Final Forecast: How Arizona, Oregon And Other States Will Vote For Governor

Final Forecast: How Arizona, Oregon And Other States Will Vote For Governor

With all the hubbub over the horse race, it might have been easy to forget that there are 36 governors’ races taking place tonight, too. But the results of these contests may have a greater impact on everyday Americans’ day-to-day lives than congressional races as state chief executives have an outsized influence on state-level policy issues like health care, education, tax policy and more.

Since 2010, Republicans have held a majority of governorships. In fact, the GOP currently holds 28 governor’s seats, while the Democrats control 22. That said, FiveThirtyEight’s Deluxe forecast, which is now frozen, indicates that Republicans and Democrats are each poised for a few pickups.

Let’s run through some of the main trends and states that we’ll be watching — starting with the most contentious seats, and ending with the least suspenseful races. Shall we begin?

There are a bunch of competitive races …

I’ll start with Kansas, where the Democratic incumbent has an edge. Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, is running for another term in office, but only has a 62-in-100 chance of winning against Republican Derek Schmidt. Unlike a few other races we’ll cover further down, though, the competitiveness of this contest isn’t that mysterious: Kansas is just a red state.

Watch: https://abcnews.go.com/fivethirtyeight/video/republicans-favored-final-midterm-forecasts-fivethirtyeight-92819264

Our model still leans toward Kelly, though, in part, because she’s a relatively popular incumbent. One recent survey pegged her favorability at 53 percent among Kansas voters — 20 percentage points above President Biden’s. On top of that, Kelly has worked to appeal to a broad swath of voters by promoting issues that are important to Kansas Republicans, like education and the economy, rather than focusing on more polarizing topics like abortion. If Schmidt is able to overcome Kelly’s incumbency and popularity advantage, it’ll likely be both due to the state’s past voting history, coupled with the fact that Schmidt (who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump) took more conservative stances in a midterm year where there’s deep dissatisfaction with Democrats at the national level. In short, a favorable midterm environment might be enough to pull him over the finish line.

Other competitive races in our forecast lean more toward Republicans, however. That’s the case, at least, for both Arizona and Alaska (but other parties running in these states still stand a chance, too, so we won’t count them out). Both states currently have Republican governors, so it might not be all that surprising that our metrics suggest that the GOP will remain in control.

In Arizona, Republican Kari Lake has a 68-in-100 chance of winning. As I mentioned at the top, governors wield a lot of power in their respective states, so it might be striking to some of our readers that Lake — who has been one of the leading proponents of the baseless idea that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump — has an edge over Democrat Katie Hobbs. A couple of factors could be contributing to that, though, such as the fact that Lake has been in the news a lot lately and enjoys high name recognition due to over two decades as a local TV newscaster.

Of course, Hobbs could pull ahead. While she’s still an underdog, at least by our metrics, one September-October survey showed that just over half the state’s registered voters (51 percent) classified Lake’s views as “extreme.” And, as my colleagues and I discussed last month, it’s also entirely possible that our forecast for this seat is too good for Republicans — meaning the race is closer than it appears.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy in Alaska has a larger edge: an 87-in-100 chance of winning. On Tuesday, the incumbent will share a ballot with independent Bill Walker, Democrat Les Gara and Republican Charlie Pierce. Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system, however, makes this race slightly harder to gauge. Under the system — which was first deployed during an August congressional special election won by Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola — voters are given the choice to rank who they want to fill a particular seat. And in recent months, Walker and Gara’s teams have paired up to both encourage Pierce to drop out of the race and to rally against Dunleavy, telling voters that they were relying on the other’s second-place votes to win. If the gambit works, it could have an outsized influence on the race: Together, Walker and Gara made up more than 40 percent of the primary election vote. Still, with Dunleavy leading by significant margins in recent polls, it makes sense why our model still favors a Republican victory here.

Other nail-biters in our forecast are ranked as toss-ups, but may still lean very slightly toward Republicans. In fact, there are at least three seats in which Democrats are at risk of losing control of the governorship in their respective states.

In Nevada, relatively popular Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak is nevertheless in danger of losing his reelection bid to Republican Joe Lombardo. As of Tuesday morning, our forecast gives the Republican a 61-in-100 chance of winning. Lombardo, who has attempted to balance the demands of his party’s more moderate and extremist wings, has led by single digits in most recent polls. This contest will be one to keep a close eye on as it could push the state firmly to the right if Republicans also win control of the state legislature (which is possible, but unlikely). To aid their party, however, Democratic heavyweights like former President Barack Obama have visited Nevada, arguing that “democracy is on the ballot.” But in a transient state like Nevada, where the share of registered Democrats has decreased, it’s very possible that Republicans will perform well here in a favorable midterm year. Plus, Nevada isn’t reliably blue: Biden only won the state by a little over 2 percentage points in 2020.

