Most people think that if there is a Blue Wave election this year it will result in Democrats taking control of one or both houses of Congress. Just as likely, however, is the chance that the Blue Wave will sweep Democrats into power in statehouses throughout the nation. In many states popular moderate Republican governors are retiring due to term limits, and the GOP candidates seeking to replace them have won primaries by tying themselves to Donald Trump.
In other words, as the Republican Party lurches to the right, the country may be swinging to the left. This situation offers great opportunity for Democrats to take back power in state governments that will play a critical role in redistricting after the 2020 census is completed.
There are many important states where GOP governors are retiring, and where Democrats have a chance at a pickup. In several of these states the retiring governors don’t appear to like their party’s new nominees very much at all.
For example, in Nevada, GOP Governor Brian Sandoval, who supported the Affordable Care Act, has said he will stay neutral in the November election between Republican Adam Laxalt, a Trump supporter, and Democrat Steve Sisolak. In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder has declined to endorse conservative Bill Schuette, who defeated Snyder’s lieutenant governor to win the GOP nomination.
“I’m focused on being governor of Michigan,” Snyder told reporters when asked whether he was goint to endorse Schuette. “Less politics, more governing.”
Two other Republicans have said they won’t give strong support to the party’s nominees. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who, like Sandoval, opposed the repeal of the ACA, said that Republican nominee Stevan Pearce was “the best candidate” in the race but declined to say that she would campaign for him.
In Ohio Governor John Kasich has proven to be a moderate, and he even defended Medicaid expansion from Republican criticism. He has shown lukewarm support for GOP nominee Mike DeWine, and said he would support him only after DeWine promised not to reverse the Medicaid expansion decision.
“He came out for Medicaid expansion,” Kasich told reporters. “I had a very direct conversation with him, and he came out for it, so yeah, I’m going to be supporting Mike.”
Democrats see the discord within the ranks of the Republican Party as an opening for them. Republicans have to defend 26 governorships this year, compared to only 9 for Democrats. And many of the states with current GOP governors are rated “tossups” by the Cook Political Report.
Other possible swing states where the GOP is at risk of losing governors’ offices include Florida, Maine, Iowa, Kansas and possibly Wisconsin.
Current governors Sandoval, Snyder, Kasich and Martinez all came to power based on their moderate images and policies. All of them supported the expansion of Medicaid. All of them at times expressed criticisms of President Trump. And all of their “would-be successors” got their party’s nomination by running as an ally of the president.
“This is all indicative of a Republican Party that’s moving far to the right,” said Jared Goldberg-Leopold from the Democratic Governors Association. “It creates a lot of voters who are up for grabs. People who voted for John Kasich or Brian Sandoval need to think hard about what Mike DeWine or Adam Laxalt would do for their state.”
In recent years there has been much focus on the impact of gerrymandering by state governments, and how that has helped Republicans keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives. If Democrats can win elections in 2018 and 2020 to give them more power in state governments this will prevent further gerrymandering for the GOP during the 2020 census redistricting process. And this may be essential to prevent further erosion of democracy in America.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.