Voters in 36 states are set to elect governors this year, as parties and outside groups pour hundreds of millions of dollars into critical election battlegrounds.
Polls show a broad battleground, one that stretches from coast to coast and border to border. And while defeating a sitting governor is among the rarest events in American politics, a surprising number of incumbents face uncertain prospects for re-election.
“Historically, we’re swimming upstream,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, told Pluribus News in an interview. “The president’s party, the first midterm is usually not good. You add to that, people are paying more at the gas pump or at the grocery store, they tend to blame the guy at the top, whether he or she is responsible or not.”
Recent surveys have showed Republicans gaining ground in several key states, something both Cooper and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), the co-chair of the Republican Governors Association, acknowledged is showing up in their own internal data.
“Voters are breaking towards Republicans. I think we have an opportunity for an historic national wave election year,” Ducey said in an interview. “What’s unique about this cycle is how the map is populated with opportunities in blue states for us to go on offense.”
Here are the 36 states that will elect governors in November:
Alabama: There were signs early on that Gov. Kay Ivey (R) may have been vulnerable to a challenge from the right, but neither of her two main rivals — former Ambassador Lynda Blanchard (R) and businessman Tim James (R) — mounted a real threat. Ivey is likely to easily outpace activist Yolanda Rochelle Flowers (D) in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1998.
Alaska: Voters will rank their favorites in a field of four candidates this year, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) appears headed for a second term. He faces former Gov. Bill Walker (I) in a rematch of their 2018 showdown, along with former state Rep. Les Gara (D) and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce (R). Alaska has a long history of booting incumbents; no sitting governor has won re-election since Tony Knowles (D) in 1998.
Arizona: Polls show a neck-and-neck contest between former television broadcaster Kari Lake (R) and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) in one of America’s emerging swing states. Lake won a tough primary, with help from former President Donald Trump. Voters do not seem moved by Lake’s refusal to acknowledge the results of the 2020 election, and if voters really are breaking to the GOP, she likely enters the final stretch with an advantage.
Arkansas: Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) appears poised to follow her father, Mike Huckabee, to the governor’s mansion. Polls show Huckabee Sanders running well ahead of nonprofit executive Chris Jones (D). She spent last weekend on the campaign trail in Iowa, a pretty certain sign that she’s not worried about scoring a majority.
California: Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) scored 62% of the vote in 2018, and about the same share voted against recalling him in 2021. That recall election virtually cleared the Republican field. Newsom is likely to skate past state Sen. Brian Dahle (R), the lone major Republican who decided to challenge him this year. Newsom insists his focus is on California, but he has taken an increasingly active role in national politics, too.
Colorado: Gov. Jared Polis (D) is the favorite over Heidi Ganahl (R), a member of the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents. Polis is polling above 50 percent, while Ganahl is struggling to break into the 40s. Colorado has a long history of re-electing its incumbents — the last governor to lose re-election after winning a full term was Stephen McNichols, back in 1962.
Connecticut: Gov. Ned Lamont (D) narrowly beat businessman Bob Stefanowski (R) four years ago. This year, Lamont looks like he’s further ahead of Stefanowski in a rematch. But it’s going to cost him: Lamont, a telecommunications executive before entering public life, has spent at least $14 million on his own campaign.
Florida: In many states, Democrats are vastly outspending Republicans this year. That’s not the case in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has used his national profile to build a mammoth financial advantage over former Rep. Charlie Crist (D). DeSantis barely won election four years ago; this year, he’s headed for a larger margin in a state that has trended to the right. Like Newsom in California, DeSantis is seen as eyeing the national stage.
Georgia: No governor in recent memory has used the levers of his office to greater effect than Gov. Brian Kemp (R). He delivered on conservative priorities ahead of the Republican primary, in which he faced a Trump-endorsed rival, and he’s kept up a steady drumbeat of federally approved aid dollars as he faces a rematch against former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D) in November. Abrams has proven an adept fundraiser, though she has struggled to recapture the momentum that made her a star in 2018 — and almost carried her to the governor’s mansion.
Hawaii: It’s the battle of the lite govs — Lt. Gov. Josh Green (D) faces former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (R) in the race to replace term-limited Gov. David Ige (D). Aiona is making his third bid for the top job after losing in 2010 and 2014. Green is the heavy favorite in a state that has only elected one Republican governor, Linda Lingle, in the past six decades.
