Democrat Governors are Playing Defense This Election – and Republicans Are on Offense

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Texas Insider Report) — It’s the prerogative of every party that's not in power to blame incumbents and party that is for things that are going wrong, and Americans aren’t hesitating to blame President Biden and Democrats nationwide either – for inflation, rising gas prices, indoctrination in their children's classrooms, the #BidenBorderCrisis, escalating crime in virtually every major city across the nation... and that's before one even throws in concerns from around the globe as well.

Republicans currently hold 28 of the nation’s 50 governorships, and history suggests Democrats are bound to lose even more of the important leadership positions this year.

Since World War II, the president’s party has lost four governor seats on average per mid-term election. And last November – in what became in itself a national referendum on the Democrat Party – Republican Glenn Youngkin was elected governor in Virginia while Democrat incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy in New Jersey narrowly survived re-election in a strongly skewed Democrat state.
“The most vulnerable incumbent governors are all on the Democratic side,” says Joanna Rodriguez, Deputy Communications Director for the Republican Governors Association.

Democrats Won’t Ever Live Down This Inflation Nightmare,” read a recently headline on a Republican Governors Association (RGA) press release, following the announcement that gas prices, food and rent had driven the fastest-in-40-years inflation rate increase under President Biden's leadership.

Although voters rarely split tickets for Congress, they typically remain more willing to tune out national issues and vote for their governors based upon state-specific concerns, and recent mid-term elections have seen usually just one or two governors losing their jobs in a general election.
This year however, there are currently 10 states that voted one way for president in 2020, but have a governor from the other party in office.

That means that this year’s most vulnerable incumbent governors are Democrats.

While acknowledging that her party faces “headwinds” due to the mid-term environment, Christina Amestoy – the Deputy Communications Director for the Democrat Governors Association – argues her members will be able to make a strong case on the issues, adding that flush state budgets are allowing them both to cut taxes and cut ribbons at construction projects.
“When people look at who they’re voting for for governor, I believe voters understand that a governor has the ability to make day-to-day changes in their lives in a way that Congressional or Senate candidates – or even the president – can’t,” said Amestoy.

“So I think they expect to hear about those day-to-day issues on a more regular basis than they do from any of the federal candidates.”

The two states that at this point look most likely to flip are currently held by Republicans. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland, who have consistently enjoyed among the highest approval ratings in the country, are both stepping down, creating great opportunities for Democrats in those crystal-blue states.

But Republicans will be going on offense in many more states than will Democrats this year.

The Democratic Governors Association likes to brag it hasn’t lost an incumbent race since 2014, but that streak is bound to be snapped this year.
  • In Minnesota, Democrat Gov. Tim Walz has to worry not only about his future Republican opponent, but also a candidate from the "Forward Party" – founded by former Democrat presidential and New York mayoral candidate Andrew Yang – potentially siphoning off support.
  • In Maine, former GOP Gov. Paul LePage is seeking to make a comeback against incumbent Democrat Janet Mills.
  • And in New Mexico & Nevada, Republicans think they can regain ground in the Southwest by targeting Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico and Steve Sisolak in Nevada.
Last week, the RGA announced it has reserved $8 million worth of airtime in the Las Vegas and Reno media markets for the fall.
“Every poll shows Sisolak is vulnerable, as any COVID-era governor would be, but especially in a state so dependent on tourism during a pandemic,” says Jon Ralston, editor of the Nevada Independent, a news and opinion website.

“His numbers are not great, but not awful and he has a ton of cash on hand.”

In addition to these races of Democrat concern, there’s broad agreement that the most vulnerable Democrat governors in the nation are running in the states of Kansas, Wisconsin & Michigan.

In Kansas, a lot had to break right for Democrat Laura Kelly to get elected in 2018. In 2020, President Trump carried Kansas by 14%, Republicans are organized and currently hold supermajorities in both legislative chambers, and the state hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in nearly a century. But after former U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback became an ambassador under President Trump, his replacement, Jeff Colyer, lost the GOP primary by 393 votes to Kris Kobach – a long-time controversial Republican who ran a poor campaign. Kelly still ended up winning the race with only a plurality of the vote.
“Laura Kelly can essentially kiss being governor goodbye by the end of the year,” said the Republican Governors Association's Joanna Rodriguez.

“The poll numbers indicate that it’s not over,” said Michael Smith, a political scientist at Emporia State University. “It’s going to be a highly competitive race, and she has a chance.”

In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers unseated GOP Gov. Scott Walker in 2018 by a single percentage point. The GOP-dominated Legislature immediately striped the governor’s office of certain powers, and Evers and legislative leaders have never gotten along since. They go for months at a time without talking – in fact, just about the only time Evers and legislators interact is when he sends them a veto message, which has happened frequently. The Wisconsin Legislature – nominally a full-time body – has already gone home for the year, and has effectively blown off Evers’ call for a special session to deal with a state budget surplus.

That type of inaction has not endeared him to the state's voters.

But Evers’ decision not to veto a state budget bill last year – saying he had no choice but to accept the Legislature’s budget for risk of losing out on billions in federal COVID-19 aid – allowed him to claim credit for more than $3 billion worth of tax cuts.
“When he signed the budget, it included nothing he’d asked for and everyone was girding for a fight,” says Mordecai Lee, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “Instead, to everybody’s surprise, he signed it and took credit for the tax cut. He's said he was proud to sign it and was always for tax cuts.”

Republicans say voters will find this unconvincing, and note that Evers has proposed plenty of tax increases, while his own budget proposal included items they say don’t fly outside the Democrat party's base.

While the Wisconsin GOP is currently having a family squabble to chose its nominee, there’s no question the eventual Republican nominee could beat Evers, who barely won four years ago in a much better environment for his party. “While I think he’s vulnerable, I don’t think there’s anything to suggest that this isn’t going to be a very close race,” said Andrew Hitt, a Republican strategist and former state party chair.

And in Michigan, controversial Democrat incumbent Gretchen Whitmer has for some reason not been ablt to decide how she feels about the state's gas taxes. In early March the GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature passed a six-month suspension of the state’s .27-cent per gallon gas tax – just as Whitmer joined a small cadre of other Democrat governors in calling for a suspension of the Federal Gas Tax. Yet Whitmer, who ran four years ago on the slogan “fix the damn roads” and called for a .45-cent gas tax increase during her first year in office, can't be thrilled with the idea of suspending the state tax. A six-month suspension would "cost" Michagan $725 million in much-needed tas revenue.
Whitmer also opposes a $2.5 billion income tax cut approved by the Legislature, and has called it fiscally irresponsible. Republicans intend to call her out on it. “Why in the world would we write a letter to Congress asking for lower gas prices, when we can just step up and fix it ourselves,” said Republican and State House Speaker Jason Wentworth.

“She’s going to be hit for sure on not fixing the damn roads,” says Zach Gorchow, Executive Editor & Publisher of Gongwer Michigan news service. “There'll be a lot more construction, but the governor would admit she's not come up with a long-term solution.”

“She won’t have nearly the favorable environment she had in 2018, and her team knows that,” says Gorchow.

Whitmer’s greatest strength may be the lack of a formidable opponent. Plenty of Republicans are running, but unlike in Kansas and Wisconsin, Michigan Republicans have been unable to recruit a statewide official to run against her.