2017-2018 Governors' Races: Where Power Is Most and Least Likely to Flip

With elections in dozens of states, the leading parties have reason to worry in almost half of them.
by | January 5, 2017
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is term-limited this year, was an early endorser of President-elect Donald Trump, right. (AP/John Minchillo)

It may be a bit on the early side to be handicapping the upcoming governors' races when all but two are basically two years away. But with Democrats now shut out of the White House and Congress, the large crop of gubernatorial races on tap in 2017 and 2018 has become crucial to the party’s survival as a significant player in American politics.

Unsurprisingly, the Democrats have a lot of ground to make up. Currently, the GOP holds a historically wide edge of 33-16 in gubernatorial offices, with one governor -- Alaska’s Bill Walker -- an independent.

The gubernatorial battleground in 2018 will be especially important because it offers Democrats the biggest potential haul of governorships in advance of the once-every-decade legislative and congressional redistricting process that will begin after the 2020 Census. In most states, governors play a role in redistricting, and with the Republicans currently controlling the majority of legislatures, the Democrats will need a seat at the table to avoid being drawn out of most of the maps.

The good news for the Democrats is that Republicans will have more governorships to defend over the next two years -- 27 to the Democrats’ 10.

Some additional good news is that for the first time since 2006, the Republicans will control the White House and Congress during a midterm election, when ballots are thick with gubernatorial races and when voters have a tendency to register their antagonism against the party that controls the White House.

The bad news for Democrats is that the actual playing field of competitive races -- at least judging by our handicapping -- is more limited.

Of the 36 gubernatorial seats up in 2017 and 2018, 14 do not currently seem vulnerable for the incumbent party. Of those 14 relatively safe seats, 11 are held by Republicans, which takes out of contention a big chunk of the GOP-held seats being contested over the next two years. By contrast, only three Democratic-held governorships -- California, Hawaii and New York -- are considered equally safe for the incumbent party in 2018.

All in all, though, there are more seats in the vulnerable category over the next two years than we found four years ago, when we placed just five seats in that category. A big reason for the increase is that a large number of governors are being term-limited out.

Currently, we’re rating 12 governorships as vulnerable for the incumbent party. Of these, seven are currently held by Republicans, and five are held by Democrats.

The vulnerable Republican open seats are in Florida, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey and New Mexico, while there’s a vulnerable Republican incumbent in Illinois.

The Democrats, for their part, have two vulnerable open seats -- Colorado and Virginia -- and they must defend three vulnerable incumbents in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

In a completely neutral environment, the Democrats should stand to gain a couple seats during the upcoming cycle. But the larger gains the party needs will require a combination of strong candidate recruiting -- a particular concern in such states as Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin -- and a strong voter backlash against the stewardship of Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.

Both are plausible, but neither is a slam-dunk for the party.

We’ve also judged 10 races to be potentially vulnerable. Seven are Republican-held seats in Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio and Wisconsin; two are Democratic (Minnesota and Oregon); and one is an independent seat held by Alaska’s Bill Walker.

Before we delve in, a few notes:

  • Vulnerability, in our ratings, does not mean an incumbent governor is at risk of losing a primary contest -- only a general election.
  • As usual, our handicapping is based on consultations with multiple experts in the states that have upcoming races, as well as national party strategists.
  • Within the vulnerable and potentially vulnerable categories, the states are listed in descending order of vulnerability. In the safe category, the states are listed alphabetically.
  • Later in the cycle, after the possible matchups have come into clearer focus, we will identify states as safe Republican, likely Republican, lean Republican, tossup, lean Democratic, likely Democratic and safe Democratic.
  • We aren’t rating the two states -- New Hampshire and Vermont -- that hold gubernatorial elections every two years.

What follows are summaries of the 36 gubernatorial races for 2017 and 2018 -- and how likely they are to flip power.

 

VULNERABLE

New Jersey: Open seat; held by Gov. Chris Christie (R)

Democrats are more confident about flipping the New Jersey governorship in 2017 than any other seat that’s up in this two-year cycle.

Christie’s approval rating sunk to about 20 percent due to a disastrous second term -- marked by the “Bridgegate” investigation, a presidential bid that kept him out of the state for long stretches and his early endorsement of Donald Trump, who’s unpopular in the state.

