Written By: Herald Boas
The under-reported fact of current U.S. politics is that Republicans continue to control more governorships and state legislatures than the Democrats do, and this was enhanced in the 2020 election. Looking forward, the GOP’s prospects might get even brighter.
Currently, Republicans have 27 state governors, and Democrats have 23.
Two governorships are up in 2021, 36 are up in 2022. These include 9 who are term-limited — although only 3 of these are likely competitive. At this point, several races could be considered potential battleground races which might be pick-ups for Republicans, including California, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Additionally, a competitive race could develop in Minnesota if the state GOP can nominate a strong opponent to the so far unimpressive liberal governor.
Democratic Governors Laura Kelly (Kansas), Janet Mills (Maine), Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan), Steve Sisolak (Nevada), and Tony Evers (Wisconsin) are considered so far to be the most vulnerable incumbents, and there is an open race in Pennsylvania where a controversial incumbent Democrat is term-limited.
Democrats are favored to win the two gubernatorial races scheduled for 2021 in New Jersey and Virginia, but Republicans will likely have an unexpected opportunity for a pick-up in California, of all places. The state’s unpopular Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom faces an imminent recall election. Should the voters remove him, he would be immediately replaced by someone then chosen by voters on the same recall ballot. That successor could be one of several strong GOP candidates, including Kevin Falconer, the current mayor of San Diego.
The two largest states, California and New York, have a recent history of voting heavily Democratic in presidential elections, but not only is California’s liberal governor mired in controversy, so is New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo who faces impeachment after multiple scandals which have also caused many of the leaders of his own party to demand his resignation.
If Cuomo leaves office now, he would be succeeded by a little-known lieutenant governor who would have to run in 2022. In that case, the complicated multi-party New York ballot might enable a strong GOP candidate to be elected governor. Both California and New York have a recent history of electing GOP chief executives–for instance, Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Pataki.
It is still early in the 2022 national mid-term cycle, but retirements from Congress continue to be announced. Some of these retirees might opt to run for governor. Reapportionment will eliminate the districts of some incumbent U.S. house members who, in turn, might also decide to run for governor.
Incumbent Democratic governors running for re-election could also face primary challenges in 2022, especially if current party divisions persist, and these could provide opportunities for Republican challengers in the November general election.
Kansas is conservative, and if strong GOP candidates are recruited in the five other battleground states, Republican pick-ups are quite likely — especially if the economy and the Biden administration falter.
Many Democratic governors, such as Whitmer in Michigan, Evers in Wisconsin, and Walz in Minnesota have seen their popularity decline in response to their rigid pandemic policies during the past year.
There is a continuous historical tension between state and federal power and prerogative — as well as the traditional tensions between the three branches of the federal government. With many strong men and women governors, a divided Congress and Supreme Court, and a new president, a rare confluence of all these tensions at the same time might become increasingly visible as we proceed to election day, 2022.
Continued Republican gains in 2022 state elections in response to Democratic efforts to centralize federal power in Washington, DC, would be a signal that the 232 year-old U.S. constitution is still alive, vital, and well.
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