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Where could Democrats pick up governorships?

Thirty-six of the fifty governorships are up for grabs this midterm election. While Republicans currently control the vast majority, Democrats are mounting some strong challenges. Judy Woodruff is joined by Frederica Freyberg from Wisconsin Public Television, Bill Nigut from Georgia Public Broadcasting and Tom Hudson from Miami’s WLRN to discuss the state of the governor’s races in those states.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We turn now to the midterm elections, less than two weeks away.

    Thirty-six of the 50 governorships are up for grabs this year. And while Republicans currently control three-fourths of them, Democrats are mounting surprisingly strong challenges in some key places across the country.

    To talk about a few of these, I'm joined by Bill Nigut of Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta, Frederica Freyberg of Wisconsin Public Television in Madison, and Tom Hudson of WLRN Public Radio in Miami.

    Hello to all three of you. We're so glad to have you with us.

    I'm going to start with the biggest population state. Tom Hudson, of course, that's Florida, and you.

    The incumbent, Republican Governor Rick Scott, is given that up to run for the U.S. Senate. And it's turned into a pretty tight race between the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee and Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis.

    Tell us what each one of these men has going this their favor and what's working against them.

  • Tom Hudson:

    Well, this is not a boulevard election in Florida. There is no middle of the road. This is as polarizing of a state election that you're going to find here in this election cycle, Judy.

    I think that what you have is, on one side, an excited, progressive Democrat, in the face of Andrew Gillum, who excited base voters to come out in the primary and surprised a lot of pollsters and a lot of professional political watchers to win in a very crowded Democratic primary.

    And on the other hand, you have a non-traditional Republican candidate in the form of Congressman Ron DeSantis, who has run on the playbook of 2016 Donald Trump, and very successfully, who beat back a much more traditional Republican candidate in the primary.

    So, for voters, 30 percent of Florida voters that are non-party affiliated, they didn't parts participate in the August primary. You have to be registered in one party or the other to vote.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Tom Hudson:

    These — this is where the battleground is. This is why I say this is not a boulevard type of election. There is no middle ground. They are fighting tooth and nail for each and every one of those votes. And they count.

    The last two Florida gubernatorial elections have been decided by fewer than 70,000 votes.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    Well, in terms of what they have going for and against them, the issues, I'm going to come back to you on that.

    But I do want to get quickly to Georgia and to Bill Nigut.

    Bill, this governor's eat, the Republicans have held it for decades. But you now have a fiery Democrat, in Stacey Abrams, who happens to be an African-American woman, running against the secretary of state, Brian Kemp. She's giving him a run for their money.

    What are the main factors at this point in this race?

  • Bill Nigut:

    This is a very, very tight race, according to virtually every poll.

    It's a race of contrasts, a strong Democrat against a strong conservative Republican. Abrams has been focusing like a laser on a couple of really key issues. She wants to expand Medicaid in Georgia, and she's focusing on education, on public education.

    So she's been very, very focused on issues. She has also been attacking Brian Kemp over issues of voter suppression. We have gotten an lot of national attention, as you well know, Judy, because there are people who think that the secretary of state, Brian Kemp, now running for governor, has, over the years, excluded people from the voter rolls, African-Americans, who are being denied the right to vote.

    That's a somewhat unknown issue here. We're not quite sure how methodical and deliberative it's been, but certainly the optics suggest there have been some problems there.

    Brian Kemp's been on the attack. They debated here last night, and Brian Kemp spent a great deal of his time repeating a theme that he's used throughout the race, which is that Stacey Abrams is a radical, she's too liberal for Georgia, she's getting money from national Democratic forces outside of the state.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Bill Nigut:

    And he's focused on that as a big part of the race.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's turn to Wisconsin, Frederica Freyberg.

    The Republican incumbent, Governor Scott Walker, really, this is his fourth run, if you count the recall election he won in 2010, and he's run into surprisingly strong opposition from Tony Evers.

    Tell us about this race. What are the factors working on both — in both sides?