Facing the prospect of a wide-open primary, the Democratic establishment quickly rallied behind Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive, ambassador to Germany and Democratic fundraiser. His main Democratic challenger is Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Bernie Sanders supporter who played a key role in the legislature’s Bridgegate investigation. While Murphy could catch some flak for his Wall Street background, he has the edge in organization and fundraising.

On the Republican side, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, a relative moderate who has sought to distance himself from Christie, is running. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is weighing a bid, as is -- oddly enough -- former Saturday Night Live comedian Joe Piscopo, who has a radio show in the state.

While the Democratic nominee will be the favorite in the general election thanks to Christie fatigue, the race looks likelier to be competitive than a wipeout.

Connecticut: Gov. Dannel Malloy (D)

Malloy, beset by approval ratings in the 20s due to a weak economy and a dismal fiscal picture, is the nation’s most vulnerable incumbent Democratic governor. In fact, he’s so unpopular that many wonder whether he will seek a third term, which is permitted in the state.

While Connecticut remains generally Democratic, Malloy won office narrowly in his two campaigns, and on Election Day 2016, Republicans were able to move into a tie in the state Senate and gained ground in the state House.

Potential Republican challengers include Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Senate Republican Len Fasano, attorney Kevin O’Connor and former Florida U.S. Rep. and TV host Joe Scarborough, who traveled to several Republican town committees last year.

If Malloy doesn’t run -- or even if he does -- the Democratic field could include Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Comptroller Kevin Lembo, state Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp.

New Mexico: Open seat; held by Gov. Susana Martinez (R)

Martinez, one of the nation’s leading Hispanic Republicans, is term-limited, and in this Democratic-leaning state, Democrats are optimistic about recapturing the governor’s office.

Indeed, Martinez’s popularity has sagged as the state grapples with a slow economic recovery and rising crime, giving Democrats an opening. Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, who would have cleared the field, recently opted against a run. Still, either U.S. Rep Michelle Lujan Grisham or Attorney General Hector Balderas would be strong candidates. Fast Company founding Publisher Alan Webber has also been mentioned on the Democratic side.

The potential Republican field includes Albuquerque Mayor R.J. Berry and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, though neither of those positions has directly produced a governor since the 1930s. U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce may also consider a bid.

Illinois: Gov. Bruce Rauner (R)

It’s been a tough first term for Rauner, a Republican who’s governor of a strongly Democratic state. An ongoing battle with the Democratic-controlled legislature has kept the state from enacting a full budget for months, and Illinois is now on pace to end 2016 with $12 billion in unpaid bills.

While the standoff has also diminished the popularity of Democratic leaders, including powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan, Rauner’s approval ratings have sunk to the 30s. Rauner’s biggest advantage is his deep personal war chest; he put roughly $30 million into legislative races this year (with relatively little success) and can afford to sink more on his own behalf in 2018.

Another challenge for Democrats will be settling on a candidate. Top-tier challengers like U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Attorney General Lisa Madigan (the speaker’s daughter) appear to be taking a pass. Democrats who might take the plunge include Chris Kennedy, a businessman and the son of Robert F. Kennedy; J.B. Pritzker, a Hyatt Hotels heir and brother of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker; U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos; state senators Daniel Biss and Kwame Raoul; and state Treasurer Michael Frerichs.

Maine: Open seat; held by Gov. Paul LePage (R)

LePage’s stormy, polarizing tenure has ruffled many feathers in the state, giving Democrats high hopes of seizing the governor’s mansion.

On the Democratic side, the potential field includes Attorney General Janet Mills, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, state Sen. Justin Alfond, House Speaker Mark Eaves and state Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson.

On the Republican side, the top contender would likely be U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. If Poliquin decides against a run, the GOP could turn to Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, state Senate president Mike Thibodeau, former state Rep. Josh Tardy and attorney Ken Fredette.

History would suggest a Democratic edge; Maine hasn’t elected back-to-back gubernatorial candidates from the same party since 1958. But despite a desire among many in the state to move past the LePage era, the governor did channel economic frustration in many corners of the state, providing a roadmap to victory for a Republican nominee with less baggage.

One wild card in this state with a long history of third-party candidacies: Voters just approved ranked-choice voting by a ballot measure. But no one is quite sure yet how that could change the gubernatorial calculus.

