Skip to content
Stirewaltisms: Presenting Your 2022 Gubernatorial Race Ratings
Go to my account

Stirewaltisms: Presenting Your 2022 Gubernatorial Race Ratings

Democrats have a better map, but Republicans have a better climate.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images.)

PRESENTING YOUR 2022 GUBERNATORIAL RACE RATINGS 

Now is the time in a midterm cycle where a savvy reporter hedges her or his bets on gubernatorial contests. Races that had for months been brushed aside as out of reach for a challenger or for open seats in states with lopsided partisanships are suddenly “surprisingly close” or “within striking distance.”

You know why? Clickbait. You know why else? Because races for governorships are weird.

If I’m being honest with myself, gubernatorial races are my favorites for that very reason. Of the 36 states holding contests for governor this year, we can bet not only that there will be upsets, but that there will be at least one real surprise. That’s because even in our era of blotto partisanship, Americans are still willing to vote for governors from the opposite party. 

Term-limited Larry Hogan in Maryland and retiring Charlie Baker in Massachusetts have thrived in deep-blue states for eight years and leave with strong approval, but will both almost certainly be replaced by Democrats in landslide wins. Vermont, the most Democratic state in the nation, is poised to re-elect Republican Phil Scott with a thunderclap of a margin. In Kansas, a state about as red as Mississippi, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is hanging tough in a bad year for her party, even in blue states.

That’s in large part because—sorry governors associations—there’s no such thing as a “balance of power” for governorships. As Republicans and Democrats prepare to hold their noses and vote for unpalatable House and Senate candidates, they do so with knowledge that the first, and in many ways most significant, vote the winner will cast in Congress is for speaker or majority leader. It’s one thing to send a goofball or a jerk to Washington but quite another to send one to exert the often-expansive powers that governors enjoy.  

That’s why there will be a significant number of Democratic learners in Georgia voting for incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp instead of election denier Stacey Abrams but still backing Sen. Raphael Warnock or why plenty of Pennsylvania Republicans may not tell their friends, but will vote for Democrat Josh Shapiro over radical nationalist Doug Mastriano for governor before they vote for their own Senate candidate, Mehmet Oz.

That’s not to say that the map and the national political climate don’t matter. Quite the opposite. There are currently 28 Republican governors and 22 Democratic governors. Of those governors’ mansions up for election this year, 20 are now Republican and 16 are now Democratic. Of the six states won by Joe Biden in 2020 that are governed by Republicans—Arizona, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont—the GOP is favored in three, Democrats are favored in two, and one, Arizona, looks like a dead heat. Democrats are defending only one state that went for Donald Trump, Kansas. That’s a long way of saying that Democrats have a better map than Republicans do. 

But Republicans have a better climate. 

Of the five gubernatorial races we think are the most competitive, four currently have Democratic incumbents. As we have talked about before, in most elections, but especially midterms, the breeze usually blows in one direction. There are always exceptions, but the norm is for nearly all closely fought contests to tip in the same direction.  If the map is worth two pickups for Democrats in Maryland and Massachusetts, the climate could be worth double that for Republicans.

We have divided the races into five categories: Solid Democratic, Solid Republican, Lean Democratic, Lean Republican, and, the most competitive, Toss Up. You may note that we didn’t take many bold stances in our picks, but given the vagaries of state-level polling and the aforementioned weirdness of gubernatorial elections, we’re going to leave plenty of space for surprises to ensue.

Toss-Up

Arizona (open): Incumbent: Doug Ducey (term limited); Contest: Kari Lake (R) / Katie Hobbs (D); Republican since 2009; 2020 result: Biden +0.3

Kansas: Incumbent: Laura Kelly (first elected 2018); Contest Derek Schmidt (R) / Laura Kelly (D); Democratic since 2018; 2020 result: Trump +14.6

Nevada: Incumbent: Steve Sisolak (first elected 2018); Contest: Joe Lombardo (R) / Steve Sisolak (D); Democratic since 2018; 2020 result: Biden +2.4

Oregon (open): Incumbent: Kate Brown (term limited); Contest: Christine Drazan (R) / Tina Kotek (D) / Betsy Johnson (I); Democratic since 1986; 2020 result: Biden +16.1

Wisconsin: Incumbent: Tony Evers (first elected 2018); Contest: Tim Michels (R) / Tony Evers (D); Democratic since 2018; 2020 result: Biden +0.7

