Heading Into Election Day, Governors' Races Tighten

The likely outcome of six races has changed in the last couple weeks, with three becoming tossups. But one thing is still clear: Democrats are set to gain ground.
by | November 5, 2018
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is in a tight race with Republican Knute Buehler. (AP/Don Ryan)

It's the end of a long and busy gubernatorial election cycle, and yet, as voters' head to the polls, a handful of races are still moving into and out of competitiveness.

The overall predicted outcome, however, remains the same since our last handicapping on Oct. 22: The Democrats are poised to gain ground in the nation's 36 governors' races.

In the last two weeks, four races have moved in the Democrats' favor -- Alaska, Michigan, Rhode Island and South Dakota -- and two states in the Republicans' -- Arizona and Oregon.

Overall, the GOP currently holds a 33-16 edge in offices and, therefore, has more seats to defend this year -- 26 to the Democrats' nine. It also helps Democrats that for the first time since 2006, the GOP controls both the White House and Congress during a midterm election -- a balance of power that historically helps the opposite party.

The Democrats are almost assured of gaining three to four seats, and their net gain could range as high as 10 seats. The higher end of that range would give Democrats a slim majority among governors nationally -- something they have not had in nearly a decade.

Currently, we rate 17 of the 36 races this week as competitive, meaning that they are either tossups or leaning to one party or the other. Our rating categories are safe Democratic or Republican, likely Democratic or Republican, lean Democratic or Republican, and tossup.

There is just one Democratic-held seat in the tossup category -- Oregon, which moves from lean Democratic -- compared to nine for the Republicans and one held by Independent Bill Walker of Alaska, who abruptly ended his reelection campaign in October.

Meanwhile, three Republican-held seats are leaning toward the Democrats: New Mexico, Illinois and Michigan. By contrast, there are no Democratic-held seats leaning toward the Republicans.

As has been the case for the entire election cycle, Republicans have more seats at risk. The GOP currently holds 12 of the 17 competitive seats, compared to just four for the Democrats.

Here's the current breakdown of competitive races:

 
RATING D-HELD R-HELD I-HELD TOTAL
Lean Republican 0 2 0 2
Tossup 1 9 1 11
Lean Democratic 3 1 0 4
Total 4 12 1 17
 

For an interactive version of our ratings map, and ratings for other statewide elections, click here. Below the map is the latest analysis of the most competitive races this cycle.

 

 

Shifts Toward Republicans

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, seemed like he might be vulnerable this year, but unlike the state's nip-and-tuck Senate race, the gubernatorial race has never narrowed. In recent polls, Ducey has consistently been ahead of his Democratic opponent, David Garcia, by 10 to 20 points. We're moving this race from lean Republican to likely Republican.

In Oregon, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has failed to put away her race against Republican Knute Buehler, despite the state's historically blue leanings and the favorable political environment for Democrats nationally. She's up by margins in the low single digits in recent polls and hasn't broken 50 percent, an underwhelming performance that leads us to move this race from lean Democratic to tossup.

 

Shifts Toward Democrats

The gubernatorial race in Alaska has been a wild ride. It was initially a three-way race featuring Walker, Democrat Mark Begich and Republican Mike Dunleavy. After it became clear that Walker and Begich were splitting the center-left vote and all but handing Dunleavy a victory, Walker dropped out and threw his support to Begich. It remains unclear whether Begich can consolidate the vote in just two and a half weeks, but the most recent polls have shown either a tied race or one with Dunleavy up by five points. We're moving this from lean Republican to tossup.

In Michigan, where Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is retiring, Democratic nominee Gretchen Whitmer is now consistently leading Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette in polls by the high single digits to the low double digits. We're moving this race from lean Democratic to likely Democratic.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo in Rhode Island has continued to solidify her lead against Republican Allan Fung and Trump-aligned third-party candidate Joe Trillo. Recent polls have given Raimondo leads in the high single digits to the low double digits, casting significant doubt on whether Fung can pull off a victory. This race moves from lean Democratic to likely Democratic.

And finally, we honestly never expected that historically red South Dakota would end up in the tossup column on the eve of the 2018 election -- or any election, for that matter. But here we are. Democratic state Sen. Billie Sutton continues to run a neck-and-neck race with Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem. The two recent polls have shown a tied race and a narrow, three-point lead for Noem. This contest moves from lean Republican to tossup.