Virginia: Open seat; held by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D)

Thanks to demographic changes, Virginia has become an increasingly Democratic state, and McAuliffe, a political operative who entered office amid some skepticism, has had a reasonably popular tenure. But Virginia holds its gubernatorial election in an off-off-year, and the race often reflects the national mood, so it's too soon to know which party will be better positioned in 2017.

The Democrats’ heir apparent is Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. But early this month, he got a credible primary challenge from the left by former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello.

The GOP field is led by Ed Gillespie, a longtime Republican strategist and lobbyist who nearly ousted Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner in 2014. But unlike Northam, Gillespie doesn't have the field to himself; he's slated to face off in the primary against Corey Stewart, who chairs the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, and state Sen. Frank W. Wagner of Virginia Beach. Denver Riggleman, a craft distiller and former Air Force intelligence officer, is also weighing a bid.

A mid-December poll by Quinnipiac University found Northam edging Gillespie, 38 percent to 34 percent -- a sign that this will be a highly competitive contest.

Nevada: Open seat; held by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R)

Sandoval, who’s governed as a moderate, remains popular in this swing state. Now that the incumbent is on his way out, the list of potential successors is long, though the contest is largely undeveloped.

The possible Republican candidates could include Attorney General Adam Laxalt, Lt. Gov Mark Hutchison, state Treasurer Dan Schwartz or economic development czar Steve Hill.

Potential Democrats include Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak and Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford.

In the 2016 presidential election, Nevada tilted Democratic, but in the 2014 midterms, the GOP delivered a sweep. It’s unclear which pattern will prevail in 2018.

Florida: Open seat; held by Gov. Rick Scott (R)

The first failure by the Democrats to win Florida in the presidential contest since 2004 has to put a damper on the party’s hopes of flipping the governorship -- a seat they last won in 1994. Still, recent gubernatorial contests in the state have been narrowly divided, and Scott has had a somewhat polarizing tenure.

If Democrats can field a quality candidate, secure sufficient funding and keep turnout from dropping through the floor, the party should have a shot at ending its losing streak. On the Democratic side, the field may include outgoing U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Ft. Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler.

Graham is attracting the most attention. She’s a moderate Democrat in the mold of her father, former U.S. Sen Bob Graham, though she is focusing now on her husband’s bout with cancer. An intriguing “outsider” candidate for the Democrats is high-profile lawyer John Morgan, who is well known for backing a successful medical marijuana ballot initiative.

On the Republican side, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is the leading name.

Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf (D)

Wolf has not formally announced his intention to run for a second term, but he has said that he plans a re-election bid.

Wolf has achieved some successes, including a 4.7 percent budget increase, record spending for school districts and legislation to battle opioid abuse. But Wolf’s approval ratings have been below 45 percent and the failure of Hillary Clinton to win the state in 2016 can’t be an encouraging development for his party. Wolf is also not considered the most scintillating campaigner, and the prospect of trying to enact a left-of-center agenda against a solid Republican legislature could lead him to consider skipping a second term.

Whatever Wolf decides, the GOP has an active field, led by state Sen. Scott Wagner, a businessman who will have a strong appeal to Trump voters. Other possibilities include Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, U.S. representatives Patrick Meehan and Mike Kelly, House Speaker Mike Turzai, former Lt. Gov Jim Cawley and Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce President Rob Wonderling.

If Wolf decides not to run, potential Democratic candidates could include Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Undersecretary of Army and former Rep. Patrick Murphy, and state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

And if Wolf does run, he may face a primary challenge from his left by Pittsburgh-area Mayor John Fetterman. (Update: After this story ran, Fetterman tweeted that Wolf has his "full, unqualified support in 2018.")

Michigan: Open seat; held by Gov. Rick Snyder (R)

Snyder, who was elected as a technocrat, has seen his second term marred by his handling of the Flint water crisis. At the same time, he’s failed to establish an emotional connection with the Republican base, even as he’s alienated Democrats with his enactment of key conservative policies such as right-to-work legislation.

His difficult legacy could hurt the Republicans who try to succeed him. That field is led by Attorney General Bill Schuette, though Lt. Gov. Brian Calley entertains thoughts of running as well.

The two most prominent Democrats weighing a run are former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, who has gained prominence for his advocacy on behalf of his hometown of Flint. Less likely to run are Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.