Lean Republican

Alaska: Incumbent: Mike Dunleavy (first elected in 2018); Contest: Mike Dunleavy (R) / Charlie Pierce (R) / Les Gara (D) / Bill Walker (I); Republican since 2018; 2020 result: Trump +10

Florida: Incumbent: Ron DeSantis (first elected 2018); Contest: Ron DeSantis (R) / Charlie Crist (D); Republican since 2010; 2020 result: Trump +3.3

Georgia: Incumbent: Brian Kemp (first elected 2018); Contest: Brian Kemp (R) / Stacey Abrams (D); Republican since 2002; 2020 result: Biden +0.2

Oklahoma: Incumbent: Kevin Stitt (first elected 2018); Contest: Kevin Stitt (R) / Joy Hofmeister (D); Republican since 2010; 2020 result: Trump +33.1

Texas: Incumbent: Greg Abbott (first elected 2014); Contest: Greg Abbott (R) / Beto O’Rourke (D); Republican since 1994; 2020 result: Trump +5.6

Lean Democratic

Maine: Incumbent: Janet Mills (first elected 2018); Contest: Paul LePage (R) / Janet Mills (D); Democratic since 2018; 2020 result: Biden +9.1

Michigan: Incumbent: Gretchen Whitmer (first elected 2018); Contest: Tudor Dixon (R) / Gretchen Whitmer (D); Democratic since 2018; 2020 result: Biden +2.8

Minnesota: Incumbent: Tim Walz (first elected 2018); Contest: Scott Jensen (R) / Tim Walz (DFL); Democratic since 2010; 2020 result: Biden +7.1

New Mexico: Incumbent: Michelle Lujan Grisham (first elected 2018); Contest: Mark Ronchetti (R) / Michelle Lujan Grisham (D); Democratic since 2018; 2020 result: Biden +10.8

New York: Incumbent: Kathy Hochul (assumed office 2021); Contest: Lee Zeldin (R) / Kathy Hochul (D); Democratic since 2006; 2020 result: Biden +23.2

Pennsylvania (open): Incumbent: Tom Wolf (term limited); Contest: Doug Mastriano (R) / Josh Shapiro (D); Democratic since 2014; 2020 result: Biden +1.2

Solid Republican

Alabama: Incumbent: Kay Ivey (first elected in 2017); Contest: Kay Ivey (R) / Yolanda Flowers (D); Republican since 2002; 2020 result: Trump +25.4

Arkansas (open): Incumbent: Asa Hutchinson (term limited); Contest: Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) / Chris Jones (D); Republican since 2014; 2020 result: Trump +27.6

Idaho: Incumbent: Brad Little (first elected 2018); Contest: Brad Little (R) / Stephen Heidt (D); Republican since 1994; 2020 result: Trump +30.7

Iowa: Incumbent: Kim Reynolds (first elected 2017); Contest: Kim Reynolds (R) / Deidre DeJear (D); Republican since 2010; 2020 result: Trump +8.2

Nebraska (open): Incumbent: Pete Ricketts (term limited); Contest: Jim Pillen (R) / Carol Blood (D); Republican since 1998; 2020 result: Trump +19.1

New Hampshire: Incumbent: Chris Sununu (first elected 2016); Contest: Chris Sununu (R) / Tom Sherman (D); Republican since 2016; 2020 result: Biden +7.3

Ohio: Incumbent: Mike DeWine (first elected 2018); Contest: Mike DeWine (R) / Nan Whaley (D); Republican since 2010; 2020 result: Trump +8.1

South Carolina: Incumbent: Henry McMaster (first elected 2017); Contest: Henry McMaster (R) / Joe Cunningham (D); Republican since 2002; 2020 result: Trump +11.7

South Dakota: Incumbent: Kristi Noem (first elected 2018); Contest: Kristi Noem (R) / Jamie Smith (D); Republican since 1978; 2020 result: Trump +26.2

Tennessee: Incumbent: Bill Lee (first elected 2018); Contest: Bill Lee (R) / Jason Martin (D); Republican since 2010; 2020 result: Trump +23.2

Vermont: Incumbent: Phil Scott (first elected 2016); Contest: Phil Scott (R) / Brenda Siegel (D); Republican since 2016; 2020 result: Biden +35.1

Wyoming: Incumbent: Mark Gordon (first elected 2018); Contest: Mark Gordon (R) / Theresa Livingston (D); Democratic since 2010; 2020 result: Trump +43.1

