I've taken a look at the Senate elections for 2020 twice already. But there are also many governor's mansions ripe for the taking in 2020. To be fair, there are fewer gubernatorial elections happening–most of those elections happen in off-years like 2018 and 2022. But there are still a significant amount.
Governors have more room to sculpt their own path, instead of following a few national leaders.
Governor vs. Senator
Governor's races are also different from senator's races in some meaningful ways. First of all, they're less nationalized. For example, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland, states which haven't picked a Republican for president this millennium, all have Republican governors. Similarly, the governors of Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Montana, Republican strongholds in the presidential election, are all Democrats. That's because governors have more room to sculpt their own path, instead of following a few national leaders.
So let's dive in!
Delaware: Gov. John Carney (D)
I mentioned that Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland all have Republican governors. Not Delaware. It's led by John Carney, a fairly generic Democrat. He'll cruise to reelection with no real opposition.
Washington: Gov. Jay Inslee (D)
Originally, Gov. Jay Inslee was a presidential candidate who reminded us all about the existential threat that is the climate crisis.* But he dropped out a long time ago, clearing the Democratic primary field for governor when he announced his reelection campaign and clearing the way to victory.
Indiana: Gov. Eric Holcomb (D)
When Mike Pence became the vice presidential nominee in 2016, his lieutenant governor, Eric Holcomb, ran instead. Gov. Holcomb is a fairly generic Republican, and it's not clear how he could lose.
Missouri: Gov. Mike Parson (R)
Eric Greitens resigned as governor in 2018 due to scandals, but the new governor Mike Parson seems to be purer. Missouri has two Republican senators and has voted Republican for president in every election this millennium, so it seems like a lock for Gov. Parson.
North Dakota: Gov. Doug Burgum (R)
Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is one of the few Democrats with the ability to win in North Dakota, but she ruled herself out of contention for the gubernatorial race. That left Gov. Doug Burgum unbeatable.
Utah: Jon Huntsman/Spencer Cox (R)
In 2004, then-US Trade Rep. Jon Huntsman was elected as the 16th Governor of Utah. He was a popular, successful governor, winning reelection in 2008 in a landslide. However, just a few months after he was sworn in for his second term, then-Pres. Barack Obama appointed him Ambassador to China despite Huntsman being a Republican and Obama being a Democrat. Therefore, Huntsman's lieutenant governor, Gary Herbert, took over. Huntsman went on to run unsuccessfully for president in 2012. He endorsed Donald Trump in 2016, retracted the endorsement after the Access Hollywood tapes were released, was appointed by Trump as Ambassador to Russia, and resigned the ambassadorship after a year–so his relationship with the president is complex and fraught.
As Gov. Herbert opted not to run for reelection, Huntsman decided to run for governor again in 2020. Though he's the frontrunner, he is facing strong opposition in Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. (Again, Huntsman's lieutenant governor was Herbert, whose lieutenant governor is Cox.) Herbert has endorsed Cox, by the way.
In contrast to many other Republicans, Jon Huntsman believes in climate change, has a record of cooperating with other countries, and has the ability to work with Democrats.
To be clear, I disagree with some of Huntsman's policies–he's a Republican who opposes abortion and supports low taxes for big businesses. But, in contrast to many other Republicans, Jon Huntsman believes in climate change, has a record of cooperation with other countries, and has the ability to work with Democrats. Reasonable Republicans are becoming an endangered species in the Trump era, but I think he is an example, so I endorse him for Governor of Utah. (So there, my zero Utah readers, you have your decision.) It's an easier choice since the Democratic candidates are hopeless in a state like Utah.
West Virginia: Gov. Jim Justice (R)
Jim Justice, a coal-mining and hotel executive, is the richest person in all of West Virginia, possessing nearly $2 billion. In fact, NPR reported that "Justice's mining companies still fail to pay millions of dollars in mine safety penalties two years after an earlier investigation documented the same behavior. Our analysis of federal data shows that Justice is now the nation's top mine safety delinquent. His mining companies owe $15 million in six states." A lifelong Republican, he switched to the Democratic party to run for governor four years ago, and won. However, after taking office, he switched back to the Republican party as he announced his support for Donald Trump. Unlike Jon Huntsman, Jim Justice is most certainly not a reasonable Republican; in fact, he's one of the most disgusting American politicians in office. It's a shame he'll be reelected in ruby-red West Virginia.