Trump flipped this “blue wall” state in the 2016 presidential race, but in the 2018 gubernatorial race, the Republicans will be the incumbents, having controlled the governorship and the legislature for eight straight years for the first time since 1932. The race should be competitive.

Rhode Island: Gov. Gina Raimondo (D)

Raimondo won the general election in 2014 with only about 40 percent of the vote in a three-way race after prevailing in the Democratic primary with a similar share of the vote. She’s attracted positive attention nationally for her efforts on pension reform. But back home, she's not as popular, and her re-election bid, assuming she seeks another term, could be uphill.

A slow recovery from the recession on her watch has undercut one of her key campaign issues -- economic development -- and she’s been dogged by controversies over a troubled statewide marketing campaign and cost overruns for new software for public assistance programs. Even her pension reform efforts, popular in some circles, have alienated labor unions -- a key part of the Democratic coalition in the state.

Raimondo’s first challenge will be to win renomination. Two Democrats who ran against her in the 2014 primary might challenge her again -- Clay Pell, who could run strongly with labor and the party’s left flank, and former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

The potential GOP field includes several possible contenders, led by Allan Fung, who lost to Raimondo in 2014 but later won an easy re-election as mayor of Cranston, and Ken Block, who founded the state’s Moderate Party but later ran as a Republican in 2014. Another Republican possibility is business executive and former state Sen. Giovanni Feroce.

Colorado: Open seat; held by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D)

Colorado has trended Democratic in recent elections, and Hickenlooper has remained popular as governor. But with the seat coming open in 2018, keeping it won't be a slam-dunk for the Democrats.

In both parties, the contest for the nomination is wide-open. The most talked about potential Democratic contenders are former state Treasurer and Denver CFO Cary Kennedy and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter. Other Democratic names being floated include former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, state senators Mike Johnston and Michael Merrifield, and businessman Noel Ginsburg.

On the GOP side, the names include U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, state GOP chair Steve House, state senators Ray Scott and Tim Neville, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton and George Brauchler, who serves as district attorney for Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. A wild card could be Kent Thiry, the CEO of a kidney-dialysis company who has been politically active on ballot measures in the state.

The national mood in 2018 will likely shape this race.

 

POTENTIALLY VULNERABLE

Ohio: Open seat; held by Gov. John Kasich (R)

Even before Election Day 2016 -- when Hillary Clinton lost this bellwether state won twice by Barack Obama -- Democrats were having trouble contending in statewide races. The good news for the Democrats is that their options look better than they did in 2014, when Kasich cruised to an easy victory against an impropriety-plagued Democratic nominee.

This time, the Democratic field could include U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, who recently challenged Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the U.S. House; Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray; Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill; state Sen. Joe Schiavoni and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton.

However, the GOP has several solid candidates with good name recognition. A competitive primary is expected between Attorney General Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, and Secretary of State and former House Speaker Jon Husted. U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci is also reportedly interested.

Recent history suggests that the GOP should have an edge, but Ryan or Cordray could make it a good contest.

Minnesota: Open seat; held by Gov. Mark Dayton (D)

Dayton has consistently registered approval ratings in the 50s, but there’s been discontent with his governorship in both parties -- frustration that could grow if a standoff between Dayton and the newly all-GOP legislature leads to a state government shutdown.

Democrats are divided between an affluent, urban-suburban, pro-environmentalist wing and a more rural, blue-collar, pro-resource-development wing.

There is no clear Democratic successor for Dayton, though the governor has worked hard to groom Lt. Gov. Tina Smith for the post. One declared candidate is state Rep. Erin Murphy, a pro-labor, urban liberal. Other Democratic possibilities include Attorney General Lori Swanson, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and state Sen. Tom Bakk.

On the GOP side, the names currently circulating include Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, Speaker Kurt Daudt, 2010 gubernatorial nominee and U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, state GOP chair Keith Downey, former House Majority Leader Matt Dean, 2014 candidate Jeff Johnson, former U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden and Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth.

Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker (R)

Walker presides over a state that has not only leaned Republican in midterm elections but now has done so in a presidential year, as Donald Trump won the state narrowly and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson prevailed in a challenging re-election bid by a surprisingly large margin.

