DDHQ Governors Races Ratings – Part II: Great Lakes States

Moving along in our series looking at how every 2018 Gubernatorial race is shaping up, here are the states in the Great Lakes region. This region will have some of the most closely-watched races next year.


In the Buckeye State, we have an open seat contest to replace Gov. John Kasich (R). A strong believer in ‘compassionate conservatism,’ Kasich is known as a centrist and is often critical of the President. As Kasich concludes his years as Governor, the race is looking very competitive on both sides.

The Republican primary has drawn four big names. State AG Mike DeWine (R) is considered to have the early advantage. DeWine actually served in two terms in the US Senate. He was defeated by now-Sen. Sherrod Brown, but staged a comeback in 2010, when he ran for AG.  Lt Gov Mary Taylor (R) is also running. Kasich has said he’d support her. Taylor was previously State Auditor; she won that office in 2006, in what was an otherwise horrible year for her party. Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) is running, and has a base in the Dayton area. A final candidate is Rep. Jim Renacci (R), who has a district near Akron and Canton. Renacci is running on a Trump-esque “Ohio First” platform.

The Democrats likewise have a crowded field with no clear favorite. State Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D) might be best-positioned to win blue collar voters. He holds a seat in the traditionally-Democratic Youngstown area that voted for the President by 10% last year. From the other end of the state, ex-State Rep. Connie Pillich (D) has base in the blue-trending Cincinnati suburbs. Pillich ran statewide, for Treasurer in 2014, but lost. Ex-Rep. Betty Sutton (D) is another option. She served three terms in the House representing an Akron-area seat; she was dealt an unfavorable hand in after 2011 redistricting, and lost her seat to Renacci by 4% in 2012. A fourth candidate is Dayton mayor Nan Whaley (D). Finally, David Kiefer (D) has not held office, but, like Schiavoni, hails from Youngstown.

Collectively, the Republican field seems higher caliber than that of the Democrats. When you consider Ohio’s overall tilt towards the GOP, we think LEANING REPUBLICAN is a good rating.


In Michigan, we’ll have an open seat race to replace Gov. Rick Snyder (R). Snyder, as businessman who originally ran in 2010 with describing himself as “one tough nerd,” was reelected by 4% in a competitive 2014 race. However, with the Flint water crisis coming to head shortly after, his approval ratings since then have generally not been good.

Republicans already have a candidate in State Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R), however, larger names are likely to run. Current Lt Gov. Brian Calley (R) is considering a run, but his association with Snyder might not play well in the general election. Current AG Bill Schuette (R) is often mentioned. Schuette previously served in the State Senate, and has a base in northern Michigan. A formidable candidate would be ex-Rep. Candice Miller (R); she retired in 2016, but spent 16 years representing the Thumb region. Before Congress, Miller was Secretary of State in the 1990’s. Notably, she is the most recent Republican to win Wayne County (Detroit), which she did in her landslide 1998 reelection.

The Democratic side is more straightforward. Most of the party’s support looks like it will go to former State House minority leader Gretchen Whitmer (D). At 45, she has been considered a rising star and has a base in Lansing. Two lower tier candidates, Abdul El-Sayed (D) and Shri Thanedar (D), are also running, but Whitmer is a clear favorite for the nomination.

As the Republican field is still very much up in the air, we’ll have to wait a bit longer to get a better feel for this race. We consider this a TOSSUP, at the moment.


With three statewide wins under his belt, Gov. Scott Walker (R) is favored next year. From the start of his tenure in 2011, Walker has been a polarizing figure because of his attacks on organized labor. However, he went on to survive a 2012 recall and reelection in 2014, clearly winning each. He has a loyal following the conservative Milwaukee suburbs and has, electorally, benefited as many rural parts of the state have drifted Republican. Walker ran for President in 2016, though dropped out before any of the primaries. During his Presidential run, his approvals at home took a hit, getting down into the 40% range, but have crept back up since then.

Democratic recruitment has not been good here. Their only candidate physicist Bob Harlow (D), has experience running for office before…but in California. One of the better candidates considering this race is Jefferson County DA Susan Happ (D). Happ ran for AG in 2014, but lost by about 5%. 2012 LG nominee Mahlon Mitchell (D), who has strong ties to labor, is possible, as is businessman Andy Gronik (D). State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D) could be a good candidate, as she holds Republican-trending seat in the west. Finally, former Madison mayor Paul Soglin (D), at the age of 72, has discussed running.

