In a presidential year, there are not as many of them, but here’s where you will find the 2020 governors races predictions.
The action in the gubernatorial contests takes place in midterm elections. There were 36 states electing a governor in 2018, which saw the Democrats gain seven seats and the Republicans lose six. The only independent governor, in Alaska, was replaced by a Republican.
Without question, 2018 was not a good year for Republicans, but what about 2020? 11 states will choose their chief executive in a year in which the prominence of the role of governor is very notable. Two of those states, Vermont and New Hampshire, elect their governors to two-year terms. Republicans hold seven out of the eleven seats at stake, and if they lose any of them, they will lose their majority of the states, which they have held since the 2010 elections. However, when you take a first glance at the map, does it lend itself to many flips?
Of course, with just 11 races, the opportunities are few, but they exist. We’re here to tell you where those races to watch are, and how we think they are going to go.
Map of the 2020 Governors Races
Red or blue indicates the party in power prior to the election
Delaware Governor 2020
|John Carney (D) seeking re-election|
As we noted in the Delaware House race handicapping, and as you probably could have figured out on your own, this is going to be a good year for Democrats in the First State. The current governor, John Carney, won by 19 points in 2016. What’s more daunting for the GOP around here is that they have been out of the governor’s mansion in Dover for almost 30 years. We have little reason to believe the GOP will mount a challenge here in 2020.
Indiana Governor 2020
|Eric Holcomb (R) seeking re-election|
Indiana is a pretty damn Republican state when you boil it down. Yes, Barack Obama’s win there in 2008 was a shock, but Democrats have had occasional success in the Hoosier State. In 2018, a strong Democratic year, they had next to none. One can assume at this point Mike Pence will still be on the Republican ticket, which may or may not help the GOP in Indiana, but truth is, they probably don’t need the help. Eric Holcomb has low disapproval ratings1, and Indiana is not very blue. It’s hard to believe that Holcomb would fall in this re-election bid when incumbent governors in this state tend not to lose.
Missouri Governor 2020
|Mike Parson (R) seeking election|
This will be Mike Parson’s first run as the incumbent governor since he elevated to the job in 2018. He’s fortunate to be running in a presidential year in a state that we don’t hear is a “swing state” anymore. Remember when Missouri was a bellwether state? The GOP has carried it in the presidential race every year since 2000, and the blue on the map has been reduced down to a few big cities. All this by way of saying that Mike Parson is looking at a better situation than he would have been, say 20 years ago. It is not impossible that a Democrat could get elected governor in Missouri, given how often in the state’s history it has happened, but this year? Parson is the favorite.
Montana Governor 2020
|Steve Bullock (D) term-limited|
Montana has had Democratic governors with no interruption since Judy Martz left office in 2005. Most people assume this state is Republican in nature since the GOP has only lost it once since Richard Nixon was president, but Democrats can and do succeed here. This is perhaps the most difficult of the 2020 governors races to call. Democrats will be running the lieutenant governor and Republicans are likely to send US Rep. Greg Gianforte to the plate. It could be that Donald Trump winning this state with some ease will pull both the Republican gubernatorial nominee and Steve Daines over the finish line. We’ll have to wait and see, but after 16 years of Democratic governors, we could be looking at a change election in Big Sky Country.
New Hampshire Governor 2020
|Chris Sununu (R) seeking re-election|
New Hampshire is not as friendly to Republicans as it used to be, but Chris Sununu is not in immediate peril as of spring 2020. Sununu got through the Blue Wave year of 2018 just fine, and he will have the edge in his 2020 run. What makes his job a little more difficult is that he will be charged with winning re-election in a year in which Joe Biden may also carry the state. The latter is not guaranteed, however, and regardless of whether or not Biden or Trump wins New Hampshire, Sununu will probably run ahead of Trump.
North Carolina Governor 2020
|Roy Cooper (D) seeking re-election|
RATINGS CHANGE: D1 to D2
June 3: Roy Cooper’s lead in the polls has been consistent and comfortable. We are confident he is ahead with room to spare at this point in time, so this is shifting into a “strong lean.” We need more, however, before we would call him “safe.”
April 13: This is going to be a good one down in North Carolina. You have the governor of one party (Democrat) up against the lieutenant governor of another party (Republican). Roy Cooper, the Democratic incumbent, won in 2016 by a paper-thin margin over Pat McCrory, a governor who generated divided opinions while he was in office. Cooper now has the benefit of incumbency, but anything can happen in what is considered now to be a swing state. This is the best chance anywhere in the 2020 governors races for an incumbent to be defeated. The governor is ahead, perhaps not by a lot, but it will be a fascinating race to watch alongside the presidential race, which will also play out closely in this state.
North Dakota Governor 2020
|Doug Burgum (R) seeking re-election|
Every now and then, you get a Democrat that wins an election in North Dakota. Once Heidi Heitkamp lost her Senate race, however, that was it for elected Democrats in this state. North Dakota has not had a Democratic governor since the early 1990s. Times have changed in this state and the Democrats do not put up much of a fight here anymore. Doug Burgum will not have a battle royale on his hands.
Utah Governor 2020
|Gary Herbert (R) retiring|
Utah is about as red as it gets in the United States, but for a few flexes of Democratic strength here and there. Utah has not had a Democratic governor since the mid-1980s, and no Democratic senator since the mid-1970s. Democrats have won so few statewide election in Utah in the last thirty years that it’s negligible. The real action is in the Republican primary, which includes Spencer Cox, the lieutenant governor, and Jon Huntsman, former governor and presidential candidate. Whomever wins that race is a virtual guaranteed winner in November.
Vermont Governor 2020
|Phil Scott (R) seeking re-election|
Believe it or not, Phil Scott, a Vermont Republican, is one of the most popular governors in the country, with approval ratings well into the 60s.1 This is a similar phenomenon witnessed in Massachusetts, where Charlie Baker, another moderate Republican, is off the charts. Scott won here in 2018 by 15 points when Republicans were getting gutted and filleted across the country. The sole reason that this is not a “very safe” race is because it’s Vermont and Scott still has an “R” next to his name. Otherwise, he should survive short of a major negative revelation.
Washington Governor 2020
|Jay Inslee (D) seeking re-election|
The Republican gubernatorial shutout in Washington is something to behold, like the Democrats’ shutout in Utah. They came very close in 2004, but since then, nothing. Republicans win statewide races here on a limited basis. Here, we have the incumbent and former presidential candidate, Jay Inslee, running for a third term. As the GOP does not have much of a bench in Washington, it’s hard to see them mounting a serious challenge. Inslee may also benefit for his handling of the public health crisis.
West Virginia Governor 2020
|Jim Justice (R) seeking re-election|
Now that West Virginia has a Republican governor – albeit one elected as a Democrat who switched parties – will they go back to a Democrat? It would be hard to believe given how hard this state has swung in the last 20 years. Incumbent Jim Justice is not safe in the primary, but the Democrats do not have many top-shelf candidates from which to draw. It seems as though the Republicans are destined to win this race one way or another, but one wonders how much of that underlying Democratic undercurrent still remains in West Virginia. What may make the difference is Donald Trump winning the state in a landslide, but remember this: Justice got elected in 2016 as a Democrat when Trump carried the state by over 40 points.
1: Morning Consult, “Morning Consult’s Governor Approval Rankings,” Morning Consult, 4th Quarter 2019, https://morningconsult.com/governor-rankings/)