Idaho: Gov. Brad Little (R) survived a primary challenge from his own lieutenant governor — who had Trump’s support — by a relatively comfortable 20-point margin earlier this year. He’s likely to win the general by an even larger margin over college instructor Stephen Heidt (D). Idaho hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since Cecil Andrus (D) won re-election in 1990.
Illinois: Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) is the heavy favorite to win a second term against state Sen. Darren Bailey (R), after Pritzker helped Bailey beat out a more moderate Republican in the primary. Pritzker has spent huge amounts of his own money on the race — and on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial candidates in other states, too, raising the specter that, like Newsom and DeSantis, he may have an eye on a larger national spotlight.
Iowa: The Hawkeye State, like Florida, has moved out of the swing state category since Barack Obama won there in 2008 and 2012. That’s good news for Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who appears headed for a second full term against activist Deidre DeJear (D). Reynolds is polling in the mid-50s, while DeJear hasn’t reached 40% in any poll since July.
Kansas: Gov. Laura Kelly (D) won election in 2018 with just 48% of the vote. The good news for Kelly: She now has the power of incumbency. The bad news: Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R) is nowhere near as polarizing as Kelly’s last opponent, Kris Kobach (R). The few polls conducted here show a virtually tied contest, but just like four years ago, the winner won’t need an outright majority; state Sen. Dennis Pyle, a former Republican now running as an independent, could be a factor.
Maine: Gov. Janet Mills (D) wants to keep her job. Former Gov. Paul LePage (R) wants his old job back. Mills is polling ahead of her predecessor — but before we rely too much on polling, recall that Sen. Susan Collins (R) trailed her Democratic rival two years ago in every poll, before pulling out a huge 51%-42% win.
Maryland: It’s virtually certain that Democrats will reclaim two Republican-held seats. The first is in Maryland, where nonprofit executive Wes Moore (D), making his first run for public office, holds a huge lead over state Del. Dan Cox (R). Moore beat out a talented Democratic field, while Cox, with Trump’s backing, beat out retiring Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) preferred candidate in his own primary. Hogan has questioned Cox’s mental stability, which usually isn’t an indication of party unity.
Massachusetts: Here’s the other state where Democrats are going to pick up a GOP-held seat. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said no to a third term, and now Attorney General Maura Healey (D) looks set to beat out former state Rep. Geoff Diehl (R), another Trump acolyte running in a deep blue state.
Michigan: Here’s the state that should have been close, but probably won’t be. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has led online radio host Tudor Dixon (R) from the start. Whitmer has held a huge financial advantage, and she’s proving a model for Democrats running in the Midwest. If her margins are as large as the polling suggests, expect her name to be bandied about as a future presidential contender.
Minnesota: It’s all the rage to talk about swing states like Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But don’t overlook Minnesota, where Hillary Clinton won by just 45,000 votes in 2016 (President Biden won by about 230,000 votes in 2020). Polls show Gov. Tim Walz (D) ahead of former state Sen. Scott Jensen (R), but not comfortably so. One Republican-allied pollster found the two statistically tied. Don’t be surprised if this one turns into a nail-biter on Election Night.
Nebraska: If Trump’s vaunted endorsement has a weakness, it’s in gubernatorial races (See Georgia, Idaho above). Nebraska’s Republican primary was rough for Trump’s preferred candidate, Charlie Herbster, too. Voters chose university regent Jim Pillen (R), who had support from outgoing Gov. Pete Ricketts (R). Pillen is the odds-on favorite against state Sen. Carol Blood (D). Democrats haven’t held the governorship here since Ben Nelson won re-election in 1994.
Nevada: If we were into geography-based jokes, we’d compare this one to a Vegas prize fight. Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), the heavyweight former chairman of the Clark County Commission, faces Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo (R). Polls show Lombardo barely ahead. No Nevada governor has lost a general election since Robert List in 1982 — though Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) lost renomination in 2010 in the midst of a scandal.
New Hampshire: The New England Republican is alive and well, in the person of Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who is cruising to a fourth two-year term. Sununu scored 65% of the vote in 2020. The few polls conducted here suggest he’ll fall short of that margin against state Sen. Tom Sherman (D) this year, but maybe not by much.
New Mexico: Republicans have been hot on their chances in New Mexico in recent years, and former meteorologist Mark Ronchetti (R) presents them another chance to make inroads in a state that has swung left in recent years. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) leads, but — like Walz in Minnesota — not by a comfortable margin.
