A midterm election with an unpopular Democratic president would seem like a ripe time for Republicans to pick up some governorships. But it looks like Democrats were actually the ones to gain ground in state capitals this year. As of 7:30 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday, Maryland and Massachusetts were the only two governorships that had changed parties — and both went from red to blue.
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These Democratic flips were expected, but are nonetheless significant. Author Wes Moore, the victor in Maryland, is only the third Black person ever elected governor of a U.S. state. And Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is set to become the nation’s first openly lesbian governor.
Oregon state House Speaker Tina Kotek may share that distinction, if Kotek also prevails in her race. Kotek, the Democrat, leads former state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, the Republican, by just 46 percent to 45 percent. The race was forecasted to be close — our model gave Kotek a 63-in-100 chance of winning — despite Oregon being a reliably blue state in national elections.
Oregon isn’t the only uncalled race with national interest. In Nevada, Republican Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo currently leads Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak 51 percent to 46 percent. And a gubernatorial winner also hasn’t been declared in Kansas, a dark-red state where Republicans were initially optimistic about defeating Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. But Kelly leads Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt 49 percent to 48 percent with 93 percent of the expected vote reporting — and the counties that are still counting ballots are the counties where Kelly is leading. Kelly is probably feeling pretty confident right now.
Republicans have definitely lost Wisconsin, where Democratic Gov. Tony Evers defeated Republican businessman Tim Michels 51 percent to 48 percent. Wisconsin was definitely a race Republicans wanted — and arguably should have won considering the state’s tendency to swing back and forth between parties. (Democrats won the gubernatorial races here in 2006 and 2018; Republicans won in 2010 and 2014). Instead, Evers holds his position, and the result result will have major policy implications for the Badger State. Had Michels won, Republicans would have enjoyed full control of state government, which they might have used to pass an abortion ban or dramatically reform the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission.
The GOP struck out elsewhere as well. Democratic Govs. Janet Mills of Maine, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Tim Walz of Minnesota and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico all won reelection. According to our pre-election forecast, all four had at least an 84-in-100 chance to win, but Republicans were still hoping to score an upset. And while Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin posted some impressive numbers in New York’s gubernatorial race, he still lost to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul 53 percent to 47 percent.
Democrats had their share of disappointments too, though. Despite a close gubernatorial race in Georgia in 2018, Democratic former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams came up short in her rematch against Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, 53 percent to 46 percent. Another Sisyphean candidate, Democratic former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, also lost badly in Texas to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. And Democrats failed to stop Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who defeated former Rep. Charlie Crist 59 percent to 40 percent — a downright landslide by Florida standards. The win puts DeSantis in a strong position if he chooses to pursue a bid for the White House in 2024.
Two gubernatorial candidates drew special attention for their close allegiance to former President Donald Trump and his false belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him: state Sen. Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania and former newscaster Kari Lake in Arizona. Mastriano badly lost his race to Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, preventing an outcome where Mastriano could have interfered with the results of the 2024 presidential election in the state. The Arizona race, though, is still up in the air. Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs leads Lake 51 percent to 49 percent, but nearly one-third of the expected vote is still outstanding. Though a Lake win wouldn’t be a flip (Arizona’s outgoing governor, Doug Ducey, is also a Republican), it would be a big deal. She is a charismatic leader of the pro-Trump movement, and — though she has promised not to accept it — has been rumored as a potential vice-presidential pick for Trump in 2024.
Those uncalled races can still shift the narrative a bit, but overall it seems to have been a mixed night for each party. Still, given what usually happens in midterm elections, Democrats’ half-empty glass might be more full than Republicans’.
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