Solid Democratic

California: Incumbent: Gavin Newsom (first elected 2018); Contest: Brian Dahle (R) / Gavin Newsom (D); Democratic since 2010; 2020 result: Biden +29.2

Colorado: Incumbent: Jared Polis (first elected 2018); Contest: Heidi Ganahl (R) / Jared Polis (D); Democratic since 2006; 2020 result: Biden +13.5

Connecticut: Incumbent: Ned Lamont (first elected 2018); Contest: Bob Stefanowski (R) /  Ned Lamont (D); Democratic since 2010; 2020 result: Biden +20.1

Hawaii (open): Incumbent: David Ige (term limited); Contest: Duke Aiona (R) / Josh Green (D); Democratic since 2010; 2020 result: Biden +29.4

Illinois: Incumbent: J.B. Pritzker (first elected 2018); Contest: Darren Bailey (R) / J. B. Pritzker (D); Democratic since 2018; 2020 result: Biden +17.0 

Maryland (open): Incumbent: Larry Hogan (term limited); Contest: Dan Cox (R) / Wes Moore (D); Republican since 2014; 2020 result: Biden +33.2

Massachusetts (open): Incumbent: Charles D. Baker (retiring); Contest: Geoff Diehl (R) / Maura Healey (D); Republican since 2014; 2020 result: Biden +33.5

Rhode Island: Incumbent: Daniel McKee (assumed office 2021); Contest: Ashley Kalus (R) / Daniel McKee (D); Democratic since 2010; 2020 result: Biden +20.8


Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


STATSHOT                                                                              

Biden job performance

Average approval: 43.2 percent
Average disapproval: 53.4 percent
Net score: -10.2 points
Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.4 points
Change from one month ago: ↑ 1.3 points 

[Average includes: Reuters/Ipsos: 40% approve-55% disapprove; Grinnell College/Selzer: 40% approve-52% disapprove; Monmouth: 39% approve-55% disapprove; AP-NORC: 43% approve-56% disapprove; Fox News: 46% approve-53% disapprove; NPR/Marist College: 45% approve-52% disapprove; Marquette Law School: 45% approve-55% disapprove; Emerson College: 45% approve-49% disapprove; CBS News: 46% approve-54% disapprove]

Generic congressional ballot 

Democrats: 45.9 percent
Republicans: 46.7 percent
Net advantage: Republican Party +0.8 points
Change from one week ago: Republican Party ↑ 1.6 points

Change from one month ago: Republican Party ↑ 3.8 points[Average includes: Monmouth: 44% Democrat, 50% Republican; NYT/Siena: 45% Democrat, 49% Republican; ABC/Washington Post: 46% Democrat, 51% Republican; Emerson: 45% Democrat, 45% Republican; Grinnell College/Selzer: 46% Democrat, 42% Republican; Wall Street Journal: 47% Democrat, 44% Republican; NPR/Marist College: 48% Democrat, 45% Republican; CNBC: 46% Democrat, 48% Republican]


TIME OUT: YOU’LL PRY THESE GIFs FROM OUR COLD, DEAD HANDS 

Atlantic: “GIFs—particularly ‘reaction GIFs,’ such as Michael Jackson chomping on popcorn and Mariah Carey muttering ‘I don’t know her’—were a lingua franca of the internet and significant enough culturally that in 2014, the Museum of the Moving Image in New York even put on an exhibit of reaction GIFs (titled ‘Moving Image as Gesture’). … As the GIF’s star rose, GIF-searching features were added to Facebook, Twitter, and iMessage, making it even easier to find a GIF to express whatever emotion you wanted to convey without words. And that was the turning point. … They started to look dated, corny, and cheap. ‘GIFs Are for Boomers Now, Sorry,’ Vice’s Amelia Tait argued in January. As older adults became familiar with GIFs through the new, accessible libraries attached to essentially every app, GIFs became ‘embarrassing.’ … Not only are reaction GIFs ‘cringe’ to some people, but the entire GIF medium is under serious existential threat.”


DEMS FEAR PREMATURE PEAK AS GOP GRABS MOMENTUM

Wall Street Journal: “Infusions of ad spending for GOP candidates and persistent voter anxiety over high inflation have brought new momentum to the Republican Party in House and Senate races, analysts say, just as early voting has begun for the midterm elections in many states. A Democratic lead of about 2 percentage points on the generic ballot … has been cut by more than half since late September. … Even as many voters remained concerned about abortion, President Biden is drawing low job-approval ratings, and worries about inflation and the economy remain high. ‘There has never been a time when an incumbent party is going to thrive with that set of factors,’ [Republican pollster] Bill McInturff said. … ‘Now,’ said Nathan Gonzales, editor of the nonpartisan newsletter Inside Elections, ‘Democratic momentum has stalled. The optimism coming out of the special election wins has waned a little bit.’”

