DDHQ Governors Races Ratings – Part V: West Coast & Pacific States

In our final installment of our initial assessment of next year’s Gubernatorial contests, here’s how we see the west coast states developing:

CALIFORNIA

In one of the safest states for Democrats, the race to replace outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is looking crowded.

The first major candidate is current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who was previously mayor of San Francisco. Newsom has complained that the LG’s office is ‘dull’ and boring – it’s been an open secret for years that he wants a promotion. Another former big city mayor is Antonio Villaraigosa (D), who served as mayor of Los Angeles from 2005 to 2013. Despite being the state’s largest city, no Los Angeles mayor has ever been elected Governor; San Francisco, by contrast, has produced two. A third Democrat is Treasurer John Chaing (D), who has held statewide office since 2006. In 2014, when all the statewide offices where up, Chaing was the Democrat who received the most votes (other than Brown). 90’s-era Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Easton (D) is running, though in terms of funding and profile, seems a cut down from the other three.

Republicans have a few candidates already running. John Cox (R), is an attorney who has previously run for office in Cook County (yes, the one in Illinois). Rosey Grier (R), who played on the LA Rams in the 1960’s, has announced a run. Ex-State Assemblyman David Hadley (R) is seriously considering. Hadley represented the Torrance area for a single term, before being bounced last year. An interesting Republican would have been entrepreneur Peter Thiel; he was mentioned, but has since ruled out a run.

Recall that California uses a nonpartisan jungle primary, where every candidate runs on the same ticket in the primary. As with the Senate race last year, it’s possible (likely?) that Republicans could be shut out of the runoff again. It’s easy to call this one STRONG DEMOCRATIC.

NEVADA

While a blue state at the Presidential level, Nevada actually hasn’t elected a Democratic Governor since 1994. Though term-limited Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is leaving office with very high approvals, the race to succeed him should be competitive.

The only GOP candidate running is businessman Jared Fisher (R), a bike shop owner is Las Vegas. A bigger name is State Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R). Laxalt hasn’t announced his candidacy yet, but is widely expected to run. Laxalt was swept into office in 2014, as a massive red wave rolled across Nevada. Treasurer Dan Schwartz (R), also elected in 2014, may run. From his fundraising and institutional support, though, Laxalt still has the inside track to the nomination.

While no Democrat has declared a run, Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D) is the early favorite. Sisolak has served as Commissioner of Nevada’s largest county since 2009, and can significantly self-fund . Another wealthy Steve who is considering this race is Democratic donor Steve Cloobeck (D). Cloobeck recently endorsed Sen. Dean Heller (R) for reelection next year; as this would be horrible optics going into a Democratic primary, Cloobeck may be taking himself out of contention. Other names include ex-SOS Ross Miller (D), who narrowly lost to Laxalt in 2014, and State Sen. Aaron Ford (D), considered a rising star.

Overall, we’re looking at a very likely Laxalt/Sisolak race. That should make for a very close race – and given that neither candidate is actually in the race yet, this has to be a TOSSUP.

OREGON

The Beaver State has elected Democratic Governors since 1986, and next year that streak looks like it will continue. In 2015, Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) was facing an investigation and resigned. As there is no Lieutenant Governor in Oregon, Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) was in next in line. As SOS, Brown was known for helping pass universal voter registration. A special election was held for 2016l she stood for the election, and won by 7%.

Brown will run for the full regular term in 2018. No Republicans have declared candidacies. Bud Pierce (R), who lost to Brown in 2016, could try again. Last year, the GOP actually won the SOS office with Dennis Richardson (R), who would be one of their stronger options. As he’s not up until 2020, Richardson wouldn’t have to resign his office to run. However, he lost the Governor’s race in 2014, and trying to move up again after less than two years as SOS would not make for good optics.

The GOP has actually been competitive in most recent Governors races here, but Democrats always seem to win in the end. Fresh off winning the office in her own right last year, we see Brown as having a clear advantage but wouldn’t consider her completely safe. Thus, LIKELY DEMOCRATIC makes the most sense.

ALASKA

For being rather boring at the Presidential level, Alaska’s local politics don’t always fit neatly into the typical two-party spectrum. A good example of this is Gov. Bill Walker (I). In 2014, Walker, and Independent, ran on a fusion ticket with Democrat Byron Mallet, to defeat incumbent Republican Sean Parnell. Odder still, Walker was endorsed by ex-Gov. Sarah Palin, though her endorsement was driven by local factors.

Despite budget cuts from lower oil revenues, and proposed tax hikes, Walker remains decently popular. Since no other candidates have declared, we’re starting this off at LEANING INDEPENDENT.

HAWAII

In the country’s bluest state, Gov. David Ige (D) is looking solid for another term. After primarying the unpopular sitting Governor, Neil Abercrombie (D), in 2014, Ige went on to win comfortably what looked like a competitive race.

The GOP actually drew a decent candidate in State Rep. Bob McDermott (R), one of six Republicans in the State House. Ige’s approvals are a bit underwhelming, though Hawaii is notoriously hard to poll.

Overall, national Republicans will be playing a lot of defense this cycle, and even have considerably better offensive opportunities than this. Thus, Hawaii starts off this cycle as STRONG DEMOCRATIC.

As this cycle goes on, we’ll be periodically updating our race ratings, and will have them all in one consolidated page. Check back soon, as we’ll similarly begin rolling out our 2018 Senate ratings.