Direction of State Policy on the Line in Gubernatorial Elections

This year 36 states have scheduled gubernatorial elections to determine who will hold their state’s highest executive office, a significant increase over 2012 when only 11 governors’ races were contested across the nation.

Republicans currently hold a numerical edge with 29 seats to the Democrats 21. This landscape should shift slightly however, with incumbent and retiring Republicans vulnerable in some states where Democrats have fielded strong candidates. When the dust settles next Wednesday, Republicans will still control more governors’ offices but we believe Democrats will have narrowed the gap.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming all have scheduled gubernatorial elections this year.

While most of these races are not expected to be competitive, a number are not only extremely close but hold important policymaking implications. Even the looming threat of the governor’s veto power is enough to sway policy towards the center in states where one party does not control a supermajority. Below we’ve outlined some of the closest governors’ races where the direction of state policy in the upcoming years is on the line:

  • In Alaska, incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell is facing an uphill battle against a unique coalition between a former Republican and a Democrat who are running as an Independent union. The outcome remains murky, as Alaska is a heavily Republican state, but Walker has shown a slight edge in some of the most recent polls. A win here would give the opposition coveted veto power over the state’s Republican dominated legislature.
  • Arkansas Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe ineligible to run for office due to term limits, and Republican candidate Asa Hutchinson has been polling ahead of Democratic challenger Mike Ross. A win for the GOP here would give them total control of state government.
  • Colorado’s incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is polling neck-and-neck with Republican challenger Bob Beauprez, in a race that appears to be among the tightest in the nation, in a state that is increasingly leaning more and more to the right after several years of Democratic control.
  • Deep-blue Connecticut may also see its highest executive office go red following Novembers election. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy is polling almost identically with GOP challenger Tom Foley, who he defeated by a razor-thin margin in 2010. This would be a big win for the GOP in a state where the legislature is dominated by Democrats.
  • Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott is seeking a second term in office and is seen as having one of the most vulnerable seats in the 2014 election. Governor Scott will face former governor and Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, who served as governor from 2007 to 2011. Crist is currently seen as a narrow frontrunner to retake his old seat, but Scott has pumped $41 million into the race to hold onto his seat which has become one of the most expensive races in the country.
  • Georgia Republican incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal is running for a second term against Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. Libertarian candidate Andrew Hunt is also on the ballot. The race has been neck and neck so far, with the most recent polls showing Governor Deal narrowly ahead.
  • Illinois Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn faces an uphill climb in his effort to be reelected. His opponent, businessman Bruce Rauner, has shown a slight lead in the polls as backlash towards some of Quinn’s unfavorable policies. A win for Rauner would give the GOP significant power in the overwhelmingly democratic state.
  • The governor’s race in Kansas has exploded into one of the most hotly contested in the country during this election cycle. Incumbent Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is facing an uphill battle against state House Minority Leader Paul Davis, in a race that has become a referendum on the incumbent governor’s policies that have pushed the state into severe economic decline. This decline has resulted in numerous sitting and former Republican officials endorsing the Democrat.
  • Maine’s incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage is seen as one of the most vulnerable gubernatorial incumbents facing reelection. The race features former Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud and Independent candidate Eliot Cutler, who also ran in 2010 and received over 36 percent of votes, narrowly losing to LePage. Independents are largely seen as the deciding factor in the race. LePage has recently taken a commanding lead in the polls, where a win would continue to frustrate the overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature.
  • Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick is eligible to run for reelection, but chose not to seek a third term. The race pits Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley against Republican venture capitalist Charles Baker. Recent polls have shown Baker to have a slight edge against Coakley in the race. While traditionally one of the most Democratic states, Massachusetts has a history of electing Republican governors.
  • Michigan Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder is running for reelection to a second term this November against former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer. Governor Snyder has lost a lot of momentum in the state through passing controversial initiatives such as “right-to-work” and his tax reform plan of 2011. A win for Schauer would be a major victory for Democrats looking to break up the Republican stronghold in the state.
  • Wisconsin Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker is running for reelection to a second term against Democrat Mary Burke. Despite a statewide vote overturning legislation that Walker signed limiting the power of public-sector unions, he has continued to support right-to-work measures during his campaign. Recent polls have shown Walker holding a narrow lead within the margin of error.