DDHQ Governors Races Ratings – Part III: The South

Moving on with our summaries of the 2017 and 2018 Governor’s races, here are the races in the south:



In the Old Dominion, we had primaries last night. As Virginia Governors are prohibited from succeeding themselves, we have an open seat race to replace Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). McAuliffe is leaving office with generally good approvals. In last night’s primaries, Lt. Gov Ralph Northam (D), the who had the backing of the state apparatus, defeated an insurgent challenge from ex-Rep. Tom Perriello (D). Though public polling suggested a close race, Northam won by a comfortable 12%.

On the Republican side, the nominee is former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie (R). His claim to fame is that he nearly toppled Sen. Mark Warner (D) in 2014, who was considered untouchable by most. However, in last night’s Governor primary, Gillespie got, well..Gillespied. Despite consolidating virtually all the establishment support, Gillespie nearly lost to Prince William Supervisor Corey Stewart (R). Stewart, who managed the President’s state campaign, was most known for his defense of Confederate monuments. In what was supposed to be a clear win, Gillespie edged out Stewart 43.7% to 42.5%, with State Sen. Frank Wagner (R) taking the rest.

Initially, we regarded this race as a TOSSUP. However, Gillespie does not start the general campaign in a good position after last night. Further, Northam’s strong showing last night, coupled with the state’s trend, make TOSSUP hard to justify. We are moving this race to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.


The Volunteer State’s past two Gubernatorial contests were fairly sleepy, but this year may be a bit more competitive. After two landslide elections, Gov. Bill Haslam (R) is leaving office a very popular figure. Though Tennessee has moved towards the GOP recently, no high profile names have entered this race yet. State Sen. Mae Beavers (R), of suburban Wilson County is the only legislator running. Two lower-tier candidates, Randy Boyd (R) and Bill Lee (R) are also running. One possibility is that Sen. Bob Corker, who’s seat is up next year, would run for Governor while Haslam would run for Senate. This scenario is looking less likely, though. There are a number of other Congressmen and legislators who could get in.

Democrats have actually landed a good candidate in former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean (D). Unlike some southern states, Tennessee isn’t reluctant to elect big city mayors to state office. Haslam himself was mayor of Knoxville. His two-term predecessor as Governor, Phil Bredesen (D), also served as Nashville mayor.

Though the GOP field is not looking as impressive as you’d think, we’re still starting them off as favorites here. We call Tennessee LIKELY REPUBLICAN.


In the Palmetto State, Gov. Henry McMaster (R) will be running to win a term in his own right. Earlier this year, then-Gov. Nikki Haley (R) was nominated by the President to serve as Ambassador to the United Nations. McMaster, her lieutenant, and an early Trump supporter, ascended to the Governor’s mansion. Before serving as Haley’s LG, McMaster was State Attorney General.

McMaster’s only challengers are in the primary. Former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill (R) announced a run in May. McGill represented Georgetown County in the State Senate since the early 1990’s. However, for most of his career, he was a conservative Democrat, and only recently switched parties. A third candidate is former Haley Administration official Catherine Templeton (R).

No Democrats have announced, though ex- State House minority leader James Smith (D) has been mentioned.

McMaster is favored in the primary, and with no general election challenger yet, we’d rank this STRONG REPUBLICAN.


Georgia has had a number of competitive GOP primaries over the past few cycles, and that’s looking to be the case again. Four major Republicans are competing for the nomination to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal (R).

Two statewide officials, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, are running. Both in their early fifties, they served in the State Senate together before running statewide; Cagle from Gainesville and Kemp from Athens. State Senator Hunter Hill, who was reelected last year in a metro Atlanta seat that swung heavily to Clinton, is a serious candidate. A fourth Republican is Michael Williams, who’s represented ruby red Forsyth County in the State House since 2014.

The Democratic primary is looking less robust. State House minority leader, Stacy Abrams, and minority caucus chair Stacy Evans, both hail from metro Atlanta. Abrams is black and represents urban DeKalb County. Evans is from Marrietta, in the blue-trending Cobb County. Democrats suffered something of a setback when their, arguably, strongest potential candidate, Jason Carter, passed on a run.