Star-laden Dem class fears midterm wipeout: Politico: “Democrats elected their political future in 2018. Now, that bench of potential statewide leaders could get wiped out. … ‘Everyone’ in Michigan thinks Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) will ‘run statewide,’ said Jason Cabel Roe, a Republican consultant. … Reps. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), Jared Golden (D-Maine), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.) and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) are also among those frequently name-checked by operatives in their states as formidable statewide candidates for the future. … But much of Democrats’ ‘Class of 2018’ is under threat, staring down a brutal midterm climate in battleground districts, some made more difficult after redistricting. … It’s another opportunity to prove their strength and build their political careers, but it’s also a key moment that could knock many off course.”

Warnock goes negative as early voting begins: The Hill: “Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) is signaling that he’s ready to ditch his typically restrained persona in favor of more direct attacks on his Republican opponent Herschel Walker as the Georgia Senate race enters its final stretch. … The more pugilistic approach is likely to come as a relief to some Democrats, who have privately complained about Warnock’s tendency to play nice and argue that the incumbent senator needs to do more to highlight Walker’s liabilities in an ever-tightening race. … While Warnock has largely ignored Walker’s attacks, the potential shortcomings of that strategy became apparent Friday, when he met an aggressive Walker for their first and only face-to-face debate. While Walker hit the occasional snag…his debate performance was seen by Republicans as one that could help him quiet doubts about his ability to serve in the Senate.”

Bernie stumps, but battleground Dems steer clear: New York Times: “Senator Bernie Sanders is planning an eight-state blitz with at least 19 events over the final two weekends before the midterm elections, looking to rally young voters and progressives as Democrats confront daunting national headwinds. … The first swing will include stops in Oregon, California, Nevada (with events in both Reno and Las Vegas), Texas (including one in McAllen), and Orlando, Fla. The second weekend will focus on Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. … It is unclear which if any of the statewide Democratic candidates that Mr. Sanders is rallying voters to support will actually appear alongside him. … Republicans have used Mr. Sanders as a boogeyman in television ads in many races across the country and even some moderate Democrats have concerns that his campaigning in swing states could backfire.”

It’s the gas prices, stupid: Washington Post: “In recent months, the extent to which Americans said the country was on the right track moved in concert with gas prices. In other words, as gas prices fell, American optimism rose. As prices rose, optimism fell. … Looking at the same data for President Biden’s approval rating and for the Democratic position in generic-ballot polling shows similar correlations. … This offers a warning for Democrats. Gas prices are trending back up, just as we hit the three-week mark from the election. There’s a reason the Biden administration wants OPEC to kick out its planned production cut for a month. His team is certainly aware of how these numbers have been moving, too. It used to be that savvy observers tracked FiveThirtyEight’s election projection pages. … Now they may need simply drive down the road and keep an eye out for the closest Chevron or BP. ”

BRIEFLY

Poll: Oz nearly even with Fetterman as independents break right—Politico

Hochul, Zeldin locked in unexpectedly tight governor’s race—New York Times

Billionaire Bloomberg cuts back on Dem donations—Washington Post 

Despite ban, abortion fades as key issue in Texas—Texas Tribune

Manchin stumps with Tim Ryan in Ohio—Bloomberg

In deep-red Kansas, Gov Kelly distances from D.C. Dems—New York Times

Poll shows warning signs in Iowa for Grassley—Washington Post

WITHIN EARSHOT: *NARRATOR: THEY DID* 

“Hang on, Oklahomans, do you believe we have higher crime than New York or California? That’s what she just said!”—An incredulous Gov. Kevin Stitt in reply to Democratic challenger Joy Hofmeister in their debate when she accurately pointed out that the Sooner State has a higher violent crime rate than those large, coastal states..