Given that several major Democrats have been reluctant so far to take the plunge, we see Walker in a good position. Walker is not one to be underestimated, either – at least when it comes to states politics. Wisconsin begins this cycle as LIKELY REPUBLICAN.


Of the handful of blue state Republican Governors running for reelection, Bruce Rauner (R) of Illinois is looking like the most vulnerable. Rauner, a billionaire, was elected in 2014 in a upset against Gov. Pat Quinn (D). During most of his tenure, he has been in almost constant conflict with powerful Speaker Mike Madigan (D), who controls the State House with near-dictatorial power. As a result, both are unpopular in a state that’s hard to govern in the first place.

Democrats initially turned to businessman Chris Kennedy (D), son of the late Robert F. Kennedy. However, Kennedy’s main problem is that he’s a mere millionaire. A more recent entrant was billionaire J.B. Pritzker (D), whose family owns Hyatt hotels. Rauner has bankrolled state GOP interests and has not been hesitant self-fund his own campaign; many Democrats are arguing Pritzker would be better able to fight fire with fire. As a result, labor groups, most notably the state AFL-CIO, are beginning to close ranks behind him. One issue for Pitzker may be his past connections with disgraced ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). To blunt this, Pritzker has already started to run ads. A third Democrat is State Sen. Daniel Biss (D), who represents the Evanston area. Biss is understandably decrying all the money involved in this race.

Illinois is typically blue, but Rauner can’t be counted out, so we consider this a TOSSUP.


Minnesota is the sole state in this region that Democrats hold, and we start them out with advantage in holding it. After two terms, current Gov.  Mark Dayton (D) has typically posted solid approval ratings.

The Democratic field is looking quite saturated. Rebecca Otto (D) has been Auditor since 2006, and has won statewide three times. She hails from the swingy Washington County, which is east of the Twin Cities. Speaking of the Twin Cities, another formidable candidate is St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman – of no relation to this author. The third higher-tier candidate is Rep. Tim Walz (D) of Congressional District 1. It voted for Obama twice, but Walz held on last year as it flipped to Trump by 15%. The only candidate from the outer part of the state, he is from Mankato. State Rep. Tina Liebling (D) was mentioned as a candidate to succeed Walz in the House, but is running in this race instead. Like Coleman, State Rep. Erin Murphy (D) also is from St. Paul.

Two Republicans are running. The stronger of the two is Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson (R). Johnson was the GOP nominee in 2014, but lost by just under 6% to Dayton. From the neighboring county, Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Hoffman. Several other Republicans are looking at this race.

This is sort of the opposite of Ohio. Taken as a whole, the Democrats are running stronger candidates. Secretary Clinton still carried the Gopher State, though by a slim 1.5%. We think TILTING DEMOCRATIC is the best rating fr this race.


In Iowa, we’ve approached the end of an era. Last month, Gov. Terry Branstad (R) was appointed to be the President’s Ambassador to China. As of 2015, Branstad was the longest-serving Governor in American history. Originally elected at age 37 in 1983, he served until 1999, before making a comeback in 2010.

Branstad’s departure meant that his Lieutenant, Kim Reynolds (R), ascended to the Governorship, and has the incumbency advantage going into 2018. Before running with Branstad in 2010, Reynolds served in the State Senate. She was actually succeeded by Joni Ernst (R), who went on to be elected to the US Senate in 2014. Cedar Rapids mayor Ron Corbett (R) will announce a run this month, though we still consider Reynolds the favorite for the nomination.

The Democratic primary is looking quite competitive, and can be considered what we election junkies call a ‘clown car.’ Two legislators, Sen. Nate Boulton (D) and Rep. Todd Prichard (D) are running. The former represents a blue seat around Des Moines, while the latter holds a red-trending district in the northeast. Two former chairs of the state party are running, Andy McGuire (D) and John Norris (D).Other Democrats include former State Auditor nominee Jon Neiderbach (D), businessman Fred Hubbell (D) and local union official Cathy Glasson (D).

As Iowa has trended red over recent cycles, and Reynolds is now the incumbent, we’ll start her off as LEANING REPUBLICAN.


For tomorrow, we’ll be looking as Governors races in the south.