After writing about the 2020 Senate races this past week, we're looking at the governors' races this week. There is significantly less action to follow in the gubernatorial races this year. Just eleven seats are up for election. Of these, There are seven held by Republican governors and four held by Democrats. Many of these races are fairly safe and are likely not to change parties. Delaware Governor John Carney and Washington Governor Jay Inslee are two of the safest incumbents for reelection. On the GOP side, Utah is the safest seat, followed closely by North Dakota. Indiana and Missouri are comfortably positioned to stay red. There are primarily just five governors' races to watch this year:
Montana: Incumbent Governor Steve Bullock has had some tight races in his two successful runs for governor. In 2012, he won by a plurality of only 49%. In 2016, he fared a little bit better, with just over 50% majority. And, this year, Bullock's lieutenant governor is poised to vie for the governorship. There is a strong chance that this reliably red state will switch to a GOP governor.
New Hampshire: This state is one of the rare cases in which the governor has just a two-year term. Incumbent Chris Sununu won by only 2% in 2016, but despite the “Blue Wave” of 2018, he comfortably won re-election by a 7% margin. If he retains his support, Sununu should be in good shape for a third term.
North Carolina: North Carolina is one of the reddest states on the East Coast However, in 2016, Democrat Roy Cooper managed to edge out Republican incumbent by 0.2%. This should be the easiest seat for the GOP to flip in 2020.
Vermont: This is the only state other than New Hampshire where governors serve only two-year terms. Incumbent Republican Phil Scott has been elected twice in this super-blue state. First, in 2016, Scott won by 8% and then in 2018, he won by almost 15%. He remains one of the most popular governors in the country, so unless Democrats put forth a strong candidate, Scott is likely to win a third term.
West Virginia: Probably the oddest history in this set of elections is that of the incumbent Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia. A lifelong Republican, he ran as a Democrat and won with just 49% of the vote in an election where 9% of voters voted third party. Within a year, he switched parties to Republican. Despite being a very red state, West Virginia has a streak of electing Democrats in state-wide elections, so Jim Justice is probably the most vulnerable Republican incumbent governor in 2020.
2020 shouldn't be a very eventful year for gubernatorial races. In 2017, there were 33 GOP governors and only 16 Democratic ones. In the past three years, the Democrats have gained eight governorships, for almost an even split (26 Republicans and 24 Democrats). In 2020, we predict that Sununu stands firm in New Hampshire, Phil Scott remains Governor of Vermont, and Jim Justice holds his position in West Virginia. However, we believe that the governorships in Montana and North Carolina will be flipped to the GOP, so in January, there will be 28 Republican governors and 22 Democratic ones. Thank you for keeping up with our analysis and we encourage you to follow us for more 2020 election coverage.