MAILBAG

“Has Herschel Walker repented?  I’ve not read anywhere that he’s sorry for his sins. I’ve been there and had a lot to repent for—I made a public statement in my church. He needs to as well.”—Wilma Rabidoux, Hudsonvill, Michigan

The argument in favor of Walker showing contrition for his tragic family story is that it would be good for him, his family, and set a good public example. The argument against taking any ownership of whatever transgressions he has committed, is that it would keep a politically damaging story alive. While I am not convinced that there wouldn’t be potential political advantages in candor and remorse, the conventional wisdom holds that the safest strategy is, as Bill Clinton long ago told Monica Lewinsky: “deny, deny, deny.” A Senate majority for Republicans is proving to be very expensive in ways far beyond money.

“So here we are [in Pennsylvania] with two awful choices for Senate. I, unlike my left friends, have no problem crossing the aisle to vote in this election, and I will to vote for Josh Shapiro.  I was disheartened that [Doug Mastriano] won because we actually had some decent candidates. Sadly [Donald Trump] got his two cents in to the voters, and here we are.  I feel Shapiro is a good man and a decent candidate, so he will get my vote. I don’t like [Mehmet Oz], but John Fetterman would be awful to represent our state. Someone please tell me what has he done as the lieutenant governor? Where has he been? He plays this downright cool dude, but as the mayor of Braddock he didn’t really do anything of substance that lasted. … But that doesn’t matter to the left. Just beat the right and all will be good. Also, as a tax-paying resident of Pennsylvania, I’m aggravated there is [only] one debate. That is very unfair to citizens.”—Suzan Schultz, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Yinz won’t be the only one splitting their ticket in Pennsylvania this year! Tuesday’s Senate debate is so crucial exactly for the reason you described: A lot of Keystone State voters are having a hard time imagining Fetterman in the Senate, and that would have been true, stroke or no stroke. Debates are powerful for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important is the thought experiment they provide for voters: “Can I picture this person in this job?” I’ve often talked about how Barack Obama’s astonishing rise to power owed a great deal to the fact that when he walked out on stage for his first one-on-one debate with Hillary Clinton in January of 2008 he looked like he could be president. The race snapped into frame after that. (Or maybe it was just that everyone was so relieved that John Edwards was finally gone.) How will voters who know Fetterman only in his signature hoodie feel about him in a suit? Can he meet the rock-bottom expectations for his performance while still recovering from a major stroke?  It is a shame that Pennsylvania voters get only one look at the candidates beyond the reach of their handlers and message massagers, but you’re not the only ones getting the short end of the stick. Candidates around the country are shunning debates. As of now, it looks like there won’t be any debates at all in Nevada’s hotly contested Senate contest. In Arizona, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee has refused to debate. It’s a problem. But if partisan voters won’t punish candidates who refuse to meet the minimum standards for accessibility and accountability, I’m afraid the trend will continue. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are returning to the standard for presidential debates from the 1964 to 1976 when voters never got to see the candidates on stage together once. Unless voters demand better, politicians will happily duck the bright lights of the debate stage.


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the sedulous Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack! 


CUTLINE CONTEST: ALWAYS MONEY IN THE BANANA STAND 

Sometimes with great comedy, when someone shows you the joke, you can’t believe you didn’t see it all along. So it is with this week’s winner who reimagines Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz as a member of the Bluth family from Arrested Development and a reference to episode five of the immaculate first season of the show. Pure gold. 

Winner:

“How much can a banana cost, Michael, 50 dollars?”—Michael Joosten, Ashland, Massachusetts

Winner, Extremely Specific Humor Division:

“All I am saying is we could convert the nation’s silver stockpile into colloidal silver and eliminate Obamacare, COVID, and the obesity epidemic in this country.”—Isaac Wantland, Old Hickory, Tennessee

Winner, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Division:
“I swear, I don’t know how I, or my house, or my wife got to New Jersey!”—Jaren Tankersley, Austin, Texas

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun! 


TENNESSEE TOP HATS, WISCONSIN WATERFALLS

NPR: “A major competition is underway for the ultimate prize. It’s not the Major League Baseball playoffs, but the USA Mullet Championships. …The winner of the best business-in-the-front, party-in-the-back hairstyle will be announced on Oct. 20. Scott Salvadore of Stillwater, N.Y., has taken the lead in the ‘Mane Event.’ He refers to his mullet as ‘The Lord’s Drapes’ and has been growing and maintaining it for the past four and a half years. The USA Mullet Championships calls itself the nation’s official mullet-ranking authority. It started in 2020 as the Michigan Mudflap Contest, before expanding to be a national event with multiple divisions. … The organization also says half of entry fees are donated to the group Stop Soldier Suicide, which provides care for veterans in need. Here are some of the finalists for this year’s grand prize … ” 

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.