News & Politics

Is the Dems' 'Rational Exuberance' About 2018 Governor's Races Justified?

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo speaks as Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, right, looks on. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

The Democrats, who picked up two governorships last November (in New Jersey and Virginia), believe the 2018 election will give them the opportunity to win several governor’s mansions currently held by Republicans.

The GOP holds 33 governorships versus just 16 for Democrats. But Republicans must defend 13 states won by President Obama while Democrats need to defend just one state won by Trump. That disparity, plus the fact that several popular GOP governors are term limited, spells trouble for Republicans.


“I would describe our attitude as rational exuberance, and the reason I say ‘rational’ is it’s based on objective evidence that’s consistent in basically every election since the ‘stable genius’ got to the White House,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, using Trump’s recent Twitter description of himself. “The map has expanded in the last several months, because these patterns exist even in red states.”

Democratic confidence has been building since the party’s sweeping wins last fall. At the DGA’s meeting in New Orleans last month, political director Corey Platt gave governors a presentation indicating that the organization is now targeting 17 GOP-held seats for pickup in 2018, according to slides from the presentation obtained by POLITICO.

They can target 17 seats if they want, but realistically, will they be able to raise the cash to put money where their mouths are?

The growing optimism on the left is mirrored by a burgeoning Republican pessimism, according to a wide range of GOP operatives and lawmakers involved in this year’s races.

Their concerns are legion: With the White House dominating the news across the country on a daily basis, pollsters are seeing signs of a prospective surge in Latino voters that could swamp Republican candidates in battleground states like Florida and Colorado, put New Mexico’s governor’s race even further out of reach and making Arizona’s competitive.

I’ll believe it when I see it. Every midterm election we are confidently told of a “surge” in minority voting and every midterm it fails to materialize — at least to the degree prognosticators tell us.

And Democrats are making a mistake to take the results from the 2017 governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia as a serious omen for what happens in 2018. New Jersey is one of the bluest states in the country while Virginia has gone for a Democratic president in the last 3 elections.

If the Democrats bothered to look they would see that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam lost badly outside of DC suburbs of Northern Virginia. His entire margin of victory was achieved in just 3 counties.

Much of the GOP anxiety stems from the way a handful of potentially competitive races have broken strongly toward the Democratic candidate. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is now heavily favored to replace Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in New Mexico, while multiple top New York Republicans have passed on challenging Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. According to top strategists from both parties, similar skepticism about GOP chances has overtaken the races in Pennsylvania — where Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is running for reelection — and Maine, where Republican Gov. Paul LePage is vacating his seat.

It’s in the heartland that the GOP is likely to lose ground. Holding on to Illinois is a long shot thanks to Governor Bruce Rauner’s dismal numbers, while GOP governors in Michigan and Ohio are term limited.

To be sure, the combination of an unpopular president and the party in power traditionally losing seats in the first midterm will give Democrats a boost. But talk of a “wave” election is premature and while the GOP can expect some losses, until Democratic enthusiasm can translate into getting minority and young voters to the polls, caution should be taken in predicting a big night for the Democrats next November