Then there’s Wisconsin, where Democratic Gov. Tony Evers must contend with both Biden’s unpopularity in the state and his own lackluster approval ratings. Our forecast looks at this race as essentially a pure toss-up between Evers and Republican Tim Michels, who currently has a 53-in-100 chance of unseating the incumbent. Perhaps ominously for Democrats, though, the state’s gubernatorial races have historically gone with the midterm flow: Republicans won them in 2010 and 2014, and Democrats won in 2006 and 2018.

Republicans might also have a shot at winning the governorship in Oregon, which is an open-seat race, unlike the contests taking place in Nevada and Wisconsin. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is not eligible to run for reelection, but her lowest-in-the-nation approval rating (according to a Morning Consult report published in October) could weigh down the Democrat trying to succeed her. Republican Christine Drazan has a narrow 37-in-100 chance of beating Democrat Tina Kotek, who would become the country’s first openly lesbian governor (a milestone she’d share with Massachusetts Democrat Maura Healey if both are victorious). And going into Election Day, Kotek has a slight edge: a 63-in-100 chance of winning. That said, this race might prove difficult for the party currently in power because Oregon isn’t a deep-blue state: Former President George W. Bush nearly won the state in 2000 and voters elected Republican Dennis Richardson as secretary of state in 2016, making him the first GOP candidate to win a statewide race since 2002.

What’s working in Kotek’s favor is that Oregon has consistently elected Democrats to the governorship since the late 1980s. The flip side, however, is that the Democrats have only won recent gubernatorial races here by single-digit margins (Republicans lost by just 1.5 points in 2010, 5.8 points in 2014 and 6.4 points in 2018). 

Another interesting wrinkle in this race is the presence of a formidable third-party candidate on the ticket, independent Betsy Johnson. According to our polling average, Johnson has consistently netted high single-digit support — which is interesting considering the fact that few statewide races involve a truly competitive third wheel. What could work to her benefit, too, is that she’s tried to position herself more toward the middle, dinging Drazan for her anti-abortion views and Kotek for trying to make Oregon “woke and broke.”

… but there are also several races both parties have repeatedly tried and failed to flip

Of course, while partisanship has increased over the years in gubernatorial races, voting history still matters. And for years, there have been a handful of states where both parties have tried — and failed — at winning seats from the opposing party. A few of those are on the ballot this year, and it doesn’t look like old patterns are likely to be broken.

In Pennsylvania, for example, Democrat Josh Shapiro is clearly favored to win (he has a 97-in-100 chance to beat Republican Doug Mastriano). While Republicans held the governorship there in 2010, they’ve been unable to beat back Democrats in both 2014 and 2018, and things look bad for them in 2022. That’s in part because Mastriano is a deeply controversial candidate: He both participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection and plotted to overturn Pennsylvania’s 2020 presidential election results.

That said, Democrats have had their fair share of seats that they’ve tried unsuccessfully to flip for years, too. Florida, for whatever reason, always seems to host a competitive election regardless of which way the political winds blow. (The 2010 gubernatorial election was decided by 1.1 points, 2014 by 1.1 points and 2018 by 0.4 points.) This year seems likely to be an exception, however, since Gov. Ron DeSantis consistently leads by double digits in most surveys. Our forecast reflects this edge, too: DeSantis, who has been floated as a 2024 presidential contender, has a 99-in-100 chance of defeating former Rep. Charlie Crist, according to our forecast. And if he wins, it will mark the seventh straight GOP victory in Florida gubernatorial races. Though DeSantis has received a number of bad headlines for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other things, Crist is very unlikely to unseat a prominent national Republican this year. (And, as I’ve written previously, Crist also risks getting marked as a perennial loser if he’s defeated this fall.)

Georgia is another state that’s very likely to remain in Republican hands despite Democrats’ best efforts. In the Peach State, Gov. Brian Kemp will go head-to-head against Stacey Abrams, who first ran against Kemp during the open-seat race in 2018. Our forecast gives Kemp a 94-in-100 chance of winning even though four years ago, Abrams lost to Kemp by fewer than 60,000 votes. The difference is that the political environment favors Kemp much more now. He has the added advantage of incumbency, while some polls and reporting suggest that Abrams has struggled to gain traction among Black men at a time when she’ll need strong support from Black voters to make the race even remotely competitive. What’s also working in Kemp’s favor is that he’s continued to tout Georgia’s economic prosperity under his leadership as concerns regarding the economy remain at an all-time high.

Now, saving the best for last (my home state): In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has a 98-in-100 chance of defeating former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke ran for the seat after narrowly losing the state’s 2018 Senate race to Ted Cruz. But that narrow loss, it seems, hasn’t paid off for O’Rourke’s political aspirations this year. Of course, O’Rourke, a micro-celebrity in the Lone Star State, has broken various fundraising records; polling, meanwhile, consistently shows a single-digit contest between the two politicians. But, as I’ve written before, O’Rourke is still a serious long shot in a red state like Texas, which hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1990. Plus, Abbott is a prolific fundraiser in his own right: An analysis by The Texas Tribune found that the incumbent raised the equivalent of $83,793 per day since first declaring he’d run for governor in July 2013. And despite our polling average showing a tight-ish race here, O’Rourke hasn’t outpaced Abbott in a single survey.