Walker has said he is leaning toward a third term, in which case he would start as the frontrunner against what will likely be a relatively weak Democratic field. Possible Democrats include state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, former state Sen. Tim Cullen, Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ and Assemblyman Dana Wachs.

As long as Walker seems interested in a third term, potential Republican successors have remained mum.

Alaska: Gov. Bill Walker (I)

Walker, a Republican-turned-independent, has had a reasonably good first two years. In the 2016 elections, a coalition dominated by Democrats seized control of the state House, and it seems intent on working with Walker to address fiscal issues.

Walker’s lieutenant governor is a Democrat, so the party is not expected to field a serious challenge in 2018.

The Republican incumbent ousted by Walker in 2014, Sean Parnell, could seek a rematch. If he doesn’t -- or even if he does -- a couple other Republicans might throw their hat into the ring. That said, Walker does not seem overwhelmingly vulnerable at this point.

Arizona: Gov. Doug Ducey (R)

It’s too soon to tell whether the relative Democratic strength in Arizona during the 2016 election -- when Clinton seriously contested the historically Republican state thanks to an energized Hispanic base -- will carry over to the 2018 midterm election or whether it was a phenomenon peculiar to having Trump at the top of the ballot.

Democratic state Sen. Steve Farley is considering a challenge, but Ducey’s first term has been relatively quiet, so there’s no reason to believe that he’s in serious danger at this point.

Georgia: Open seat; held by Gov. Nathan Deal (R)

Deal has had a reasonably strong second term, though there is some angst within the party about whether he should have vetoed bills on carrying guns on campus and religious liberty.

With the seat coming open, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle looks likely to run; he recently published a book on education reform. Other possible Republicans include former U.S. representatives Lynn Westmoreland and Jack Kingston, and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

After some disappointing election cycles in which Democrats failed to gain ground in Georgia despite an electorate shifting demographically in their favor, 2016 actually turned out to be a pretty good year for the party, as Clinton narrowed the gap in presidential voting by almost three points and took some affluent, historically Republican suburban precincts away from Trump. The Democrats do have some marquee names in the pool of potential candidates, including 2014 gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and House Minority Leader Stacy Abrams.

But the gains in 2016 could be a one-off quirk due to Trump. For now, the GOP seems poised to hold on to the governorship.

Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown (D)

Brown, who was elevated to the office after a vacancy two years ago and just elected governor in her own right in 2016, is expected to seek a full four-year term in 2018.

First, she must navigate a difficult legislative session in 2017 that is likely to require either unpleasant budget cuts or new tax revenues. She could also get a stronger opponent than she had in 2016 if new Secretary of State Dennis Richardson -- the first Republican to win statewide office since 2002 -- takes the plunge, or if state Rep. Knute Buehler, a Rhodes Scholar surgeon and a relative moderate, decides to run.

If Brown can survive the legislative session relatively unscathed, she should be able to match her seven-point victory in 2016 -- a decent margin, but smaller than either Clinton or incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden notched.

Iowa: Gov. Terry Branstad (R)

Kim Reynolds, currently the lieutenant governor, is expected to be elevated to governor after Republican Terry Branstad is confirmed as Trump’s ambassador to China. Reynolds would be the first female governor in Iowa history.

Given the advantage Republicans have enjoyed in recent midterms, combined with the state’s recent GOP tilt in presidential elections, she should be able to win a full term running as the incumbent. She will also have a newly Republican state Senate to enact an agenda she can run on, making it tougher for others who might otherwise have run in a GOP primary, such as Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey and Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett.

The Democrats, for their part, have a relative dearth of strong challengers. Still, the list includes former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, state Sen. Jeff Danielson and state Sen. Liz Mathis.

Maryland: Gov. Larry Hogan (R)

Just two years ago, it would have been hard to imagine a Republican governor of solidly blue Maryland -- and harder still to imagine one who at this point looks pretty well-positioned to win a second term.

Hogan, a moderate who has distanced himself from Trump, has recorded impressive approval ratings for any Maryland governor, much less a Republican.

A few Democrats are weighing a challenge, including state Del. Maggie McIntosh and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Other names being floated are U.S. Rep. John Delaney and former Attorney General Doug Gansler.

For now, Hogan seems to be in good shape, but if a strong Democrat decides to enter the race, his vulnerability rating could increase.

