DDHQ Governors Races Ratings – Part I: The Northeast

As promised last week, we’ll be diving into the 2018 Governor’s races this week. Today will be the first installment of out weeklong series breaking down next year’s races.

 

MAINE

We’ll start our ratings with one of the Gubernatorial races that’s most up in the air – Maine. Maine was something of shocker in 2014. Governor Paul LePage (R), known for his bombastic style, won re-election (relatively) comfortably, despite being considered a slight underdog. Two years later, President Trump held Secretary Clinton to just a bare-bones 3% win in Maine, and crushed her in the state’s northern Congressional District. It would seem that Republicans would be eager to run, but that doesn’t seem to be the case so far. Only one, former legislative candidate Daril Stubenrod (R) has entered. Perhaps one reason that bigger names haven’t entered is that Senator Susan Collins (R) is considering a bid. Collins, known as a moderate, is popular; her high approvals would make her an almost ironclad candidate. Before her Senate career, she made an unsuccessful run for the Governorship in 1994; ironically, she lost to now-fellow Senator Angus King (I).

Democrats have likewise drawn lower tier candidates so far. None of their candidates, Adam Cote (D), Ike Eisenhart (D), Cynthia Soma-Hernandez (D), or Betsy Sweet (D) have held office. One other candidate to watch will be current State Treasurer Terry Hayes (I). A former Democratic legislator, Hayes could draw support from the left. Maine is also one of a handful of states where third parties have historically done well.

Maine would probably be close to STRONG REPUBLICAN with Collins, but as the field is looking fluid now, we consider it a TOSSUP.

 

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Hampshire and its neighbor, Vermont, are the only two states that hold Gubernatorial races every two years. Last year, while Secretary Clinton and Senator Maggie Hassan, both Democrats, won in New Hampshire, voters crossed over to elect Chris Sununu (R) as Governor. Sununu comes from a well-known dynasty in Granite State politics; his brother was a Senator and his father served as Governor.

While New Hampshire is only a light blue state, before 2016, Democrats had held its statehouse for 16 of the previous 18 years. They have a candidate in Portsmouth Mayor Steve Merchand (D). Merchand ran for Governor in 2016, but lost the primary to Colin Van Ostern (D). Van Ostern lost the general to Sununu by a close 2%, so he could possibly try again.

New Hampshire’s political mood swings are notoriously volatile from cycle to cycle, but we’re starting Sununu out as a favorite. As he’s only been Governor for six months, and hasn’t had any major stumbles, we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see how this race develops. LEANING REPUBLICAN.

 

VERMONT

While Vermont is a sapphire blue state at the Presidential level, it has a surprisingly strong Republican heritage – it never supported Franklin Roosevelt, for example. Even today, vestiges of this can be seen in the state’s affinity for state Republicans. Last year, while Secretary Clinton carried the state by 27%, it voted in its current Governor, Phil Scott (R), by 9%. Scott was helped by his Democratic predecessor’s unpopularity, and ran as a moderate, even denouncing Trump.

Like Sununu, we don’t have that much of a record to handicap this race. Before becoming Governor, Scott was Lieutenant Governor, and was generally popular. Further, no Democrats have stepped up to run, though given the state’s deep bench, it seems like its a matter of time. Until then, we think LIKELY REPUBLICAN is an appropriate rating.

 

MASSACHUSETTS

Continuing on our string of New England Republican Governors, we have Charlie Baker (R) in Massachusetts. In 2014 this seat was open; Baker won a close race against Martha Coakley (D), an infamously bad campaigner. Since then, he’s enjoyed astronomical approval ratings, typically in the 70s, and is sometimes considered the most popular Governor in the country. A social moderate, Baker refused to endorse Trump, and has broken with the President on several policy points since then.

The highest profile Democrat to announce a run is Newton mayor Setti Warren (D). He briefly ran for Senate in 2012, before another Warren eventually won that contest. Two lesser known candidates are Bob Massie (D), the party’s unsuccessful 1994 LG nominee, and Jay Gonzalez (D), who served in ex-Gov. Duval Patrick’s administration.

Though Massachusetts is deeply blue, it routinely elects GOP Governors; since 1990, Democrats have held the Governor’s mansion for just 8 years. Given Baker’s high approvals, and the office’s history, we rate Massachusetts as LIKELY REPUBLICAN.

 

CONNECTICUT 

Recent Gubernatorial races in Connecticut have been very close, and 2018 is looking to be no different. Despite enacting several pieces of progressive legislation, Governor Dan Malloy (D) has never been popular, and ranks among the least popular Governors. So far, this race has drawn a few B-list candidates, on both sides. The strongest Democratic candidate looks like Dan Drew (D), mayor of Middletown (population of 50K).

On the GOP side, State Rep. Prasad Srinivasan (R) would be the country’s third Indian-American Governor. Srinivasan is popular in his district, Glastonbury, which is southeast of Hartford. Another Republican is David Walker (R), who was US Comptroller General, mostly during the Bush area. As several other names are considering on either side.

The eventual Democratic nominee will have to overcome Malloy’s low approvals, but this is blue state in a Trump midterm. We’ll call this a TOSSUP, though we can see it drifting more towards TILT D as the race goes on.