Other races are slightly competitive — but probably won’t flip

Meanwhile, there are a handful of states in which our Deluxe forecast doesn’t see a clear favorite, but the party in power still retains a significant edge. In fact, there are at least four Democratic-held seats that will likely stay blue. New Mexico is one state where the governor’s race might be competitive, but our forecast still tilts heavily toward the party currently in power: Democrats. To be clear, the race here looks a bit more competitive than the contests in Michigan, Minnesota and Maine (which we’ll discuss lower down), but our model still gives Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham an 84-in-100 chance of winning. Part of the reason why this contest isn’t more squarely in Grisham’s column is that voters in the state are fairly lukewarm about her job performance. On top of that, in April 2021, she settled a lawsuit with a former campaign staffer who accused her of sexual misconduct. Grisham is up against Republican Mark Ronchetti, who ran for the state’s U.S. Senate seat in 2020 and narrowly lost.

Meanwhile, in the Midwest, our forecast predicts that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has an 85-in-100 chance of winning reelection over her opponent, Republican Tudor Dixon. At one point, it seemed like this race might tighten over time given that some early polls had Whitmer’s favorability hovering just around 50 percent. Democrats, like Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, have rushed to Whitmer’s aid in recent weeks, but this race looks reliably blue.

In Minnesota, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz also has a 94-in-100 chance of winning in his reelection bid against Republican Scott Jensen. While Minnesota is not a deep-blue state, Republicans haven’t won a statewide race there since 2006. Policy issues like abortion rights and the economy have largely dominated the race here, but Repulicans have also hit Walz over his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and his handling of the protests that occurred following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Still, at least one survey shows that 50 percent of likely general election voters approve of Walz’s job as governor as of mid-October — so this seat is unlikely to flip.

And in Maine, Gov. Janet T. Mills also has a 88-in-100 chance of beating her GOP opponent, former two-term Gov. Paul LePage. Polls in this race have overwhelmingly favored Mills. But LePage, who has been endorsed by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, has campaigned on being the better candidate to handle issues like inflation and job creation. (At least one survey showed that pocketbook concerns such as the cost of living and taxes were among the most important issues to Maine’s likely voters.) Again, though, we won’t get ahead of ourselves here: In a blueish state like Maine, a loss for Democrats seems unlikely.

Let’s not forget about the GOP-held seats, though: In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt has a 92-in-100 chance of getting reelected. Of course, this shouldn’t be too surprising considering Trump walloped Biden there in 2020. What seems to have the GOP on edge, though, is that Stitt has been plagued by a number of recent scandals, coupled with the fact that Democrats fielded a fairly formidable candidate in Joy Hofmeister, who identified as a Republican up until last year. Democrats were recently buoyed by an October poll that gave Hofmeister a narrow edge, but Hofmeister is still a long shot given the state’s reliably red hue. And, more recently, prominent conservatives like Cruz and DeSantis have weighed in on Stitt’s behalf with endorsements or — in Cruz’s case — a trip to Oklahoma to rally voters.

The governorships Democrats are (extremely) likely to flip

There are the two Republican-held governorships that will likely go to Democrats: Massachusetts and Maryland. Last year, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, announced that he wouldn’t seek reelection. But Baker, a moderate Republican who defied Trump during his two terms in office, likely won’t be replaced by a member of his own party — despite Massachusetts voters electing GOP gubernatorial candidates in both 2014 and 2018.

In fact, Democrat Maura Healey has over a 99-in-100 chance of beating Republican Geoff Diehl. This is likely due to the fact that Massachusetts is a very blue state, and without a candidate who shares Baker’s moderatism, Republicans were always going to be underdogs. (Diehl, a former state House member, is endorsed by Trump and hasn’t committed to accepting the outcome of the November election.) If Healey wins, she (along with Kotek in Oregon), could make history as the country’s first out lesbian governor(s).

Lastly, in Maryland, Democrat Wes Moore also has a more than 99-in-100 chance of defeating Republican Dan Cox. Throughout the race, Moore has proven a prolific fundraiser and has led Cox by 30-point margins in every poll in our database fielded since September. Similar to Massachusetts, this seat is most likely to flip because the state’s more moderate incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan is term-limited and can’t seek reelection. And Cox, like Diehl, is a Trump loyalist who has denied, without evidence, the legitimacy of the 2020 election. That likely won’t bode well with the state’s voters, who elected Biden by a nearly 33-point margin in 2020. If Moore wins, he would make history, too, as the state’s first Black governor.

Watch: https://abcnews.go.com/fivethirtyeight/video/election-deniers-favored-win-midterm-races-fivethirtyeight-92803581

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