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Election Update

Governors’ Races Are Looking Especially Good for Democrats in the Midterms

Republicans are defending 26 states to Democrats’ nine.

Governors’ Races Are Looking Especially Good for Democrats in the Midterms

Republicans are defending 26 states to Democrats’ nine.

Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for Florida governor, greets people during a campaign rally in Orlando on Aug. 31.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Democrats are defending far more Senate seats this year than Republicans. The House map holds more opportunities for Democratic pickups, but that task remains tricky owing to the remnants of GOP-controlled redistricting a decade ago. Among the nation’s governors, however, Democrats have almost unbridled offensive opportunities.

A day after the final primary wrapped up in New York, a look at the map of key governor’s races finds Democrats either favored (3) or even odds (8) in nearly a dozen Republican-held gubernatorial seats, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. By contrast, Republicans are favored to pickup only one independent-held seat, in Alaska, and hold a toss-up’s chance in just one Democratic-held state, Connecticut.

Overall, Republicans are defending 26 states to Democrats’ nine. In GOP-held states, Democrats hold a slight edge in Illinois, where polls show Democrat J.B. Pritzker running well ahead of incumbent Bruce Rauner, as well as in Michigan and New Mexico where the seats are open. Other key Republican states -- like Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio -- are genuinely competitive with strong Democratic challengers.

And in other states, such as Kansas and Georgia, Republican primary voters eschewed establishment-aligned candidates to instead pick enthusiastic allies of President Trump. Those decisions may give Democrats a better shot at picking up seats.

Wins across the board for Democrats could reverberate outside their states, as governors elected this year will be key to redistricting in certain states where Republicans had previously used universal control to draw advantageous maps.

There is a silver lining, however, for the GOP. Three traditionally deep blue states -- Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont -- have popular Republican governors who are heavily favored to win re-election.

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Balance of Power

Watch to see how Friday morning’s three bombshell reports reverberate across the midterms:

  • Paul Manafort pleads guilty, will cooperate with Robert Mueller’s Russia probe
  • Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh denies allegation of sexual misconduct from high school
  • President Trump, escalating trade war, instructed aides to proceed with tariffs on about $200b worth of Chinese products; watch for this particularly in agriculture-heavy districts and states like North Dakota, Montana, Indiana, and Missouri
    • Worth noting; not directly connected, but air cover coming: Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. has publicly backed metal tariffs, and now is deploying a promotional campaign targeting voters in iron- or steel-producing states that touts their benefits
    • Ads will begin to run this month through October in states including Minn., Mich. and Ohio; ads will run as banners on media websites directing people to the campaign site Keep America Steel Strong
  • RealClearPolitics’ Sean Trende: “Looking over the NYT polls and other available polls, D gains in the House looking like ~30 for now”
    • Worth noting: That would give Democrats the majority, but barely; they’d get control of oversight committees, which is key, but actual legislating would be tough. Not to mention electing a speaker


MO-SEN: There’s a growing trend of Democrats tying their GOP challengers to an anti-Obamacare lawsuit, and that’s the subject of Sen. Claire McCaskill’s latest ad; spot features McCaskill talking about pre-existing conditions and her own fight against breast cancer.

MT-SEN: Democrats questioning whether GOP Senate candidate Matt Rosendale and NRA illegally coordinated, citing audio recording of Rosendale’s comments earlier this year discussing conversations he’d had with a leader of the group’s political wing about upcoming spending in the race; Rosendale spokesman says accusation is baseless: AP.

ND-SEN: Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp launches ad criticizing GOP challenger Kevin Cramer for not opposing tariffs she says are damaging state’s agricultural economy; six-figure ad buy: AP.

NJ-SEN: Communications Workers of America New Jersey endorsed Democrat Bob Menendez in his bid for re-election.

TX-SEN: Country star Willie Nelson is on the road again, this time for Beto O’Rourke.

  • Nelson plans to headline a Sept. 29 rally in Austin for Democratic Senate candidate O’Rourke, Washington Post reports
Willie Nelson and Beto O'Rourke perform in concert on July 4, 2018 in Austin, Texas.
Photographer: Gary Miller/Getty Images North America


AR-02: VP Mike Pence to campaign for Rep. French Hill Sept. 21: Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

PA-08: NRCC releases new TV ad, “Time’s Up,” which hits Democrat Matt Cartwright on taxes, health care.

WI-01: Republican Bryan Steil leads Democrat Randy Bryce by 6 points in the race to replace outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan, according to a New York Times/Siena poll with an error margin of 4.7 ppts.

  • Bryce is an ironworker, union activist and Army veteran, Steil is a former Ryan staffer; Ryan announced in April he wouldn’t seek re-election for the southeastern Wisconsin seat

NYT/Siena polls ongoing in CO-06, ME-02, KS-02, FL-26, NM-02; poll coming soon in TX-07.


Cook Political Report changes several governors race rankings:

  • Toward Democrats:
    • Michigan to Lean Democratic; was Toss Up
    • Wisconsin to Toss Up; was Lean Republican
    • Georgia to Toss Up; was Lean Republican
    • South Dakota to Likely Republican; was Solid Republican
  • Toward Republicans:
    • Alaska to Lean Republican; was Toss Up
    • Rhode Island to Lean Democratic; was Likely Democratic

FL-GOV: GOP’s Ron DeSantis launches $4m ad buy; personal narrative spot; he’s also got a Spanish version: Tampa Bay Times.

IL-GOV: Democratic candidate Pritzker leads incumbent Republican Gov. Rauner 44%-27%, with other candidates at 11% and 13% undecided or unknown, according to a new poll by the Illinois Broadcasters Association.

MI-GOV: Fraternal Order of Police, after endorsing Republican Rick Snyder in 2010 and 2014, backs Democrat Gretchen Whitmer over Republican Bill Schuette: AP.

  • Republican Bill Schuette tells AP he’s an underdog in the race; adds he has no plans to distance himself from Trump

NY-GOV: Working Families Party said to reject entreaties to support incumbent Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo; may seek to keep Cynthia Nixon on ballot line: New York Post.

OH-GOV: President Obama headlined a rally in Cleveland for Richard Cordray, the former CFPB head running for Ohio governor as a Democrat; Obama used the opportunity to lament “broken” politics.

  • “What’s at stake goes beyond partisan politics,” he said, in rally where he also campaigned for other candidates including Sen. Sherrod Brown

WI-GOV: Americans for Prosperity, the flagship political group in the Koch network, plans to launch a three-week, $1.3m television and digital ad campaign on Saturday to try to boost the re-election prospects of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

  • The investment follows an earlier $1.8m AFP advertising effort for Walker, who faces a strong challenge from Democrat Tony Evers in a state Trump only very narrowly won in 2016

State Races and Ballot Initiatives

Recapping New York:

  • Gov. Cuomo glided to win over actress/activist Nixon; 2-1 margin
  • Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul had much tighter race, though held on
  • Letitia “Tish” James tops Zephyr Teachout, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in race for state attorney general
  • Several Democratic state senators topped by primary challengers running to their left: New York Times

Also of Note

Bill Daley, President Obama’s former chief of staff, plans to run for mayor of Chicago; announcement planned for Monday: WLS-TV.

  • If the name sounds familiar in Chicago, it should; he’s brother of longtime Mayor Richard M. Daley and son of another longtime mayor Richard J. Daley

— With assistance by Greg Sullivan, Elise Young, and John McCormick