Despite the focus on the Federal Congressional House and Senate races in 2018, the races with the greatest impact on policy in 2019 and 2020, the 2020 election, and the debate over gerrymandering new maps in 2021 will be the 36 Governors elections in 2018.
Those 36 - possibly 37, depending on what happens to Eric Grietens in Missouri - elections will largely dictate how much states-wide opposition to federal policy there will be. Republicans’ hold on the vast majority of governorships in 2014-2016 was their most important tool in blocking Obama’s policies, and the reverse could be true starting next year.
So, I think it would be interesting to rank in tiers the vulnerability of Republican held seats in a reasonably large Democratic wave. None of the Democratic governorships up for election are particularly vulnerable.
Tier 1: Democrats Clearly Favored
Illinois: Bruce Rauner is an unpopular incumbent and Illinois is a Democratic state. The budget freeze doesn’t help.
Maine: Paul DuPage is term limited and Maine is democratic leaning. The referendum vote to expand Medicaid, which the governor is resisting, is increasing Democratic voter enthusiasm.
New Mexico: Susana Martinez is term limited and both she and the GOP are very unpopular in recent opinion surveys in New Mexico.
Tier 2: Tossup But Environment Leans Democrat
Nevada: Incumbent governor Sandoval is popular but term limited and the state now leans blue. Democrats also have one of their best get out the vote machines in any state.
Michigan: Snyder is unpopular and term limited. Despite 2016, Michigan still leans blue. Early polls indicate a close race; historically in midterms, close races break late for the party out of power.
Florida: Rick Scott would be a favorite to be re-elected but is term limited. In a open seat in a tossup state, environment factors often dictate the outcome.
A key note: because of their laws restricting voting and - in Florida’s case - anti-felon voting laws, the governorships of Michigan and Florida could be critical to determining the 2020 Presidential election outcome.
Ohio: A more Republican-leaning version of the situation in Florida. Popular incumbent Kasich is term limited and his maverick popularity in the state doesn’t really translate to its new GOP candidates.
Wisconsin: Incumbent Scott Walker is polarizing and his approval is slightly underwater. But he has one of the best state GOP vote operations. Wave factors make this lean slightly blue, but it will be a tough race. It’s also one of the most critical for 2020, because of voter suppression efforts in place in Wisconsin.
Georgia: Your sneaky dark horse. Clinton lost Georgia by only 5 points and Nathan Deal is term limited. Voter enthusiasm will play a key role.
Tier 3: Lean Republican
Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland: All popular, centrist Republican Incumbents. In the national political environment, they are as close as one gets to “independents.”
Tier 4: Republican
Tennessee, South Carolina, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho