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Since Trump Took Office, State Democrats' Chances Have Improved for 2018

The GOP holds the majority of governorships, but the number of those vulnerable next year has doubled.

Last Updated at 11:40 a.m. ET on Nov. 9, 2017

With the Democrats out of power in Washington, D.C., next year’s governors’ races have become crucial for salvaging the party’s political future. The good news for the party is that there will be a bounty of pickup opportunities.

Today, the GOP holds a 34-15 edge in gubernatorial offices, with one -- Alaska’s Bill Walker -- an independent. Come January, that balance will shift by one in the Democrats' favor after they flipped the New Jersey governor's seat in November. Democrat Phil Murphy will replace GOP Gov. Chris Christie.

But looking ahead to the 36 races next year, Republicans will have more governorships to defend: 26 to the Democrats’ nine.

Another bit of good news for Democrats is that for the first time since 2006, Republicans will control the White House and Congress during a midterm election. Historically, voters have chosen to use midterms to register their frustration with the incumbent party at the federal level. If that pattern holds, it could affect the governors' races.

But the best news for Democrats is that the number of competitive races is growing, at least compared to the last time we handicapped them in January.

Back then, we rated 10 of the 36 seats up for grabs in 2018 as vulnerable for the incumbent party. Of those, six are held by Republicans and four by Democrats. By contrast, we now find that 17 seats are vulnerable for the party in power -- 12 held by the GOP and five by the Democrats. That’s a more than 50 percent increase in vulnerable seats.

Drilling down further, the Republicans have seven vulnerable open seats and five vulnerable incumbents.

Three Republican-held governorships are so vulnerable that we’ve rated them lean Democratic. Those are the open seats being vacated by Paul LePage of Maine and Susana Martinez of New Mexico, as well as the seat held by incumbent Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who announced his run for re-election earlier this week.

We’ve rated another three Republican-held governorships as tossups, each of them open seats: Florida, Michigan and Nevada.

The rest of the competitive Republican-held seats fall in the lean Republican category. They include the race in Ohio, where John Kasich is term-limited; in Iowa, where the governor has only been in office since Terry Branstad, the longest-serving governor, took a job with the Trump administration earlier this year; in Kansas, where a new governor is expected to take office once Sam Brownback gets confirmed as the nation's religious ambassador; and in Maryland, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, where incumbents are all running for re-election.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have three vulnerable open seats and two vulnerable incumbents. Three of those are in the tossup category -- the open seats in Colorado, Connecticut and Minnesota – and the remaining two, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, are in the lean Democratic category.

In Alaska, we’re predicting that the race is leaning independent -- or, in other words, toward Walker. The Republican-turned-independent’s polling shows his approval ratings in the high 30s, which is why Republicans are lining up to challenge him. The candidates include state Sen. Mike Dunleavy, former state Sen. Charlie Huggins, former Lt. Gov. Loren Lehman, businessman and former state Sen. John Binkley, activist Scott Hawkins and former state Sen. Ben Stevens, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. Walker’s chances of getting another term may hinge on the results of the 2018 legislative session, which will dwell on the state’s fiscal difficulties.

All told, in a neutral political environment, Democrats could gain up to three governorships nationally. If political winds are working in their favor, though, their net gain could be as high as five to seven seats.

The Trump administration's historically low approval ratings could hurt Republican gubernatorial candidates next year in purple and blue states if they express too much support for the president. Such pro-Trump rhetoric -- even if made during primaries when a candidate is appealing to his or her base -- could dampen enthusiasm among independents and Republicans in the general election.

Still, it’s worth remembering that the national political environment doesn’t always impact gubernatorial candidates, since many voters distinguish between political factors that affect federal races and state races.

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, Democrats will need a seat at the table to avoid being drawn out of most of the maps.

Before we delve in to the state-by-state breakdown of each 2018 race, 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 as well as national party strategists. And within all categories the seats are listed from most to least vulnerable. The categories are safe Republican, likely Republican, lean Republican, tossup, lean Democratic, likely Democratic and safe Democratic.


Safe Republican

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

Otter has finally confirmed that he is not running again. While he was making his decision, though, the GOP field got pretty crowded. His lieutenant governor, Brad Little, has already been actively running for months. So has U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and Boise developer Tommy Ahlquist, who’s less well-known around the state but has been throwing money into early ads.

For now, the Democrats don’t have a candidate, although the 2014 Democratic nominee, A.J. Balukoff might run again.

Barring something unexpected, the seat looks as safely Republican as any in the nation.

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

The race to replace term-limited Daugaard is wide open, although GOP Attorney General Marty Jackley may have a modest early edge. If U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem decides to jump in, she would be tough for Jackley to beat in the Republican primary.