Massachusetts: Gov. Charlie Baker (R)

Despite governing a solidly blue state -- in fact, one that became even bluer in the 2016 presidential vote -- Baker’s moderate ideology, technocratic orientation and cooperative style have garnered him consistently high approval ratings.

Massachusetts voters also haven’t denied an incumbent governor re-election in a general election since 1974, although governors lost primaries in 1978 and 1982. That could change if a top-tier Democrat entered the race, such as U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy or Attorney General Maura Healey. Other possibilities include Cape Air CEO Dan Wolfe and Newton Mayor Setti Warren.

Beyond a strong Democrat taking the plunge, the biggest risk for Baker would be a partisan Democratic backlash against Trump during the 2018 midterm election that filters down the ballot. Baker may well share the ballot with a Trump acolyte, the controversial former baseball player Curt Schilling, who is weighing a 2018 U.S. Senate run against Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Warren would be well-positioned to prevail in her contest, but Schilling’s candidacy could turn into a loud sideshow that drowns out Baker’s more conciliatory message.

Alternately, the Trump White House could encourage a GOP primary challenge from a more hard-edged conservative, such as 2014 candidate Mark Fisher or state Rep. Geoff Diehl.

But these are theoretical possibilities for now; unless one of these dramatic upheavals comes to pass, Baker looks good to win another term.

 

SAFE

Alabama: Open seat; held by Gov. Robert Bentley (R)

Bentley, who has been hobbled by a sex scandal that drew an impeachment probe, will soon be out of the picture, whether by ouster, resignation or retirement. But with the GOP dominant in Alabama, the Democrats aren’t well-positioned to capitalize on his troubles.

A free-for-all GOP primary is expected, although the sudden emergence of an open U.S. Senate seat -- assuming Jeff Sessions is confirmed as Trump’s attorney general -- has shaken up the field by possibly luring Attorney General Luther Strange to that contest instead of the governorship. Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington is already running for governor. Other Republicans who might run include Auditor Jim Zeigler, Treasurer Young Boozer, suspended Chief Justice Roy Moore, Secretary of State John Merrill, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Supreme Court Justice Jim Main, U.S. representatives Martha Roby and Brad Byrne, and state senators Del Marsh, Arthur Orr and Greg Reed.

The tentative frontrunner is probably Strange, though Moore, a staunch religious conservative, could make the primary interesting. If he happens to win, it could provide the only opportunity for a Democratic general election victory.

On the Democratic side, state House Minority Leader Craig Ford seems interested. Nonpartisan Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox could have a run in his future as well.

Arkansas: Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R)

In relatively short order, the Democratic Party in Arkansas has all but imploded, making Hutchinson highly likely to win a second term. One potential Democratic contender who’s been mentioned is little-known state Sen. Keith Ingram.

California: Open seat; held by Gov. Jerry Brown (D)

Brown -- a legend whose mix of social liberalism and fiscal moderation has won him widespread approval from the state’s voters in recent years -- is finally on his way out. But don’t expect the Republicans to be able to seize the opportunity, since the California GOP has withered to almost nothing.

So far, the announced Democratic candidates to succeed Brown are Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Treasurer John Chiang and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Others could enter the race, such as former state Controller Steve Westly, hedge-fund manager and climate change advocate Tom Steyer and even actor George Clooney.

The GOP bench is thin at this point, consisting mainly of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

The share of the electorate open to voting for a Republican for governor is small enough that, barring a large, splintered Democratic field, there’s a good chance that two Democrats will compete against each other after the state’ top-two primary winnows the field. The early line has Newsom finishing first and one of the other top-tier Democrats finishing second, but there’s lots of time left for the race to develop.

Hawaii: Gov. David Ige (D)

The Democrats have a virtual stranglehold on the Hawaii Legislature -- there’s not a single Republican in the state Senate and only a half dozen in the state House -- so the GOP’s prospects of ousting first-termer Ige seem slim.

Idaho: Open seat; held by Gov. Butch Otter (R)

After three terms, Otter is almost certain not to run for re-election.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who was appointed by Otter to the office and is considered close to him, is actively organizing for a run. Russ Fulcher, a Tea Party-aligned activist who opposed Otter in 2014, is also running again. Meanwhile, if he is not tapped for the Trump administration, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador could make a bid.

