Las Vegas delayed a couple of campaign rollouts earlier this month, but the primaries are now official: Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Treasurer Dan Schwartz on the Republican side, and Clark County commissioners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani for the Democrats. Sisolak, who recently landed a public endorsement from Harry Reid and reported nearly $4 million in the bank this year, is favored to face the Sheldon Adelson-backed Laxalt in the general in a state being also being targeted by Democrats at the Senate level following a successful 2016.
5. Illinois—Bruce Rauner (R) (3)
Rauner, who kicked off his bid for a second term with the help of his Harley-Davidson, remains the most-vulnerable governor. With the two-year-long budget battle completed despite Rauner’s veto, attention has pivoted to the Republican’s expansion of taxpayer-funded abortions that has alienated the base. Billionaire J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic front-runner, has deep enough pockets to blunt Rauner’s largely self-funded $65 million war chest and incumbency advantages. Still, any credible nominee would receive outsized national resources for what will be an exorbitantly expensive contest.
6. Virginia—Open (D—Terry McAuliffe term-limited) (9)
Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie will face off on Nov. 7. Northam, the lieutenant governor, has a slight lead in public polling and fundraising, as well as the benefit of a trending-blue state, a popular term-limited Democratic governor, and the first competitive statewide race under an unpopular Republican in the White House. But Gillespie, a former national party strategist, is keeping it close with a competitive on-air strategy targeting public safety concerns through the issues of sanctuary cities and felon enfranchisement.
7. Connecticut—Open (D—Dannel Malloy retiring) (10)
Democrats are increasingly bearish on their chances of replacing Malloy. The incumbent declined to seek reelection amid poor approval ratings, and the party’s favorite to replace Malloy, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, dropped out two months ago. Both Republican and Democratic primary fields are unsettled and partially at the whim of the state’s onerous public-campaign-financing system. But a protracted budget battle rivaled only by Illinois’s could propel New England’s streak of electing moderate Republican money managers and helps make this the GOP’s top pickup opportunity of 2018.
8. Michigan—Open (R—Rick Snyder term-limited) (7)
Even Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette contends this will be a tough race for his party as it seeks to win a third straight governor term for the first time since the 1970s. He’s the early front-runner for the nomination but could face a challenge from Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, a Snyder loyalist. Democrats, meanwhile, have a crowded and diverse primary led for now by former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer. Other progressive candidates such as former Detroit Health director Abdul El-Sayed and entrepreneur Shri Thanedar have the resources to stay competitive.
9. Florida—Open (R—Rick Scott term-limited) (6)
The Sunshine State slips in this ranking as a respectable field of Democrats—led by former Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and housing investor Chris King—have trailed in fundraising to a slate of Republicans that includes state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, state Sen. Jack Latvala, and state House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is likely to run. But in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1994, Democrats hope demography is destiny; Latinos could come out in full force to help turn this Trump-won state blue.
10. Ohio—Open (R—John Kasich term-limited) (8)
The Republican field of three statewide electeds and a sitting congressman easily rivals that of Democrats, which includes a former member of Congress, state legislators, and a mayor, in a state Trump carried by 8 points. While Republicans have the early edge to replace Kasich, an already-contentious primary and the possible candidacy of Democratic federal consumer watchdog Richard Cordray keeps this state on the list.