The Democrats are expected to nominate state Sen. Billie Sutton, a former rodeo star who was injured in the ring and is now in a wheelchair. In this heavily red state, though, Sutton would be an enormous underdog.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R)

Hutchinson remains highly likely to win a second term, though there have been rumors that gun activist and Fox News personality Jan Morgan might challenge him from the right in the GOP primary. While Democrats have shown a few signs of life in Arkansas after several rough campaign cycles, any candidate would still face long odds.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R)

Abbott is a virtual lock to be re-elected. He is the most popular politician in the state and has more than $50 million in his campaign war chest, along with a strong team of advisers. Unlike in the Texas U.S. Senate race -- in which Democrats have recruited U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke to run against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz -- no credible Democrat has volunteered for a kamikaze mission against Abbott. One late-breaking possibility would be a run by outgoing state House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican considered more moderate than Abbott and many others in the Texas GOP.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R)

Ricketts remains heavily favored to win a second term. An independent bid by moderate state Sen. Bob Krist could pose Ricketts his biggest challenge, more than any Democrat.

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

The two leading candidates in the Republican field are state Treasurer Mark Gordon and Secretary of State Ed Murray. On the Democratic side, former state House Minority Leader Mary Throne is running. She’s moderate enough to be a credible candidate, but any Democrat faces long odds in Wyoming these days.


Likely Republican

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R)

Ivey ascended to the governor’s office when fellow Republican Robert Bentley resigned amid a sex scandal. But Ivey won’t have a free ride to a full term. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle may be her strongest challenger, but other candidates in the race include Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington, preacher Scott Dawson, state Sen. Bill Hightower, businessman Joshua Jones and Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan.

The Democrats are pinning their hopes on one of two credible candidates: Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell. To have any hope, the Democrats would need to bank on widespread voter disgust with Alabama Republicans’ scandals in recent years.

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

Even though term-limited Fallin has experienced a rough stretch due to falling oil prices, the state’s heavy Republican lean gives the GOP the edge. The two Republican frontrunners are Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb. Other contenders include Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt, who has promised to spend several million dollars on his campaign, and Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson.

Democrats, for their part, hope that residual concerns about the economy and divisions on the GOP side will give them a boost. Democrats in the legislature are also doing their best to send the message that Republicans’ lack of unity means they can’t govern. The Democratic frontrunner is former Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

If Cornett is the GOP nominee, however, Democratic chances for an upset grow long.

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

There are several well-known, potentially well-funded Republicans who are looking to succeed Haslam, and that gives Republicans a big leg up. The GOP field includes U.S. Rep. Diane Black, former state economic development chief Randy Boyd, House Speaker Beth Harwell, businessman Bill Lee and longtime state Rep. Mae Beavers. Black and Boyd are probably the early favorites, although with a large field any of them could win.

The Democrats have two candidates: former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh. Dean is a modest favorite for the nomination. While Tennessee has been solidly red in recent years, it’s not inconceivable that a Democrat could defeat a weakened GOP nominee.

That said, the likeliest outcome is still a Republican victory.

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

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp are the most likely Republican candidates to succeed Deal, though they have plenty of competition from state senators Hunter Hill and Michael Williams, as well as Clay Tippins, an ex-Navy SEAL and tech executive.

The Democrats find themselves, somewhat uncomfortably, with a race of the Staceys: House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and state Rep. Stacey Evans. Abrams is African-American and more liberal, and Evans is white and more moderate. The contest has been riven by black-white and progressive-centrist friction, as evidenced by the recent Netroots conference in Atlanta at which Evans was booed by Abrams supporters. Observers say Evans could pose a stronger general election challenge to whoever wins the GOP primary, but emerging from the Democratic primary will not be easy. While the Democrats gained ground in suburban Atlanta in 2016, they may not have enough juice yet to pull off a gubernatorial win.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R)

Despite Vermont’s record as one of the nation’s bluest states, Scott won office in 2016 on a formula that has worked in the past -- running as a moderate Republican. It’s likely to work again, too. Scott hasn’t made any major errors yet, and Vermont voters tend not to throw out governors after one two-year term.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R)

McMaster, who moved up from lieutenant governor after Nikki Haley resigned to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, won’t have a free ride to the GOP nomination. While he’s the favorite, he still faces a primary field that includes Kevin Bryant, the new lieutenant governor, and Catherine Templeton, who ran two agencies under Haley and who has posted strong fundraising numbers.