No possible Democratic contenders have surfaced so far.

Kansas: Open seat; held by Gov. Sam Brownback (R)

In 2016, after six years of public frustration with Brownback’s hard-edged conservatism, Democrats and moderate Republicans experienced something of a rebirth in Kansas, gaining seats in the legislature and staving off challenges to state supreme court justices. With Brownback term-limited and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an anti-immigration and voting security hard-liner, possibly headed to a job in the Trump administration, the Kansas Republican Party may now veer back toward the center.

There’s talk of U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins running for governor, which could keep Attorney General Derek Schmidt out of the race. Senate President Susan Wagle, from the party’s more conservative wing, might also run.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have limited options beyond 2014 nominee Paul Davis, a former House minority leader whose seemingly winnable race against Brownback wilted amid the 2014 Republican wave. The Democrats only look competitive for 2018 if Brownback’s legacy worsens further.

Nebraska: Gov. Pete Ricketts (R)

The 2018 gubernatorial campaign in Nebraska hasn’t really begun yet. But in this red state, Ricketts is heavily favored to win a second term.

New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)

Cuomo is expected to seek a third term in 2018, and his biggest threat probably comes from the primary rather than the general.

While he may get a challenge from someone in the party’s left wing over style and ideology, the biggest intraparty threats -- such as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli or perhaps an as-yet unknown businessperson -- are considered less likely to materialize unless Cuomo’s standing somehow craters in the next year. Lingering ethics issues could provoke such a cratering, but there is no sign of it yet.

Meanwhile, there’s little life on the Republican side, though businessman Harry Wilson, Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino have been floated as possible contenders.

Oklahoma: Open seat; held by Gov. Mary Fallin (R)

There’s no reason to believe that the Republicans are in much danger in this solidly red state, but Fallin’s popularity has declined in recent months.

That’s partly due to the weakness of the energy sector, which has put a crimp on the state budget. Some of it also has to do with internal Republican feuding.

On the Republican side, the leading contender is Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb. There’s a deep Republican bench in the state, so others could jump in as well.

For Democrats, the most credible contender in a weak field is House Minority Leader Scott Inman, an attorney with a fiery streak. If Inman gets in the race, things could get interesting. But whoever the Republican nominee is would start out as the clear favorite.

South Carolina: Gov. Nikki Haley (R)

With GOP Gov. Nikki Haley a strong bet to win confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Henry McMaster is poised to be elevated from lieutenant governor to governor early next year. That will make him the incumbent -- and make it easier for him to clear the GOP primary field, although there is speculation that Attorney General Alan Wilson or U.S. Sen. Tim Scott could make a primary bid. Whoever the Republican nominee is will be a strong favorite in this red state.

South Dakota: Open seat; held by Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R)

The two most talked about Republican candidates to succeed the term-limited Daugaard are U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem -- a slight early favorite -- and Attorney General Marty Jackley.

The Democrats are looking to Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether, but in this red state, whoever the Republican nominee is, will be the favorite.

Tennessee: Open seat; held by Gov. Bill Haslam (R)

There are several well-known, potentially well-funded Republicans who are looking to succeed Haslam, which gives Republicans a big leg up.

They include U.S. representatives Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn, House Speaker Beth Harwell, state economic development chief Randy Boyd, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, state senators Mark Green and Mark Norris, state Transportation Commissioner John Schroer and former economic development chief Bill Hagerty. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker would be a formidable candidate if he decided to run.

The state’s weak Democratic Party has only a few credible options, including former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and real estate investor Bill Freeman.

Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott (R)

Abbott should be in a strong position to win a second term. He has protected his right flank from a GOP primary challenge while remaining acceptable to a broad swath of general election voters.

Democrats are faced with their quadrennial challenge of trying to recruit a top-tier gubernatorial candidate for a nearly hopeless race. Potential Democrats include outgoing Obama cabinet member and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, along with his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro.

But if either Castro decides to make a long-shot statewide bid, it would be likelier to be against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Wyoming: Open seat; held by Gov. Matt Mead (R) 

The race to succeed the term-limited Mead has been slow to start. Names being floated include state Treasurer Mark Gordon, former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis and Secretary of State Ed Murray -- all Republicans.

Democrats are expected to be a nonfactor.

*This story has been updated to correct spelling errors in several people's names.