  • Frederica Freyberg:

    Well, it's true.

    Scott Walker and Tony Evers are in what is projected to be a very tight race, I mean, a one or two-point race, according to experts. So Tony Evers is the superintendent of public instruction in Wisconsin, and he is kind of staking this claim to being the education governor.

    But Scott Walker is now saying he is the education governor because he infused his state budget with new money for K-12 schools. And so this is something that these candidates have been fighting back and forth over, including a really difficult achievement gap, racial achievement gap, in the state's urban school districts, which are among the worst in the nation, and each of the mare blaming each other over this.

    But, yes, Scott Walker finds himself in a tighter race than he might have thought he would have had.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Tom Hudson, back to you on Florida.

    Just quickly, what matters most to voters this year, and how much of a factor is President Trump?

  • Tom Hudson:

    President Trump is an enormous factor here in the Florida gubernatorial election.

    I think, on the issue side, it is health care. There's debate around preexisting conditions and Congressman DeSantis' position federally on the Affordable Care Act as it comes to preexisting conditions.

    And, of course, on the Democratic side, Andrew Gillum pledging support to expand Medicaid, which also has not been expanded here in the state of Florida under the Affordable Care Act.

    Also, the environment, which traditionally has never been a real driving, motivating issue here, but this is another lost summer that we have had in Florida. We have had blue green algae in Lake Okeechobee, the big blue lake in the center of the state.

    And then we have also had the naturally occurring red tide, a more — stronger outbreak of red tide in the Gulf Coast and also on the Atlantic side. So it has put water quality front and center in this gubernatorial campaign for both parties that we haven't seen in elections past.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bill Nigut, what about issues, factors in the race in Georgia, and in particular President Trump?

  • Bill Nigut:

    Trump has not been much of a factor in the general election campaign.

    He's tweeted a couple times now his support for Brian Kemp. Kemp doesn't talk about limit a lot on the campaign trail. And Stacey Abrams has not been spending a great deal of her time attacking him.

    And I think the simple reason for that is Trump won Georgia by five or so points, but I think both sides recognize that Trump, as we have seen in other races, can be as much of a distraction as he is an advantage. He might motivate Democrats as much as Republicans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Frederica Freyberg, President Trump is in Wisconsin today.

  • Frederica Freyberg:

    That's right. In fact, he is arriving in kind of the north central part of the state later this afternoon. This is a part of the state that Trump won by double digits.

    And so his visit is expected, of course, to kind of energize and boost the Republican base. And that's what Republicans and Governor Walker are hoping happens. However, as your last guest just suggested, Democrats are thinking that it also — his appearance here also boosts their base.

    So, already, large lines are forming for President Trump, who, again, is appearing in one of these counties he won by double digits. There were 23 counties in the state of Wisconsin in 2016 that had previously voted for Barack Obama who then turned and voted for Donald Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A rural part of Wisconsin.

    And, finally, back to you, Tom Hudson, on the — I guess you would call them the X-factors in this case, charges of corruption, and then, frankly, some racism.

  • Tom Hudson:

    Absolutely. Race is playing an enormous role also in this.

    As far as the corruption investigation, this is an FBI investigation that has centered around some of the doings in Tallahassee. Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, the Democratic candidate, has consistently said that the FBI tells him he is not a target of this investigation.

    The latest flap is over who paid for tickets to the "Hamilton" Broadway show during an Andrew Gillum visit to New York several years. This is due to come up certainly tonight in the last gubernatorial debate between Gillum and Representative DeSantis.

    So, the character question certainly comes into play. There's no doubt about it.

    And on race, this was from the get-go — DeSantis, Congressmen DeSantis, the morning after winning the primary, with his "monkey up" comments. There have been some flirtations with other white supremacist and white nationalist group that he's had to defend and push back against.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to thank all three of you, Tom Hudson in Florida, Frederica Freyberg in Wisconsin, Bill Nigut in Georgia.

    Thank you, all three.

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