On the Democratic side, state Rep. James Smith is the front runner. Observers consider him a strong contender because of his Vietnam War background. Another expected Democratic hopeful is consultant Phil Noble. Democrats are strengthening their organization in the state, and some demographic trends point in their direction.

Nevertheless, South Carolina is still a red state, and the GOP nominee starts with the edge.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R)

Baker is just about the nation’s most popular governor, with a moderate Republican approach that has historically been popular in this otherwise heavily blue state. 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.

The long odds of success are likely why no top-tier Democrat has entered the race yet. The Democratic field is led by Newton Mayor Setti Warren and former state finance secretary Jay Gonzalez. Unless something dramatic happens, Baker should survive even a challenging national midterm environment for the GOP.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R)

Ducey has had a relatively quiet first term, which may make him a tricky target for Democrats. The Democratic field features state Sen. Steve Farley and Arizona State University professor David Garcia. In 2016, Democrats were able to energize Latino voters with both Donald Trump and then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on the ballot. Neither will be on the ballot again in 2018, but if fallout from the Trump presidency can continue energizing Latinos, Democrats will have a shot at winning.


Lean Republican

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

Brownback is expected to resign the governorship to take an ambassadorship, leaving Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer -- who was already running to succeed him -- in the governor’s mansion. Brownback’s approval ratings have been in the dumps ever since his hardline tax-and-spending policies created fiscal problems for the state. It remains unclear to what extent Colyer, a conservative former state senator and plastic surgeon, will be able to escape Brownback’s shadow.

Meanwhile, another high-profile Republican -- Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a polarizing figure for his anti-immigration and anti-voter-fraud positions -- is running, as are former state Sen. Jim Barnett, businessman Wink Hartman, and former state Reps. Mark Hutton and Ed O’Malley. Given this mix of candidates and the controversies over the past few years, Kansas – usually a solidly red state – is not a slam dunk for the GOP in 2018.

The Democrats have three major candidates, without a clear frontrunner: House Minority Leader Jim Ward, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, and former agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty. (A 16-year-old student, Jack Bergerson, is also gaining national notoriety for his run.) The marginal gains by Democrats in the legislature over the past few years give some in the party hope that they’ll have a shot.

Those hopes could be dashed should Businessman Greg Orman, who ran strong as an independent for U.S. Senate three years ago, run. He could cut into the Democratic share of the vote.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R)

Reynolds succeeded long-serving GOP Gov. Terry Branstad after he was named ambassador to China. Reynolds is considered popular, personable and a strong campaigner, but her first five months have been somewhat bumpy. Reynolds took flak for flying on the plane of a GOP donor who also had an application for a casino license pending before the state gambling commission. In addition, the GOP Senate caucus is grappling with a sexual harassment lawsuit settlement, and there have been questions about the workings of the state Medicaid program. Reynolds faces a primary challenge from Ron Corbett, the Republican mayor of Cedar Rapids and a former House speaker who is questioning Reynolds’ commitment to Republican budget principles.

The Democrats have a large field of potentially viable challengers, including legislators Nate Boulton and Todd Prichard, former state party chair Andy McGuire, longtime Democratic official John Norris, and several local officials.

Reynolds starts with the edge in Iowa, a state that went hard for Donald Trump in 2016, but the Democrats will have a shot.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R)

Love him or hate him, if you’re a Wisconsin voter, you almost certainly have an opinion of Walker. So his bid for a third term will essentially be a referendum on his first two, making the race heavily dependent on voter energy and mobilization.

The Democratic field includes state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, Assemblyman Dana Wachs, state superintendent Tony Evers, businessman Andy Gronik and political activist Mike McCabe. The key factor for the eventual Democratic nominee is whether the midterm political environment will be favorable enough to outweigh Walker’s institutional advantages.

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

Kasich is leaving after two terms marked by a pragmatic, wonky approach at a time when politics seems more ideologically polarized than ever. The Republican field is deep, with Attorney General Mike DeWine as a modest favorite. DeWine is joined by at least three other credible candidates: Secretary of State Jon Husted, Rep. Jim Renacci and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.

Though Democratic bench strength in the state is generally weak, several candidates are making gubernatorial runs, including former U S. Rep. Betty Sutton and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, among others. Richard Cordray, the former state attorney general and current head of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – is widely speculated to be considering a run and could help the Democrats’ chances.

