Good Governance Gets Votes (Governor Edition)

Two days ago, this author wrote his federal elections preview projecting “red wave” conditions for the GOP, largely out of the electorate’s frustration regarding the failures of the Biden Administration. Across individual states themselves, a different theme has emerged. While Republicans remain “more popular” than Democrats, the perception of good state governance is likely to be rewarded throughout the country. And unlike their federal counterparts, Democrats do not appear to be at a massive disadvantage regarding voter perceptions of performance at the state level. So let’s take the Governor races in turn.

The GOP “Big Three”

Texas – We start with Texas because the writer lives in Dallas. GOP Governor Greg Abbott is an establishment conservative who has presided over substantial growth in his state across two terms. After 8 years, there is a bit of Abbott fatigue in the electorate (the power grid failure in early 2021 is the biggest mark against Abbott), but for the most part he’s perceived as a competent leader with a decent pulse for public sentiment in this right-leaning state. Abbott’s opponent, fundraising extraordinaire Beto O’Rourke, is probably the best Democrats can find, an earnest, hard-working candidate who almost defeated Ted Cruz in a 2018 Senate race. But Abbott is no Cruz, and 2018’s “Betomania” has been far more muted in 2022. The pick is Abbott by 13%, and come tomorrow night your writer will be switching the “V” and the “B” on his “Veto Beto” yard letters.

As a bonus for my Texas readers, expect LG Dan Patrick and scandal-ridden AG Ken Paxton to win by 1-2% and 2-3% less than Abbott, respectively.

Georgia – Republican Governor Brian Kemp probably deserves “Politician of the Year” for his 2022 efforts. In order to get to a rematch with Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams, who Kemp only defeated by 1.5% in 2018, Kemp needed to thread the needle of a Trump-backed primary challenge from former Senator David Perdue. Kemp not only survived, he crushed Perdue by roughly 50% and is now set to batter Abrams in his re-election effort. Kemp has presided over many controversies in Georgia, but none of them actually involve Kemp doing anything wrong or unpopular – Trump lost GA in 2020 despite his bleating, Kemp was right to reopen his state early after Covid closures, and the controversial elections bill signed by Kemp is actually fairly popular by inside and outside Georgia. The electorate has noticed. Kemp by 9.5%.

Florida – Brian Kemp might be “Politician of the Year” in 2020, but Ron DeSantis is on his way towards “Politician of the Decade” for the 2020s. As those who follow me on Twitter know, this author expects Governor DeSantis to be running for re-election as President of the United States come 2028. An establishment conservative who ran wild on the “public health” establishment during Covid – and was vindicated over and over during this debate – DeSantis has an unbelievable knack for taking center right positions that enrage the mainstream media and American left. And the combination of his Covid performance plus his ability to find winning issues for himself and his party is on the precipice of a massive electoral reward in normally close Florida. DeSantis by 14-15% in what will be the lead story of election night.

Dems Holding Back Trends

Michigan – This author was virtually certain in late 2020 and early 2021 that Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer was toast. Her overwrought Covid response drew the ire of Republicans, and her state’s performance on the issue was no better than, say, much less restrictive Florida. But during a Michigan-specific Covid spike in spring 2021, Whitmer made the decision that saved her political career. Faced with demands for new restrictions and closures, she did … nothing, thus keeping her hold on enough of the Michigan electorate to have a strong chance of re-election. With the salience of abortion in the state of Michigan, this blogger takes Whitmer by 4% over Republican Tudor Dixon.

Pennsylvania – Democrat Josh Shapiro isn’t an incumbent, but he has convinced the Pennsylvania electorate that he’s much likelier to be a normie Governor than his Republican opponent, Trump-addled Doug Mastriano. GOP primary voters have a lot of reflection needing to be done for the Mastriano choice, and they can do so during Shapiro’s first four-year term. Shapiro by 7%.