New Hampshire: Gov. Chris Sununu (R) vs. Dan Feltes/Andre Volinsky (D)
New Hampshire is becoming increasingly Democratic, but Gov. Chris Sununu is a Republican with a proven ability to win there. He won by a 7-point margin in 2018, for instance, and a 2-point margin in 2016. Interestingly, Sununu is being challenged for the Republican nomination by a man named Nobody, who was born Rich Paul. Nobody thinks he can win, needless to say.** The Democratic primaries will be a battle between State Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes and Executive Councillor Andru Volinsky, and it will be a competitive primary. In the general election, Democrats will be hoping that Vermont's liberal inclinations are enough to overcome Gov. Sununu's popularity.
Democrats will be hoping that the Vermont's liberal inclinations are enough to overcome Gov. Sununu's popularity.
Vermont: Gov. Phil Scott (R) vs. David Zuckerman/Rebecca Holcombe (D)
The dynamics of the New Hampshire race are exacerbated in Vermont. It's a remarkably liberal state at the moment–Hillary Clinton won by 26 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election, with Bernie Sanders getting a remarkable 5% of the vote as a write-in. However, Gov. Phil Scott has proven he can dominate nevertheless, having been elected and reelected by double digits. Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and Former State Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe will be challenging Scott for the seat in a battle between local and federal politics.
North Carolina: Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vs. Dan Forest (R)
In North Carolina (as well as Vermont), the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately. They happen to be of different political parties at the moment, and are running against each other in 2020. Gov. Roy Cooper is a fairly typical Democrat, and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest an average Republican. Due to the nature of North Carolina as a swing state, I expect this election to track with the higher-profile presidential race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Incidentally, incumbency is a strong factor in North Carolina gubernatorial races–except for 2018, no sitting governor has lost since 1850. That gives Gov. Cooper a significant edge, but Lt. Gov. Forest shouldn't be counted out.
Montana: Greg Gianforte/Tim Fox (R) vs. Mike Cooney/Whitney Williams (D)
Current Gov. Steve Bullock is term-limited and running for the Senate instead (thankfully), leaving an open seat. Bullock is a very talented Montana politician, and it's not clear other Democrats can imitate that, given Montana's Republican history, which is why I rated this race as leaning towards the Republican candidates. Speaking of, they are Rep. Greg Gianforte, best known for body-slamming a reporter, and State Attorney Gen. Tim Fox. Gianforte is the nominal favorite, supported by Trump. On the Democratic side, Mike Cooney, Bullock's lieutenant governor, is facing businesswoman Whitney Williams. Like the Senate race in Montana, Republicans have a slight advantage, but Democrats possess the ability to prevail.***
And that's every state with a gubernatorial election!**** Takeaways: 2021's governors will be mostly Republicans, mainly white men, and maybe Jon Huntsman.
Takeaways: 2021's governors will be mostly Republicans, mainly white men, and maybe Jon Huntsman.
Stay safe and happy, everyone–until next week!
**I mean, he's a joke, so maybe I shouldn't be giving him airtime here, but I couldn't resist.
***If Cooney (or Williams) and Bullock were both elected, Montana would have two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor, which would be absurd in a good way.
****Puerto Rico and American Samoa also have governor's mansions up for the taking, but I won't discuss them here. The political parties there are different and not easy analogues for Democrat and Republican, and there isn't very much reporting on them, so it's hard to gain footholds into who's favored. For some perspective, here's Wikipedia's take on the 2020 American Samoa gubernatorial election:
"Two-term incumbent governor Lolo Letalu Matalasi Moliga is term-limited in 2020. Announced candidates include territorial senator Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga T. Nua, executive director of the American Samoa Government Employees’ Retirement Fund I’aulualo Fa’afetai Talia, and Fatumalala L.A. Al-Shehri."
As you can see, the names would have been quite a treat to deal with. So I didn't. Sorry.