Ohio’s recent Republican leanings suggest that the GOP has an edge to start, but this could become winnable for the Democrats.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R)

Historically, New Hampshire voters are loath to oust a new governor after only their first two-year term. This boosts Sununu’s chances of winning re-election. But New Hampshire was a narrowly divided state in 2016, and a national pro-Democratic wave could emerge. If so, Sununu could be at risk, especially given that his last name is virtually synonymous with Republicans in the state.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R)

Hogan, a moderate Republican, remains in an enviable position in a state that has rarely elected GOP governors. The Democrats have worked hard to wrap the highly unpopular Trump around Hogan's neck, but with little success; his approval ratings remain high, if somewhat off their peak. The Democratic field is broad and includes former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, consultant and congressional spouse Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, former NAACP President Ben Jealous, state Sen. Rich Madaleno and a few others.

The lack of a Democratic primary frontrunner stands in contrast to the last time a Republican governor sought re-election -- in 2006, when Democrats coalesced early around then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, who ended up ousting Republican Bob Ehrlich. Where this race ends up depends heavily on who Democrats choose as their nominee.



Connecticut: Open seat; held by Gov. Dannel Malloy (D)

While Connecticut remains generally Democratic, Malloy has presided over a persistently sluggish economy and an even weaker fiscal picture, punctuated by a lengthy budget standoff this year. Republicans already made legislative gains in 2016 and are poised to make a strong run at the governorship in 2018. That said, both parties’ fields, while big, are lacking well-known figures; self-funding candidates could make a play for the nominations of either party. Until the primary fields solidify, it will be hard to say whether Republican momentum on the state level will be canceled out by an overall national midterm edge for the Democrats.

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

This open-seat contest should be competitive, but it isn’t inspiring much enthusiasm yet. Attorney General Bill Schuette is the GOP frontrunner, and his indictments against figures involved in the Flint water crisis could insulate him from Snyder’s most problematic legacy. He’s running against state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, who has Tea Party and libertarian leanings. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley is a possible contender, though it’s getting late to enter the race.

On the Democratic side, former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer is the clear frontrunner, though entrepreneur Shri Thanedar is spending heavily from his own pocket in a bid to disrupt a “coronation.” Given that Michigan voters have not typically given one party control of the governor's office for three consecutive terms, the Democrats have a decent shot despite their disappointing presidential results in the state last year.

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

In this closely divided state, expect both parties’ primaries as well as the general election to be competitive. The Democratic field includes former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who is the establishment pick; Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; and businessman Chris King.

On the Republican side, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has been running the longest and is raising significant sums of money. He faces state Sen. Jack Latvala, who is running a bit more toward the center. Republicans have won five gubernatorial elections in a row and have long controlled the legislature; with an open-seat race and a mood for change in the air, the Democrats have a shot at finally winning.

One possible wild card is whether Puerto Ricans driven out by Hurricane Maria end up registering and voting in significant numbers. If so, that could give Democrats a boost.

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

An open seat in this swingy state gives both parties reason for optimism, but the large primary fields could also produce an imperfect candidate for either one. The most talked about Democratic contender is U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who’s wealthy and is expected to spend $10 million. He faces former state treasurer and Denver CFO Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne.

On the GOP side, the biggest names include state Treasurer Walker Stapleton and George Brauchler, who serves as district attorney for Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. One notable twist: For the first time, unaffiliated voters will be able to vote in Colorado’s primaries.

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

The race to succeed the popular Sandoval hasn’t caught fire yet. Republican candidates include Attorney General Adam Laxalt and State Treasurer Dan Schwartz, while the Democratic field includes two commissioners in populous Clark County, Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani. The state’s "swinginess" in recent years suggests a close contest.

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

There is no clear Democratic successor for Dayton, who maintains a solid approval rating despite an ongoing confrontation with the Republican-led legislature. Dayton worked hard to groom Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to succeed him, but she declined to run. Instead, the Democratic field includes St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, state auditor Rebecca Otto and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, among others. With the exception of Walz, the list is heavy with pro-labor, urban liberals. Walz is hoping the others will split the urban share of the vote and that he can prevail by appealing to the more rural, blue-collar, pro-resource development wing of the party.

On the Republican side, announced candidates include 2014 GOP nominee Jeff Johnson, former state party chair Keith Downey, state Rep. Matt Dean and state Sen. David Osmek. It is also rumored that former Gov. Tim Pawlenty may run again. As is the case in other states, it would be unusual for Minnesotans to give the Democrats a third consecutive gubernatorial term, but if the national wind at their backs is strong enough, they could overcome that pattern.


Lean Democratic

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R)

Rauner’s first term continues to be tough. A Republican in a strongly Democratic state, he’s fought an ongoing battle with the Democratic-controlled legislature that kept the state without a full budget for more than two years. The state remains in fiscal trouble, though, with over $15 billion in unpaid bills and the biggest public pension unfunded liability of any state. A decision to sign a bill providing state funding for abortions for low-income women in September, precipitated a war between the governor and social conservatives, possibly enough to provoke a primary challenge. Rauner has a vast personal fortune, but discontent within the GOP, combined with approval ratings in the mid-30s, point to a difficult re-election bid.