Given the higher caliber of the GOP field, and Georgia’s red tint, we’ll call this LIKELY REPUBLICAN.


In one of the country’s swingiest states, Democrats have been locked out of the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee for the last 18 years, and are looking to finally notch a win. They’ve come close to defeating Gov. Rick Scott (R) twice, but each time came up just short.

The strongest Democratic candidate looks like former Congresswoman Gwen Graham (D). The daughter of elder statesman Bob Graham, she was a prolific fundraiser and won a red-leaning seat in the panhandle in 2014, before being forced out by re-redistricting.  A younger candidate, who also hails from the same region, is Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum (D). John Morgan (D), a wealthy personal injury lawyer, is also considering, and could likely self-fund. Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine (D), a self-described “radical centrist” is mulling a run as either a Democrat or Independent.

The clear frontrunner for the GOP nomination is State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (R). At 42, Putnam has an impressive resume, with Congressional and statewide wins, and is a near-lock for the nomination.

The general election should be hotly contested, making this a TOSSUP.


Taking office after disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley (R) resigned, current Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has gone to great lengths to distance herself from her predecessor. For example, Ivey initiated a major shakeup of executive staffers and reversed Bentley’s decision not to hold a special Senate election this year. Ivey, 73, is originally from rural Wilcox County, and has held statewide office since 2002. Her most serious primary challenger is Huntsville mayor Tommy Battle (R). Huntsville is Alabama’s fastest-growing major city, and Battle is popular.

Democrats, so far, are fielding first-time candidate Christopher Countryman (D).

We see Ivey as favored in the primary, and rate the general election STRONG REPUBLICAN.


In the Obama era, perhaps no state has swung further right than Arkansas. In 2008, Democrats held both Senate seats, all statewide offices, and over 70% of the legislature. They also held three of the state’s four House seats, and which were uncontested by Republicans that year. Eight years later, the state is a mirror image, with the Republicans holding every major state and federal office, as well as three-fourths of the legislature.  One of those Republicans is Governor Asa Hutchinson (R). Hutchinson was initially elected by a larger-than-expected 14% against a formidable Democrat. Since then he’s remained popular.

Given the red terrain, his approvals, and Arkansas’ tendency to reelect its Governors, *and* the fact that no Democrats are running, this is STRONG REPUBLICAN.


Well, for being such a large state, the race for Governor of Texas is looking very boring. Gov. Gregg Abbott (R) initially won in 2014 by defeating State Sen. Wendy Davis (D) by 20%. Despite some schisms in the state GOP between social conservatives, moderates, and libertarians, Abbott is seen a figure who can unite much of the party.

Though Texas is trending blue, any Republican starts out with an advantage there. President Trump, for instance, was not a good fit for Texas but still won clearly; Secretary Clinton cut his margin of victory to 9%, down from 16% for Gov. Romney.

As Democrats are not running a candidate yet, Texas starts off this cycle as STRONG REPUBLICAN.


Republicans are defending a open seat in red Oklahoma, with Gov. Mary Fallin (R) term-limited. Fallin is not considered a popular Governor – her handling of the state’s budget and education system have often been criticized. In her 2014 reelection, she won by 14%, but underperformed the state’s natural lean.

Fallin’s Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb (R) hasn’t declared a run, but is all but in. Another candidate is Auditor Gary Jones (R), who has a base in Norman, in the state’s southwest. The strongest Republican may be Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett (R). Mayor of the state’s largest city since 2004, Cornett’s tenure is generally considered very successful.

Democrats lost their best candidate when ex-Rep. Dan Boren (D) declined a run, but they have a few other options. Former Attorney General Drew Edmondson (D) comes from a well-known dynasty and has won four statewide races. Another candidate is State Rep. Scott Inman (D), a six-term legislator from Oklahoma City.

As Democrats have done a decent job recruiting here, we can’t totally count them out, so we’ll say LIKELY REPUBLICAN.