 

RHODE ISLAND

Despite a close race in 2014, and lukewarm support from some factions of her party, Gov. Gina Riamondo (D) is looking favored for a second term. Before serving as Governor, Riamondo was the State Treasurer; some of her reforms were unpopular with the more progressive wing of her party. As a result, she won a competitive primary against Clay Pell (D), from a prominent dynasty, and mayor Angel Tavaras (D), of the state’s largest city, Providence. Both are considering running again. Another candidate could be Riamondo’s predecessor, Lincoln Chafee (D). Chafee served as liberal Republican in the US Senate, won the 2010 Governor’s race as an Independent, and ran for President in 2016 as a Democrat.

No Republicans have declared a run, but the strongest would likely be Cranston mayor Allan Fung (R). Fung ran in 2014, but lost the general election by a respectable 4.5%.

As no candidates have gotten in this race, we’re giving Riamondo something of the benefit of the doubt and going with LIKELY DEMOCRATIC.

 

NEW YORK

In the Empire State, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) is following in his (more liberal) father’s footsteps and running for a third term. A good general election candidate, Cuomo has never been embraced by the state party’s more liberal wing. In his 2014 reelection, he easily defeated a primary challenge from liberal professor Zephyr Teachout (D), and no such challenger has emerged from the left this cycle. Still, there are some signs that Cuomo is tending to his left flank – his recent free college proposal, for example.

Until 2016, it looked liked Republicans were going to have a candidate in ex-Rep. Chris Gibson (R), who held an upstate district that supported President Obama twice. However, Gibson announced that he wouldn’t run, leaving the field open. Another former Congressman who is being mentioned is ex-Rep. Richard Hanna (R), also from upstate. During his three terms, Hanna was perhaps the most liberal Republican in the conference. A more conservative Republican would be State Sen. John Flanagan (R), from Long Island. The GOP’s nominee from 2014, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino (R) is considering a run. Astorino did better than expected in 2014, as Cuomo won by a relatively narrow 14%.

Several other Republicans are looking at this race, though all would start out as decided underdogs. Until challengers start getting in, we consider Cuomo’s race to be STRONG DEMOCRATIC.

 

NEW JERSEY

As New Jersey is electing a Governor this fall, we’ll squeeze it in here as well. After last week’s primaries, we’re in general election mode. Republicans nominated Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno (R). Guadagno is running on a platform of less taxes and seems likable on a personal level; for instance, she’s known for giving her personal cell phone number out to constituents and businesses. Guadagno’s biggest problem, though, is Governor Chris Chrtistie (R). New Jersey is already a blue state, and Bridgegate, coupled with his failed Presidential run, have made Christie very unpopular. Often posting approvals under 30%, its hard to see how any Republican could hold this seat with the albatross of Christie.

On the Democratic side, wealthy former ambassador Phil Murphy (D) easily won the nod. Murphy previously worked at Goldman Sachs, which is Guadagno campaign is using against him (Christie’s unpopular Democratic predecessor, Jon Corzine, was a CEO there). This, nonetheless, is considered Murphy’s race to lose, so we rank it as a LIKELY DEMOCRATIC pickup.

 

PENNSYLVANIA

In DDHQ’s favorite state, Governor Tom Wolf (D) will be running for a second term. In 2014, Wolf beat the unpopular Tom Corbett (R) by 10%, but since then has often posted subpar approvals himself. A businessman by background, one advantage Wolf brings is his personal wealth; he self-financed much of his 2014 campaign. Further, though Pennsylvania voted for the President, it’s friendlier to state Democrats; they hold all four of its statewide constitutional offices.

One Republican running is State Sen. Scott Wagner (R), who hails from Wolf’s home county, York. Shortly after his campaign launch, Wagner got into a spat with TV host John Oliver over climate change. Businessman Paul Mango (R) is running, as well. State House Speaker Mike Turzai (R) is considered likely to run. Turzai represents a wealthy GOP-leaning district in suburban Pittsburgh which swung hard to Secretary Clinton last year. Finally, four-term Congressman Mike Kelly (R) is a possibility. Kelly represents a seat in western Pennsylvania, based near Erie.

Going into 2018, we think Wolf should be favored over the candidates currently running, so we’ll say Pennsylvania is LEANING DEMOCRATIC.

 

MARYLAND

Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2014 was Larry Hogan (R) winning the Governor’s mansion in Maryland. Hogan beat then-Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown (D) by claiming that the outgoing O’Malley Administration had overreached and overtaxed the voters. Thanks to his often non-confrontational style and personal demeanor, Hogan often ranks among the most popular Governors in the country.

As Maryland is still very blue, the Democratic primary is already looking competitive. The highest-profile candidate is former NAACP President Ben Jealous (D). State Senator Richard Madaleno (D) is also running; he represents a district that takes in Washington DC’s northwestern suburbs. A third option is former Clinton aide Alec Ross (D). A likely candidate is Rushern Baker (D), who will be termed-out of his job as Executive of Prince George County.

Compared to the similarly-popular Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Hogan has a few disadvantages. First, Maryland is a more racially polarized state. Also, it doesn’t have nearly as robust a history of electing Republican Governors. In fact, it’s last Republican, Bob Erlich, was voted out of office with a positive approval rating. Still, Hogan seems to be doing everything right to win. We’re going to start him off as a moderate favorite by calling this a race that’s LEANING REPUBLICAN.