The Democratic field includes three figures from populous Cook County: J.B. Pritzker, a multibillionaire and the brother of the former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker; Chris Kennedy, a businessman and son of Robert F. Kennedy; and progressive state Sen. Daniel Biss. Pritzker appears to be in the best position, having secured endorsements from the AFL-CIO, key unions and Cook County Democratic officialdom. Perhaps most important, Pritzker is a self-funder, which is attractive to Democrats looking for a way to beat the deep-pocketed Rauner.

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

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' decision not to run for governor means state-level Democrats dodged a bullet. Collins may not have been a lock to win the GOP primary, but if she had, she would have been a formidable general election candidate. The success of Trump in Maine’s rural areas in 2016 means the 2018 gubernatorial race should be competitive. The GOP field includes Mary Mayhew, the state commissioner of human services; state Senate majority leader Garrett Mason; and state House Minority Leader Ken Fredette.

On the Democratic side, the field is big, with no clear favorite. It includes businessman Adam Cote, Attorney General Janet Mills and former state House Speaker Mark Eves. History is on the Democrats’ side: Maine hasn’t elected back-to-back gubernatorial candidates from the same party since 1958.

But the wild card, as always in Maine, is whether there is a strong third-party candidate in the race who can lower the plurality bar enough to enable a LePage-type candidate to win.

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

With Martinez bowing out after two terms, Democratic-leaning and heavily Latino New Mexico seems ripe for a takeover. The Democratic field includes U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, state Sen. Joe Cervantes and businessman Jeff Apodaca, son of former Gov. Jerry Apodaca. The expected Republican nominee is U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D)

Raimondo got a break when two former Democratic rivals, Clay Pell and Angel Tavares, decided not to challenge her. However, Lincoln Chafee, the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who preceded Raimondo, is showing an interest in running again. Even if he does and fails to beat Raimondo in a primary, he might damage her enough to help the GOP nominee in the general.

Republican Allan Fung, who lost to Raimondo in 2014, is expected to run. Other Republicans are exploring a bid, including state House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan and former state Rep. Joe Trillo. If Fung is the nominee, he’s unlikely to match Raimondo in fundraising; he’d also have to distance himself from Trump. But the incumbent will have to deal with continued questions about cost overruns and inefficiencies with the Unified Health Infrastructure Project and its software vendor, as well as concerns about the Department of Children Youth and Families.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D)

Wolf appears to have dodged a primary challenge, but several Republicans are looking to oust him after one term: state Sen. Scott Wagner, retired health care executive Paul Mango and businesswoman Laura Ellsworth. Wolf will have to defend his approach to a budget battle with the GOP legislature, but he can also point to some policy successes, including wine sold in supermarkets, pension reforms and medical marijuana. Pennsylvania may have gone for Trump in 2016, but the same dynamic won’t necessarily hold in 2018.


Likely Democratic

Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown (D)

Brown navigated the 2017 legislative session successfully, securing a multiyear, multibillion-dollar package for transportation projects and renewing health provider taxes. She brings to her re-election bid the advantage of being a Democratic incumbent in a Democratic state. Still, she hasn’t necessarily put the race away. Leading the GOP field is state Rep. Knute Buehler, a candidate moderate enough to get a look from voters. Brown, who's gotten considerable national attention as the nation's first openly bisexual governor, is favored in what seems like a strong Democratic year on the vocally anti-Trump West Coast.


Safe Democratic

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)

Cuomo is still expected to seek a third term in 2018, and his position remains strong. The threat of a primary from his left has eased somewhat, and the Republican field is unsettled at best. Possible GOP candidates include businessman Harry Wilson, Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, state Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and state Sens. John DeFrancisco and John Flanagan.

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 divisions have emerged within the Democratic Party. Ige faces a strong challenge from Democratic U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. On the GOP side, state Rep. Andria Tupola plans to run in a long-shot bid.

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

California Democrats have only been increasing their dominance in the state, and with California’s top-two primary system, it’s possible that no Republican will make it to the general election. The list of candidates is long, but only a few are considered major players. The top Democratic candidates include Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, State Treasurer John Chiang and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The most prominent Republican in the race is probably Assemblyman Travis Allen, but he isn’t considered a major threat.

*CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect an error in our calculation of the number of Democratic governors and the fact that Oklahoma House Minority Leader Scott Inman dropped out of the gubernatorial race.

Louis Jacobson is a GOVERNING contributor.
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