Election 2020

Top 2018 Governor’s Races: Big War Chests, Wild Cards, Warring Dems

California gubernatorial candidates, from left, John Chiang, Delaine Eastin, Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa participate in a candidates forum at the Sheraton Hotel in Anaheim, Calif., on Oct. 22, 2017. (Michael Kitada/The Orange County Register via AP)

Democrats are not going to be able to make up in the 2018 midterm elections all the ground lost at the state level during the years Barack Obama was in the White House. But Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics forecast this past November that they could make up some ground at the gubernatorial level.

He sees several state races for governor as too close to call including Michigan, Illinois and Florida.

Besides the competitive nature of those three races, they should also be entertaining. And there is one more gubernatorial contest to consider: California, where the only question is which kind of Democrat is going to win.

Michigan: ‘Knight on a White Horse’?

As in all things politic this coming year, money is a critical factor in the 2018 Michigan gubernatorial election. Those who want to be the state’s next governor are expected to spend tens of millions of dollars.

The Detroit Free Press reported Michigan’s elections next November could be the most expensive in history. Four candidates who have declared their desire to be the next governor had a combined $10.4 million available a year before the 2018 election.

Another candidate has another $1.2 million in the bank.

But who cares about the money when there is another factor that could actually trump cash — a sexual abuse scandal that could play into the race between former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, and the leading Republican candidate, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Schuette wants to find out who knew — and when they knew it —about former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting several members of the USA women’s gymnastics team.

Nassar, while awaiting sentencing on the sexual assault charges, was sentenced to 60 years in prison on child pornography charges.

Here’s why this could become a significant issue in the 2018 Michigan gubernatorial election: While Nassar was working at MSU and for the USA Gymnastics team, Whitmer served for six months as the county prosecutor in Ingham County, Mich., the home of Michigan State University.

Although she approved search warrants related to the Nassar investigation, Whitmer did not investigate MSU because police were busy trying to arrest Nassar.

“Republicans are already whispering that she (Whitmer) took no action, and that Schuette has now ridden in like a knight on a white horse to get the truth out,” said Michigan Public Radio political analyst Jack Lessenberry. “You can look for this mess to be further politicized as time goes by.”

Illinois: Massive War Chests

While Michigan’s gubernatorial election could be the most expensive in the state’s history; Illinois voters can expect the race for governor to be one of the costliest political contests America has ever seen.

The Herald & Review reported that even though the election is a year away, more than $100 million has already flowed into the race, and nobody’s ready to turn off the faucet of cash.

Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has raised more than $72 million for his re-election campaign, including $50 million Rauner himself donated to the war chest.

Not to be outdone, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, heir to the Hyatt fortune, has raised $42 million and put $28 million of his own money into his campaign to unseat Rauner, should both of the men win their primary elections in March.

“Here in Illinois, the 2018 gubernatorial primary contests are dominated by the guys with the cold, hard cash,” Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington wrote. “They are pouring obscene amounts into their races.”

Washington called the 2018 election “an irresistible honey pot for consultants, staffers, pollsters, and myriad other operators who feed at the political trough.”

Rauner has problems going into the March GOP primary. He’s up against Republican state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who has accused him of selling out to Chicago Democrats.

PJM reported in December that Rauner angered pro-life advocates, as well as more conservative members of his party, by signing House Bill 40, which would make state-funded abortions more available to more Illinoisans.

However, state Sen. Daniel Biss (D) is afraid all the money at Pritzker’s disposal could be giving Illinois Democrats a false sense of security. Biss told Politico his fellow Democrats are making the same mistake the DNC committed in 2016 — anointing Pritzker as their chosen candidate.

“The establishment that’s supporting Pritzker wants us to not worry about Pritzker’s electability” in a general election,” Biss said. “The challenge with inevitability is if you’re not going to have a primary election, then you’re not going to have the nominees respond to criticism.”

Florida – Watch the Wild Card

Leave it to President Trump: He rattled the 2018 Florida governor’s race by praising a Republican who wants to be the Sunshine State’s chief executive but has not formally declared his candidacy.

“Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!” Trump tweeted as he arrived in Florida on Dec. 22.

Even though he is not an official candidate, DeSantis, who has been trying to curtail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign, responded with a press release, which was headlined, “President Trump Backs Ron DeSantis for Governor.”

Term-limited Gov. Rick Scott (R) can’t run for re-election, so the field is wide open. Plenty of candidates are ready to get into the game.

And at this point, it’s a dead heat.

“This is going to be the most competitive Florida primary in many years,” said Doug Kaplan, the managing partner of Gravis Marketing. The number one question, in Kaplan’s opinion, is “can the Florida Democratic Party finally get organized.”

A Gravis Marketing Poll released in December showed Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican, running even with two leading Democrats: former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

“Gillum is the wild card,” Kaplan added. “If he can raise money in a five-person and race get overwhelming African-American support, he has a path to winning the nomination.”

But here’s the wild card: John Morgan, an Orlando lawyer, who has promised not to run for governor as a Democrat. What if he runs as an independent?

The Gravis Marketing Poll found that when Morgan was inserted into the race, hypothetically, as an independent, he took more votes away from either of the top two Democrats than he did Republicans. That would result in a victory for Putnam.

Remember, Morgan isn’t a candidate yet. All Florida voters know is that Morgan will not be running as a Democrat.

Morgan, even without campaigning, already has a high enough degree of name recognition to steal votes from two stalwart Democrats.

“The general election will be very close,” said Kaplan. “We still have many unknowns like John Morgan. Will he run as a third-party candidate?”

California: A State Divided, Where Democrats Cannot Fail

The money will be a factor in California’s gubernatorial election, too, but not in the same way it is expected to affect voting in Michigan and Illinois.

Larry Sabato figures California is a lock for Democrats. Why shouldn’t he? With the state’s primary in which the top two candidates, no matter which party they represent, advancing to the general election, who but a Democrat could be the next governor of California?

But the question remains, which candidate will be victorious, and which half of California will win?

A Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released in December showed Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom with 26 percent of likely voter support and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, at 17 percent, as the most likely Democrats to advance to November’s general election.

The two candidates, even though both are Democrats, show the divisions of California’s electorate.

Newsom’s most reliable support, according to the Berkley IGS poll, comes from Northern California, especially the San Francisco Bay area. Villaraigosa, on the other hand, is preferred by Southern California voters, with his most durable base in the Los Angeles area.

The divide is not only geographical. It is racial.

The Berkley IGS poll showed Newsom is preferred by white non-Hispanics and U.S.-born voters, while Villaraigosa holds a substantial lead among California’s Latino voters and people born outside the United States.

There is also an economic division.

Wealthy, white voters like Newsom. Latinos, immigrants, and people of color who earn a middle to lower income are attracted to Villaraigosa.

“It’s almost a classic profile because you have the white establishment candidate within the Democratic Party versus the ethnic candidate and the expanding demographic of ethnic voters,” Berkley IGS poll director Mark DiCamillo told the Sacramento Bee.

“It’s socioeconomic. It’s ethnic. It’s regional,” DiCamillo added. “It’s like the old Democratic Party versus the new Democratic Party in California.”