Governor’s races gain new prominence, with higher stakes

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

Races for governors are often overshadowed by the struggle for control of Congress during midterm elections. But this fall, the nation’s political future depends as much on the governor’s mansions as it does on the Capitol.

With abortion rights, immigration policies and democracy itself at stake, both parties are heading into the final weeks before the Nov. 8 election prepared to spend unprecedented amounts of money to win top positions in the state. Those elected will be in power in the 2024 elections, when they will be able to influence voting laws, as well as the certification of the result. And its powers over abortion rights were greatly increased when the US Supreme Court in June left the matter to the states to decide.

“Governor elections are more important than ever,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, president of the Association of Democratic Governors, the group that works to elect Democrats to lead states.

For Democrats, Cooper said, governors “are often the last line of defense” on issues that have been handed over to states, including gun laws and voting rights, as well as abortion. This has been especially true in places with Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures like Wisconsin and Kansas — states where both parties were prime targets for the November victory. Democrats are leading Republican candidates in two key battleground states with GOP-led government houses, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly is the only Democratic governor running for re-election in a state led by former President Donald Trump in 2020. The former lawmaker won office in 2018 against a fierce conservative after running as a moderate he promoted. the bipartisanship.

She now faces three-term attorney general Derek Schmidt, who has repeatedly tried to link her to President Joe Biden and has criticized her as too liberal for the red state. Schmidt’s campaign was marred, however, by a third-party offer from a conservative state legislator.

During a debate at the Kansas State Fair this month, Schmidt portrayed Kelly’s stance on abortion as too extreme, telling a crowd that she supports unrestricted abortion.

Kansas has been the unlikely site of Democratic hopes for abortion rights. In August, Kansas voters overwhelmingly defeated a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow the GOP-controlled legislature to restrict or ban abortion. Kelly objected to the move, though he tried to focus his campaign elsewhere.

Schmidt said he respected the outcome of the vote, but the abortion debate was not over.

“What wasn’t on the ballot was Governor Kelly’s position,” he said.

Over nearly two decades in elective politics, Kelly has opposed nearly all of the abortion restrictions now in Kansas law. But asked about Schmidt’s characterization of her stance on abortion, she said: “You know, I never said that.”

Kelly did not emphasize abortion as an issue, although many Democrats think it would help her. Instead, it has been touting the state’s fiscal strength and its work to attract businesses and jobs.

“Maybe I’m not flashy, but I’m effective,” she said at the end of the state fair debate.

In Wisconsin, Democratic Governor Tony Evers warns voters that democracy is at the polls this fall and notes that he has vetoed more bills than any governor in the state’s modern history, including measures Republicans have pushed to change the way elections are conducted.

Evers faces businessman Tim Michels, who has been endorsed by Trump. Michels claimed the 2020 presidential election was rigged — a lie Trump pressed in an effort to reverse his defeat to Biden — and supports changes to voting laws and elections in the state, a perennial presidential battleground.

Michels is among several Trump-backed nominees to emerge from sometimes brutal Republican primaries. In some cases, more moderate or established Republicans have warned that the far-right choice Trump endorsed would struggle to win in the general election.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, chairman of the Association of Republican Governors, acknowledged the intra-party turmoil during a discussion at Georgetown University’s Institute of Public Policy and Policy last week.

“We are a divided nation now, and it is very tribal. And a lot of that has seeped into this cycle,” said Ducey, who has a limited term.

The RGA does not endorse primaries. But as governor, Ducey endorsed businesswoman Karrin Taylor Robson for the Arizona Republican Party’s nomination for governor. She lost to former TV anchor Kari Lake, who had Trump’s backing.

Ducey and Trump fought over the governor’s refusal to give in to Trump’s wishes and nullify the 2020 election results in their state. Lake said he would not have certified Biden’s victory, although it was claimed by several critics.

Cooper said the DGA will be “supporting each other strongly” in Arizona, as well as a close race in Georgia, where Republican Governor Brian Kemp faces Democrat Stacey Abrams, a former state legislature leader who lost a close race in 2018 to him. . In the primaries, Kemp easily defeated former Senator David Perdue, who was endorsed by Trump.

The associations of Democratic and Republican governors entered 2022 with record amounts of money — more than $70 million each — in what they say is a sign that voters are increasingly focused on state contests. Cooper attributed some of the growing interest to Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

The RGA is optimistic about defending Republican governments in Arizona and Georgia, and is heavily focused on picking up a handful of blue states in the West, including Oregon and New Mexico.

Topping the list is Nevada, where Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is among the Republicans’ top-earning recruits this election cycle and is challenging Governor Steve Sisolak.

In Oregon, the GOP hopes that an independent candidate will get enough support from the Democrat to allow the Republican to win.

Meanwhile, Democrats are confident they will retake the governorships of Massachusetts and Maryland, two blue states currently led by moderate Republicans, after far-right Republicans won their party’s nominations.

Pennsylvania, a major presidential battleground, is another state where the Republican candidate could hurt the Republicans’ chances in November. GOP voters picked Doug Mastriano from a crowded field, choosing a Trump-backed candidate who opposes abortion rights with no exceptions, spreading conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, and arranging bus trips to the US Capitol on 6 January, the day of the violent insurrection. He faces Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Asked about the race during the Georgetown discussion, Ducey went straight.

“Another axiom that we have at RGA is that we don’t fund lost causes and we don’t fund landslides,” he said.

In Michigan, an unstable state where Trump and his allies also tried unsuccessfully to reverse their 2020 defeat, Trump-backed candidate Tudor Dixon won a chaotic GOP primary. Democrats have repeatedly criticized Dixon for his stance against abortion, including in cases of rape or incest. A measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution will also be on the November vote, and Democrats hope that will help their candidates.

First-term Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has millions more in her campaign fund than Dixon, but said after an appearance at the Detroit Auto Show that she was not taking anything for granted.

“This is Michigan, and it’s always tight in Michigan,” she said.


Burnett reported from Chicago. Associated Press reporter Colleen Long contributed from Detroit.


Follow the AP for full coverage of the midterm elections at and on Twitter at

Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at

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