The gubernatorial map has been relatively settled, at least in terms of ratings, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a lot of activity in the most competitive races. Democrats remain on track to pick up seats, but there is some concern that their gains might be less than they had hoped. The Republican base’s growing interest in the election might mean that some Republican-held seats in the Toss Up column, especially those in very red states, may simply revert to type and elect Republicans, despite how close those races look today.

The State of Play:

Of the nine seats that Democrats are defending this cycle, only two remain at risk: the open seat in Connecticut and Gov. Kate Brown in Oregon. The parties continue to disagree whether the race in Connecticut is a referendum on outgoing and unpopular Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy or controversial and unpopular President Donald Trump. Even the role of the independent candidates, one of whom is on television, is a matter of dispute. Connecticut is a solidly blue state which inherently favors Democrat businessman Ned Lamont, but voter dissatisfaction with the direction of the state may help GOP businessman Bob Stefanowski exceed expectations.

Democrats feel that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has found her pace in this race. At the very least, she finally appears to view Republican state Sen. Knute Buehler as a serious threat and has upped the intensity of her campaign’s attacks on him. While Republicans still view this as a very close race, they acknowledge that Brown is ahead by two to four points.

The open seat in Colorado now looks out of reach for Republicans as Democrat U.S. Rep. Jared Polis is helped by both the favorable political landscape for Democrats and Republican Walker Stapleton’s weak campaign. In Rhode Island, the Republican Governors Association has canceled the television time it had reserved to boost Cranston Mayor Allan Fung in his bid against Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, a certain sign that Fung no longer has a path to victory. Raimondo’s objective now is to crack the 50-percent mark in this multi-candidate field; she won the seat in 2014 with 41 percent.

One race that has been turned upside down this week is in Alaska where independent Gov. Bill Walker is/was seeking re-election. No, that’s not a typo. A week ago, Walker announced that he was suspending his campaign and he endorsed the Democratic nominee, former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich over former GOP state Sen. Mike Dunleavey. But, Walker will remain on the ballot and it’s estimated that he will still get between 10 percent and 20 percent of the vote. Democrats find their hands somewhat tied here; it’s not easy to get money into the state and they had not laid a foundation to do so, leaving them with few options. Dunleavey remains the favorite to win the seat, but his margin is likely to be narrower than it would have been in a real three-way contest.

On the Republican side, Democrats are in line to pick up the seat in Illinois, defeating GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, as well as the open seats in Michigan and New Mexico. There are nine seats in the Toss Up column: incumbent Govs. Kim Reynolds in Iowa and Scott Walker in Wisconsin, as well as the open seats in Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, Ohio, and South Dakota.

Oklahoma now joins the ranks of Toss Up races. Republicans have long argued that the solidly red nature of the state would propel their nominee, mortgage company CEO Kevin Stitt, into the Governor’s office, but some GOP strategists are growing concerned that Stitt hasn’t been able to close the deal. Democrats have always believed that the state is ready for change after eight years with GOP Gov. Mary Fallin at the helm; Fallin may well be the most unpopular Governor in the country today. And, that their nominee, former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, is the strongest candidate they could have hoped for.

While Stitt is an outsider, Democrats have worked to tie him to Fallin, saying that if elected, Stitt will amount to a third term for Fallin. Republicans have started to portray Edmondson as too liberal for the state. This is quickly becoming a jump ball.

Both Reynolds in Iowa and Walker in Wisconsin are locked in tight races. While many observers gave Walker up for lost earlier this year, the race is now within the margin of error and the strength of Walker’s organization can’t be ignored.

As for the open seats, Democrats feel that they are gaining some traction in Florida, although the race remains within the margin of error. The open seat in Maine seems ripe for the picking by Democrats, but third-party candidacies have robbed Democrat Attorney General Janet Mills from putting the race away against Republican Shawn Moody. Third parties have cost Democrats the last two gubernatorial contests so their fears are not unfounded.

The open-seat contests in Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, Ohio, and South Dakota all remain within the margin of error, and both parties can make a case of victory in each. Both parties are now in agreement that the race in Georgia between Democrat former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp will go to a December 4 run-off.

The race in New Hampshire where GOP Gov. Chris Sununu is seeking a second, two-year term got a very late start as Democrats didn’t have a nominee until after Labor Day when former state Sen. Molly Kelly won the primary. Sununu has had a healthy lead in the race, but when there are wave elections, the wave always tend to be somewhat bigger when it hits New Hampshire. Sununu remains favored to win the contest, but his margin is likely to be smaller than his lead in the polls today would suggest. As a result, the contest is moving over a notch from the Likely Republican to the Lean Republican column.


Democrats’ concerns that some of the GOP–held Toss Up contests may tip toward Republicans simply because some of these states are so red has given us pause and made us rethink the potential range of likely Democratic pick ups. A worse case scenario for Democrats is that they pick up just three or four seats, while the best case is that they pick up between six and eight seats.


Image: Drew Edmonson | Credit: Nick Oxford/The Oklahoman via AP

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