When Governor Jim Justice switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party at a Donald Trump rally in West Virginia last week, he became the 34th Republican governor in the country. Only fifteen states now have Democratic governors, and one (Alaska) has an independent governor.
Not since 1922 have Republicans had 34 governors. Democrats reached that high water mark in 1986.
Republican dominance in the majority of states goes beyond mere control of the governor’s office. In 26 states, Republicans now hold the governorship and both houses of the state legislature — a state level “trifecta” similar to the current national “trifecta,” where Republicans hold the White House and have a majority in both the House and the Senate.
Only two states hold gubernatorial elections in 2017–New Jersey and Virginia.
In New Jersey, the current Republican governor, Chris Christi, is term limited and one of the most unpopular governors in the country. The latest polls show that Phil Murphy, the Democratic nominee, holds about a 20 point lead over the Republican nominee, Kim Guadagno, so the Garden State looks to be a Democratic pickup.
Virginia, however, is another matter.
The current Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, is term limited, and the Republican nominee, Ed Gillespie, is in a dead heat with the Democratic nominee, Ralph Northam. This race will likely remain too close to call, but three months from election day, it looks to be a possible Republican pickup.
A number of states have governor’s races scheduled for 2018.
Contested races in which Republicans have a chance to pick up the governor’s office include Connecticut, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.
In Connecticut, the current Democratic governor, Dannel Malloy, chose not to run for a third term. Malloy has high negatives in the state, in part because Connecticut is facing yet another fiscal crisis and the state’s economy is weak.
Contested races in which Democrats have a chance to pick up the governor’s office include Michigan and Maine.
In Michigan, where Donald Trump scored a surprising victory in the 2016 Presidential election, Republican Governor Rick Snyder is term limited. Snyder is considered a moderate by the conservatives in the state who backed President Trump, and is also mired in the Flint, Michigan tainted water controversy.
Though Democrats have an opportunity in Michigan, a front runner for the party’s nomination has not yet emerged.
While it is possible Democrats might have a slight net gain in governorships over the next year and a half, it is just as likely that Republicans will have a net gain.
If that happens, the Republicans will end up being more dominant at the state level than they ever have been.
At the national level, prospects for Democratic gains in the House and Senate are not strong.
In the Senate, where Republicans currently enjoy a 52-48 advantage over the Democrats (including the two Independents who caucus with the Democrats), only eight of the 33 Senate seats up in 2018 are held by Republicans. Twenty-three are held by Democrats, and two are held by Independents who caucus with the Democrats. Ten of those Democrats up for re-election are in states won by President Trump in 2016.
In the House, the Republicans currently enjoy a 240 to 194 advantage over the Democrats, with one vacancy (Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) resigned on June 30, and a special election will be held to replace him.)
Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats in 2018 to get to the 218 they need for a majority, but due to gerrymandering and other factors, only about 30 of the 435 House races are truly competitive.
Though some polls indicate a significant generic Congressional race advantage for the Democrats, such polling is not necessarily a good predictor of Congressional races.
The Democrats’ track record in the recent spate of special elections for the House has been abysmal. Case in point: After spending more than $30 million to win the special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District this past June, Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff lost by four points to Republican Karen Handel.