New York: A few polls out recently shook Democrats confident in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) bid for a full term. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) is showing signs of life late in the race, but New York is an extremely Democratic state. If Zeldin pulls off the upset, he will be the Goliath-killer of the 2022 election. Hochul has emphasized crime-fighting in the last weeks of the election, a sign of the times for Democrats across the country who are nervous as the days tick down.
Ohio: Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has sky-high approval ratings and favorable numbers. Consequently, he’s running far ahead of Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D) in an increasingly red state.
Oklahoma: Tribal leaders in Oklahoma have spent the last four years battling Gov. Kevin Stitt’s (R) administration over land rights and gaming compacts. Now, five powerful tribes have combined to back Stitt’s rival, Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister (D), and three polls in a row show Hofmeister actually pulling ahead. The Republican Governors Association has already spent money on Stitt’s behalf.
Oregon: Color us fascinated by this contest between former House Speaker Tina Kotek (D), former House Minority Leader Christine Drazan (R) and independent Betsy Johnson, a former Democrat who represented Timber Country counties that broke for Trump in 2016 and 2020. Johnson has raised and spent more than the two major-party candidates, but polls show she’s fading in the closing days of the race. Kotek is bringing in all the heavy hitters the Democratic Party has on offer. Drazan, should she win, would become the first Republican to move into Mahonia Hall — the state’s official governor’s mansion — since 1983.
Pennsylvania: Here’s another race where a Trump-backed candidate is putting a swing state safely away — for Democrats. Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) is polling well ahead of state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R). Mastriano has not run a traditional campaign; his biggest boosts came from Trump and from Shapiro, who ran advertising that promoted Mastriano during the GOP primary.
Rhode Island: Gov. Dan McKee (D) is running for his first full term, after ascending to the top job when President Biden tapped Gina Raimondo (D) to become Commerce secretary. McKee barely survived a surprisingly competitive Democratic primary. He’s polling ahead of businesswoman Ashley Kalus (R), though Republicans have shown some late interest in the contest. Expect McKee to win, if not run away with the race.
South Carolina: Gov. Henry McMaster (R) is seeking a second full term in a state that’s conservative, but not overwhelmingly so. His opponent, former Rep. Joe Cunningham (D), is keeping the race close, according to the few surveys conducted. But Democrats have a pretty hard ceiling, and McMaster is likely safe.
South Dakota: Gov. Kristi Noem (R) won election in a very red state with only 51% of the vote in 2018. The one survey we’ve seen here, conducted by South Dakota State University, found her running just ahead of state Rep. Jamie Smith (D). Noem is likely to win, and she’s likely to be in the conversation when Republicans start thinking about the 2024 presidential nomination, but she is not the celebrity in her home state that she has been for conservative crowds around the country.
Tennessee: Gov. Bill Lee (R) is almost certain to win a second term against physician Jason Martin (D) and a host of independents and minor party candidates. Lee scored almost twice as many votes in his uncontested primary, 494,000, as the number of Democrats who bothered to vote in their primary, 257,000.
Texas: Like Stacey Abrams in Georgia, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) has used his star power to raise big bucks in his challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott (R). Also like Abrams, O’Rourke hasn’t been able to light a spark that would change Texas’s deep red hue. Abbott is likely headed to a third term, and late polls show the race might not even be particularly close.
Vermont: Gov. Phil Scott (R), like his neighbor Sununu in New Hampshire, is carrying on the tradition of the New England Republican. He’s the odds-on favorite over activist Brenda Siegel (D). Fun fact: Scott served as lieutenant governor under Gov. Peter Shumlin (D). While they were in office, Scott helped Shumlin build a deck at Shumlin’s home.
Wisconsin: No governor has won more than 54% of the vote in one of the nation’s most evenly divided states since Tommy Thompson won his last re-election bid in 1998. Gov. Tony Evers (D) won office in 2018 with just 49.5% of the vote. Polls show a virtual tie between Evers and businessman Tim Michels (R), and we’d expect nothing less than a neck-and-neck contest with no clear favorite.
Wyoming: The Cowboy State had its fun in the Republican primary, where Gov. Mark Gordon (R) beat a conservative challenger with 62% of the vote. Gordon won office in 2018 with 67%. He’s likely to score something similar in November against Theresa Livingston (D), a member of the state School Facilities Commission.