Colorado – Jared Polis (along with CT Governor Ned Lamont) were “Team MVPs” for Dem politicians in realizing that the answer to Covid was not maximum restrictions. The libertarian nature of Colorado, which Polis fits well, probably assisted here. Polis will be rewarded tomorrow. The pick here is Polis by 13%.

Kansas – Dem Governor Laura Kelly rode the blue wave into office in 2018. By all rights, she should ride the red wave right out in 2022 against Republican Derek Schmidt. But Kelly’s reputation as a capable, less than leftist Dem has her in a dogfight. That said, with rural Kansas turnout likely to run blood red with mad Republicans, the pick is Schmidt by 2%.

Dem Incompetents (Plus an R)

New York – In contrast to the above-listed Dems, Democrat Kathy Hochul – who took over after the Andrew Cuomo resignation – has been a partisan hack in running New York. The Biden plus 23% electorate hasn’t missed Hochul’s seeming unawareness about a growing NYC crime problem, and she’s in deep trouble. While the pick here has Hochul holding on by 6% over GOP Congressman Lee Zeldin, she’s one of the biggest underperformers of the cycle.

Oregon – While this writer is notorious for his lack of trust in polling, late polling has him convinced the partisan lean of Oregon is too much for Republican Christine Drazan to overcome in her effort to take down the Oregon Democratic establishment and its candidate in the open seat race for this state’s Governorship, Tina Kotek. But again, problems in Portland, where crime, homelessness, and disorder have surged in recent years, has made a safe blue state very dicey for the left. That said, Kotek winning by 3% is the pick.

New Mexico – Every cycle needs an upset special, and New Mexico it is. Dem incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham is not associated with the level of incompetence as Kathy Hochul or the Oregon Democratic Party, but a sexual harassment scandal (she is credibly accused of grabbing the crotch of a male staffer and paying a substantial settlement in connection therewith) has her in a vulnerable position. Because working class Hispanic-heavy New Mexico has more swing potential than some of the other states with weak Dems, the pick here is Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti by 2%.

Arizona – In this open seat race, Democrat Katie Hobbs might not be an incompetent in office, but she’s certainly one as a candidate. Her refusal to debate populist pro-Trump Republican Kari Lake was a massive own goal from which she’s never recovered. Lake by 4-5%.

Nevada – Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak closed the Vegas strip for months during Covid; his constituency has suffered greatly as a result. And the Nevada electorate appears poised to escort him out of office as a result. Republican Joe Lombardo by 4%.

Oklahoma – GOP Governor Kevin Stitt has significant issue with education funding in his state, and low teacher pay has many districts only in school four days per week. The natives are restless in Oklahoma, and Stitt – who should be rolling to an easy win – has even trailed in some recent polling against Dem challenger, former GOPer Joy Hofmeister. While the nature of this election is too Republican for this massive upset and the pick here is Stitt by 8%, the Republican’s performance here is truly underwhelming.

Other Competitive Races

Wisconsin – Dem Governor Tony Evers has been a reasonably quiet politician in the politically charged state of Wisconsin. It’s serving him well, because a more high-profile posture would have him getting drubbed in 2022. That said, Republican Tim Michels is the kind of normie GOP businessman who can ride a wave into office. And expect he will, Michels by 3%.

Minnesota – Wisconsin’s Upper Midwestern counterpart is far more “blue” than its neighbor. Dem Governor Tim Walz should breathe a sigh of relief for this more left electorate, otherwise he’d likely be joining Tony Evers in the unemployment line. Walz by 4% over Republican challenger Scott Jensen.  Separately, Republicans will, after years of failure, win a statewide race in Minnesota, defeating controversial AG Keith Ellison.

Easy Wins

Dems – CA, IL, MD (gain from moderate R), MA (gain from moderate R), CT, RI, HI, ME*

*Maine had the potential to be competitive as this cycle opened, but never developed into a highly competitive race. The state did provide the shock of the cycle in 2020 (Susan Collins’ re-election), but that looks unlikely this year.