Dozen governors’ races give Republicans shot at more gains
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Republicans, who already control a solid majority of governorships, sought to add to their ranks Tuesday as voters picked chief executives in a dozen states.
Campaigns for governor shattered fundraising records in Missouri, drew national attention over transgender bathroom rights in North Carolina and took an unusual twist in Indiana, where Gov. Mike Pence pulled out to become the running mate of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The governors’ contests are part of a battle for statehouse supremacy that also includes nearly 6,000 state legislative elections. Heading into Tuesday, Republicans controlled more than two-thirds of the nation’s legislative chambers, as well as 31 of the 50 governors’ offices. Eight of the 12 governorships up for election are currently held by Democrats.
The states in play Tuesday include:
In the nation’s highest-profile race, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory faces a strong challenge from Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper.
The race has become a referendum on North Carolina’s rightward shift under McCrory, highlighted by a law that limits anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and directs transgender people to use public restrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates. Cooper has vowed to try to repeal the law as governor.
Recent flooding from Hurricane Matthew has also played into the race, as McCrory has been at the public forefront of response and recovery efforts.
Former Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens, a first-time candidate, is locked in a close contest against Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster.
Greitens has capitalized on his military service and his work as founder of the veterans’ charity known as The Mission Continues. He casts himself as an outsider going up against a career politician. Koster, a former Republican state senator, has picked up key endorsements from the National Rifle Association and major agricultural groups.
Including primary candidates, Missouri governors’ campaigns have raised more than $72 million, easily doubling the previous record. The winner will succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
When Pence dropped his re-election bid in July, Republicans tapped Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb as their new nominee to run against Democrat John Gregg, a former state House speaker.
Gregg has cast Holcomb as a “rubber stamp” for Pence, pointing out Holcomb’s support for a religious-objections law that Pence signed. Opponents said the law, which was later revised, sanctioned discrimination against same-sex couples by allowing businesses to refuse to serve them.
Holcomb has highlighted his time as an aide to Pence’s popular predecessor, Gov. Mitch Daniels, and seeks to continue a 12-year-run of Republican governors.
The governor’s office is open because Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan is trying to oust Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
The race to replace her features two members of the governor’s Executive Council — Democrat Colin Van Ostern and Republican Chris Sununu, the son of former Gov. John H. Sununu and the brother of former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu.
Democrats have controlled the governor’s office for 18 of the past 20 years, but this year’s race has been a closely contested undercard in this presidential battleground.
Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott faces Democrat Sue Minter in what Republicans view as their best pick-up opportunity. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin is not seeking another two-year term.
Scott is currently the only Republican statewide officeholder in a liberal-leaning state but has tacked to the left by embracing abortion rights and gay marriage. Minter is a former transportation secretary for Shumlin.
Under Vermont law, if neither candidate gets a majority of votes, the winner is decided by the state Legislature.
With Trump expected to easily win in West Virginia, the question is how long his coattails will reach.
Republican candidate Bill Cole, the state Senate president, has linked himself closely to Trump and his pledge to revive the coal industry. But that seeming advantage is somewhat offset by Democratic nominee Jim Justice, himself a coal billionaire.
Justice, like Trump, has cast himself as a political outsider adept at creating jobs. Republicans have made an issue of Justice’s unpaid business taxes.
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock faces a challenge from Republican Greg Gianforte, a businessman who struck it rich when he sold his cloud-based software firm to Oracle five years ago.
Gianforte has poured millions of his own money into the race, airing more TV ads than all other statewide executive candidates in the nation, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity of data from the tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
Bullock has been heavily aided by the Democratic Governors Association.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah and Democratic Govs. Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington were all expected to turn back challenges Tuesday. In Delaware, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Carney Jr. was favored to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Jack Markell. And in North Dakota, Republican businessman Doug Burgum was favored to succeed Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who is not seeking re-election.