Why Republicans should be nervous about their candidates for governor

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Thanks to the Supreme Court, the battle for control of the House and Senate isn’t the only big story in this year’s midterm election. Now the focus is once again turning to the states, where a handful of governor races could change and determine the balance of power between the parties the future of abortion and the right to vote, not to mention who will be elected president in 2024.

The decision of the Supreme Court is overturned Roe v. calf moves the abortion issue to the states, where legislators and governors determine what access women will have to abortions. In the absence of federal action, states have already taken the lead in passing voting-restriction legislation, and depending on what happens in the court’s next term, state legislatures may have even more power to set rules for future elections.

About half a dozen states – unsurprisingly, these are the states that decided the 2020 presidential election and probably will will also decide the race in 2024 – have competitions for the governor. Republicans’ hopes of expanding their grip on the state government will depend on the outcome. But the GOPs Opportunities are affected by the quality of their candidates – and that’s a potential problem right now.

Republicans currently control both houses of the state legislature in 30 states, compared to 17 for Democrats, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They have full control of state government—legislature plus governorship—in 23 states; the Democrats 14. Gaining control of the state legislature remains a major challenge for Democrats, making holding or reversing governorships a key priority in the ongoing struggle over the direction of state policy.

The lineup on these presidential battlefields looks like this. Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin have Republican legislatures but Democratic governors. Georgia and Arizona have Republican governors and Republican legislatures, while Nevada has a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature. All are expected to see competitive gubernatorial races in November.

A guide to the 2022 midterm elections

In two of those states, Republicans have nominated their strongest candidates. In Georgia, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp drove to a primary victory over former US Senator David Perdue, who had the support of former President Donald Trump. He will face Democrat Stacey Abrams in a rematch of their 2018 race, with the odds slightly in his favor. In Nevada, Republicans nominated Clark County (Las Vegas) Sheriff Joe Lombardo to challenge Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. Lombardo was the favorite of both Trump and mainstream Republicans.

In the other four states, however, Republicans are not sure they have or will get their most credible candidate for the general election.

The Pennsylvania general election is already scheduled, pitting Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro against Republican Senator Doug Mastriano. In Mastriano, Republican primary voters chose an election denier as their nominee, someone who spread Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. In a state that remains deeply divided, the question is whether a Republican with that profile can generate Trump-like turnout among the GOP base in rural areas, or turn off enough suburban and swing voters to vote for Shapiro to bring the power.

Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona all have their primary elections in early August, and in each state competition for the Republican nomination leaves one wondering whether the party will end up fielding its strongest candidates.

Start with Wisconsin: Democratic Gov. Tony Evers narrowly won 2018 in a good year for Democrats. Former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who served two terms with the then governor. Scott Walker was viewed as a likely Republican nominee, and for most of 2021 and early 2022, GOP strategists say, she appeared to be doing everything right.

Then things changed. The primary was muddled by ongoing GOP fighting over the results of the 2020 election and the inclusion of more candidates. Businessman Tim Michels joined the race in April and later received Trump’s endorsement. Meanwhile, Kleefisch missed the 60 percent threshold needed to win party approval at the recent Republican convention.

A recent Marquette University Law School poll showed a statistical association between Kleefisch and Michels among GOP primary voters. Both support an 1849 state law banning abortion and oppose exceptions for rape or incest.

The general election is expected to be close, but as Republicans settle their differences, the Marquette Law School poll found Evers leading both candidates, with Kleefisch trailing by four percentage points and Michels trailing by seven percentage points. Republicans believe both candidates can win in November, but some believe Cloverfish is better prepared for some tough competition.

In Michigan, Republicans are having even more trouble weeding out their challenger to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Privately, GOP strategists continue to worry about the race in November.

Initially, Republicans thought they had an ideal candidate in James Craig, the former Detroit police chief. But he never lived to the reckoning ahead. He was recently kicked out of the main ballot for not having enough valid signatures on his petitions, one of five candidates removed from the ballot over signature problems. He is now starting an enrollment campaign, as is another of those who have been declared ineligible.

Ryan Kelley, another candidate, was recently arrested on a misdemeanor charge as part of the federal investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. Whatever this may mean for a general election race, the indictment is seen as a short-term boost for Kelley in a race where most GOP primary voters say President Biden wasn’t legitimately elected.

There are no favorites at the moment. A recent poll conducted by EPIC-MRA firm for the Detroit Free Press found Kelley slightly ahead of the rest in the race, but by just 17 percent. Almost half of Michigan Republicans are undecided in the gubernatorial primary. With Biden clearly under water in the state, Whitmer still faces a challenging reelection, but given all the troubles among Republicans, she could have significant opportunities to paint her opponent as unfit for office.

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is on a tenure, so the state will have an open race.

Ducey drew Trump’s ire for confirming the 2020 results, and the election remains a key issue in the main campaign to select a GOP candidate. The party primary shows a clear contrast between the party’s Trump wing and the establishment victory. Kari Lake, a former TV host in Phoenix, has Trump’s endorsement and has placed the former president’s false claim about a fraudulent 2020 election at the center of her campaign. Karrin Taylor Robson, the other most prominent candidate, is running as a more traditionally conservative Republican.

The Trump endorsement counts for a lot in the race, and Lake was seen as the nominal front-runner. Some Robson supporters believe former Congressman Matt Salmon’s recent decision to quit the race will bring more traditional GOP voters to her column. A wrinkle in the race came late last month: After denouncing drag queens as dangerous to children, Lake revealed she had attended a drag queen’s shows in the past.

In a year that favors Republicans, party strategists believe Robson would be favored over Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, her party’s frontrunner. Republicans have worried about Lake’s nomination all year, fearing she would jeopardize their chances of running for office. However, given the environment and her communication skills, she could also be elected governor, although what kind of governor she would be is another question. There is one certainty: a Democratic victory in November would set up a roadblock in front of the Republican-controlled Legislature.

In red state Kansas, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly — elected in 2018 against a flawed GOP nominee — is clearly vulnerable, and a GOP victory would give the party full control of state government. But ahead of the November election, Kansas will take its first look at abortion policy. The Aug. 2 primary includes a voting measure that would essentially invalidate a state Supreme Court ruling that the Kansas Constitution includes an abortion right.

The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter currently lists the gubernatorial races in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin as toss-ups. The Cook team shifted Pennsylvania from a toss-up to a Democrat lean after Mastriano won the primary. Because of this, the August round of the Republican primary will be closely watched on both sides.

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