Since our first update a month ago, there have been quite a few important developments in many Gubernatorial contests where the heated battles of next year’s midterm cycle are beginning to brew. While we don’t have any official changes to our gubernatorial ratings this month, we do have updates on the important developments we’ve seen across the board.
The Republican primary field to replace two-term Governor Asa Hutchinson has drastically changed over the last two months. In this Trump+27 state, the GOP primary is the de facto general election. Last year, the contest seemed likely to pit Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin against Leslie Rutledge, the state’s Attorney General. That notion has since been shattered after the former Trump Administration Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced her campaign. The daughter of national conservative figure and former governor Mike Huckabee, Huckabee Sanders has since established herself as the primary frontrunner.
Seeing his difficult path to victory, Griffin chose to exit the race last month. He is now running for Attorney General, the office being vacated by Rutledge. In a head to head matchup, the Huckabee name, along with the “golden” endorsement of former President Trump and numerous other top Republicans, will prove difficult to surmount. We previously considered Rutledge to have a fighting chance in a primary against Tim Griffin, but it remains to be seen how viable her coalition is against Huckabee-Sanders. We rank the primary here as Likely Huckabee-Sanders and the general election as Safe Republican. Regardless of the Republican primary winner, Arkansas will almost certainly have its first female governor come 2023.
There have been a few notable developments in California’s gubernatorial race, but we still maintain our Safe Democratic rating. First off, let’s talk about first-term Governor Gavin Newsom. Newsom has seen his COVID-era approval ratings decline from their peak last year, with one separate poll even showing that nearly 60% of voters wanted to elect someone new to the Governor’s mansion. Despite his lackluster political image, Newsom still remains the favorite to survive a re-call attempt and win re-election. Why? California’s electorate.
Before understanding the advantage that the Californian electorate gives to the Democrats, you need to know a bit more about the state’s recall process, which you can read about in detail in an article by editor Kraz Greinetz. To summarize Kraz’s arguments: even if Republicans procure enough signatures (roughly 1.5 million) to get a recall on the ballot, it’s unlikely there will be enough “Yes” votes to meet the 50% threshold needed to recall Newsom. We currently consider a California recall attempt to be Likely No.
Since our last update, two major Republican candidates have also entered the race. The first is Kevin Faulconer, an ex-San Diego Mayor with moderate views that seem perfect to attract non-traditional Republican voters in an effort to supplement the party’s standard coalition. Businessman John Cox, the 2018 nominee, is also seeking the office.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is widely seen as one of the rising stars within the Republican party. Even during the pandemic, DeSantis has managed to maintain strong favorability ratings. To be viable in a 2024 presidential primary, though, DeSantis needs to win his re-election bid next year.
So far, his chances appear good. Polling from Mason-Dixon shows DeSantis with a widely positive approval rating of 53%-42%. In the same poll, he leads potential Democratic nominees Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried by 11 and nine-point margins, respectively. While it’s still early in the cycle, DeSantis definitely begins as the favorite for re-election in the Sunshine State.
At this point, Iowa is a Republican state. The Hawkeye State’s rightward shift has kept Democrats struggling to win important statewide contests over the last few years. Nonetheless, Democrats can still make inroads downballot. Iowa does still have Democratic row officers after all. Even 2018 Gubernatorial nominee Fred Hubbell ran a close race, losing by just a few points. So Iowa’s Republican future may not be set in stone, even if 2022 proves to be a good year for the GOP.
A lot of the uncertainty has to do with incumbent Republican Kim Reynolds. Since taking up the mantle from Terry Branstad, the longest-serving Governor of any state in US history, Reynolds has been met with lukewarm responses, fluctuating between adulation and criticism.
Since the peak of the coronavirus pandemic last summer, Reynolds has seen her approval ratings decline. According to a Des Moines Register poll from earlier this month, only 46% of Iowans approve of Reynolds, with 47% disapproving. The Des Moines Register also noted in the same piece that prominent Iowa politico Ann Selzer said the poll results could be “unsettling” for Reynolds.
We are keeping our Leans Republican rating here until we have a better picture of the likely field of candidates, Reynolds’s intentions, and the long-term impact of coronavirus-era approval ratings on political campaigns.
Despite being a Republican state at the federal level, the race to become Kansas Governor remains a tossup. Incumbent Governor Laura Kelly, one of a handful of Democratic executives in heavily Republican states, is currently unchallenged in her bid to secure her renomination. Nonetheless, Republicans are ignoring the slow leftward trends that have descended on the Sunflower State in the last few years, making Kansas a piece of low-hanging fruit that they would love to pick off from the Democrats next year. If the 2018 Gubernatorial and 2020 Senatorial primaries were any example, the GOP nominating contests should be highly contested. Which Republicans are running so far? Two prominent contenders.
The first is former Governor Jeff Colyer. Colyer ascended to the Governor’s office in 2018 after Governor Sam Brownback resigned to join the Trump Administration. Despite some prominent endorsements, Colyer lost his 2018 re-election primary to Kris Kobach, his challenger from the right. Missing victory by just 0.11%, Colyer is now throwing his hat in the Gubernatorial ring again. The other candidate is Derek Schmidt, the Attorney General of Kansas. Schmidt has been in office for the last decade, and is now making his bid for the state’s top position.
One internal poll has been conducted so far. It showed Schmidt leading Colyer 28%-19%, with nearly half of the remaining electorate considered undecided. While this poll was conducted by the pollster affiliated with the PAC that pushed Schmidt to run, Colyer’s short tenure in the Governor’s mansion is no assurance of his ability to win a Republican primary.
Since our last article, long-time New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has fallen into hot water. Cuomo has seen his approvals rapidly decline following increased publicity surrounding myriad sexual assault allegations along with an alleged cover-up of nursing home deaths during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even fellow Democrats like Chuck Schumer have pushed Cuomo to resign, and an impeachment investigation is being conducted by the New York General Assembly.
Despite all these banes on his record, Cuomo is still running for his fourth term as Governor. Since his ultimate political fate remains unknown, it’s too early to determine whether or not Cuomo will continue to seek re-election. Even with his wounded record, Cuomo is theoretically more vulnerable in a primary contest than he is in a general election. New York is still a heavily Democratic state, and we haven’t seen any credible polling to merit a ratings change. Until we have a better idea of where the New York political winds are blowing, we’ll be keeping New York in the same column as California at Safe Democratic.