In the next two years, 38 states will hold elections for governor. Two of those states — Virginia and New Jersey — will elect a governor in 2021.
The overriding theme of these elections will be a “return to normalcy.” With the pandemic fading as an issue, America will try to get back to work and resume their lives following the lockdowns and restrictions of the past year.
There isn’t likely to be a nationwide issue that roils the campaigns. Races should be decided on likability and favorability — just as they’ve always been.
But Republicans will probably be more energized than Democrats, given they have a real chance to flip both chambers of Congress. There’s also the question of using the 2022 elections as a referendum on Joe Biden and the Democrats who are going to give us plenty of reasons to hate them between now and Election Day.
There are only a handful of races that could shift party control. Perhaps the most vulnerable Republican governor’s mansion is in Maryland where popular GOP Governor Larry Hogan is term-limited. Maryland has been a solid blue state in recent elections, making it an uphill climb for any Republican candidate.
Though Hogan, who has emerged as one of the most prominent voices in the anti-Trump faction of the GOP, was able to find success, he’ll likely have a tougher time trying to dictate his successor. Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R-MD) may be an attractive candidate, but his office might as well have an “abandon all hope ye who enter here” sign above it — Maryland voters have never elevated an incumbent lieutenant governor to the state’s top job. With Democrats in charge of the state’s redistricting process, the lone Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation, Rep. Andy Harris (R, MD-1), may very well get a blue district. This may push Harris to consider running statewide, though he’s much more conservative than Hogan.
Of the few announced Democratic candidates, state Comptroller Peter Franchot leads the field. First elected to public office in 1986, Franchot has carved out a niche as something of a moderate Democrat who will take on his own party. From an electoral perspective, this approach seems a hit with voters: in 2018, he was reelected 72%-28%, the best showing for a statewide Democrat since 1990.
With the radicals gaining momentum in Congress and many blue states, Maryland may end up nominating someone so far left that a decent Republican candidate could have a chance. Otherwise, consider Maryland as already flipped.
Other toss-up states include Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Three of the five states are currently run by Republicans. The most interesting race may be in the Republican stronghold of Kansas, where Democratic Governor Laura Kelly is running for re-election.
In 2018, now-Gov. Laura Kelly (D-KS) had the benefit of running against a polarizing Republican, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. While Kobach, who was known for his hardline stances on immigration, was outright toxic in the suburban pockets of the state — after Clinton narrowly carried the Kansas City-area KS-3, Kelly did so by almost 20% — Kelly was also able to keep the GOP margins down in the rural parts of the state: In KS-1, a sprawling, rural district that often gives Republicans over 70% of the vote, Kobach took just 51%.
Kobach was a flawed candidate out of the gate so projections based on his performance are suspect. Still, Kelly is a popular governor and will be hard to beat no matter who runs against her.
The re-election campaign of Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp promises to be a donnybrook. Democrat Stacey Abrams may very well run for governor again while Kemp is in big trouble with his own party. Kemp barely eked out a victory in 2018 in an election that Abrams says was “stolen” from her. I guess some people claiming election fraud are lionized and others making the same claim are damned.
That’s America in 2021.