Daily Kos Elections is pleased to announce our first set of gubernatorial race ratings for the 2018 election cycle. Thanks to their strong performance in the last two midterm elections, Republicans are defending 26 seats. Democrats, by contrast, are defending just nine, while one independent who won in 2014 with support from Democrats, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, is also up for re-election.
Our full chart rating the competitiveness of each contest is below (with Democratic seats in blue, Republican seats in red, and independent seats in green), along with a description of our ratings categories and an explanation of why we've rated each race the way we have. These ratings are also visualized in the map at the top of this post.
These ratings represent our attempt to forecast the outcomes of this November’s elections, using the best information we have available. As circumstances warrant, we’ll issue changes in these ratings from time to time. To keep up with any changes, please subscribe to our free newsletter, the Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest, which we send out each weekday. And for a comprehensive overview of how our ratings work, please check out our detailed methodology statement.
In brief, here’s how we define each of our ratings categories:
Tossup: Both (or all) parties have a strong, though not necessarily perfectly equal, chance of winning.
Lean Democrat or Lean Republican: One party has an identifiable advantage, but an upset victory is possible for the other party.
Likely Democrat or Likely Republican: One party has a strong advantage and is likely to win, though the race has the potential to become more competitive and an upset cannot be ruled out.
Safe Democrat or Safe Republican: Barring unforeseeable developments, one party is certain to win.
Below are brief explanations of our initial ratings, grouped by category of competitiveness and ranging from most competitive to least competitive. Note, however, that even within each category, not all races are equally competitive: One race in the Lean Republican grouping, for instance, might be on the border of being a Tossup, while another could be closer to Likely Republican.
● Alaska – Bill Walker (I): Independent Bill Walker has governed a red state during tough economic times on account of tumbling oil revenues, and several Republicans are competing in the August primary to face him. Thanks to a court ruling earlier this year, Walker can run in the Democratic primary without giving up his status as an independent, which would allow him to serve as the de facto Democratic candidate in the general election.
Walker's biggest obstacle to pulling this off is former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, who's been considering a bid of his own. We'll know soon, though, since Alaska's filing deadline is June 1. If Walker can indeed secure the Democratic nomination and thus avoid a split on his left, he'll have a decent chance in November. However, with so little data out of this rarely-polled state, it's tough to know how voters feel about their governor, which is why we're rating this as a Tossup.
● Colorado – OPEN (D): Democrats have a competitive late June primary on their hands between Rep. Jared Polis, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, former state Sen. Mike Johnston, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne. By contrast, the Republican establishment has largely coalesced around state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, whose main GOP primary rival is self-funding businessman Victor Mitchell. Colorado leans slightly toward Democrats, and outgoing Gov. John Hickenlooper has been relatively well-liked over his two terms. That should help give Democrats a modest advantage when combined with the favorable political environment, but it’s too soon to say for sure.
● Connecticut – OPEN (D): Years of weak economic growth, dire state finances, tax hikes, and spending cuts have all combined to make Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy one of the most unpopular governors in the nation, leading him to eschew a bid for a third term. Such conditions should make Connecticut ripe for a Republican takeover, but the GOP field is fractured and lacks a dominant contender. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton won the party's official endorsement in May, but as many as five other candidates (some of whom are self-funding) will compete in the Aug. 14 primary.
Democrats, meanwhile, have largely consolidated behind businessman Ned Lamont, who unexpectedly lost the 2010 primary to Malloy (but more famously lost a 2006 Senate race to Joe Lieberman, after knocking him off in the primary). Lamont benefits from having been uninvolved in the never-ending budget crises in the state capitol, but Malloy's baggage may nevertheless sink him simply because the two share the same political party. The best thing Democrats have going for them is the favorable national political environment, because Connecticut's environment has been sucky.
● Florida – OPEN (R): Having twice lost to term-limited Gov. Rick Scott by 1 point in successive GOP wave elections, Democrats should be poised for a better outcome this year. The biggest problem, though, is the party's bench, which lacks prominent contenders or strong fundraisers. As a result, wealthy Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has emerged as the Democratic frontrunner thanks to his ability to self-fund, though the late August primary remains up for grabs.
Luckily for Democrats, Republicans have a bitter nomination battle in the now-classic mold: State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who's been preparing a bid for years, is the establishment choice, while Rep. Ron DeSantis, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, managed to win Trump's endorsement. Putnam has been trying to align himself with Trump to win the primary, and while Trump narrowly carried Florida, this could be a negative in the general election given the current political environment. That dynamic means that, once again, the race for governor in Florida is likely to remain tight until the very end.
● Maine – OPEN (R): Despite leaning Democratic at the presidential level for a long time, Maine voters are notoriously swingy when it comes to in-state races, and their penchant for backing third-party candidates adds even greater uncertainty to the race to succeed hard-right GOP Gov. Paul LePage. Both parties have crowded primaries that will use instant-runoff voting for the first time, but that system will not be used for the general election. As a result, Democrats could once again face a handicap if a left-leaning independent, such as state Treasurer Terry Hayes, takes votes from their nominee. This race might otherwise favor Democrats, but this painful problem keeps this race in the Tossup category.
● Michigan – OPEN (R): Michigan is set to be one of the marquee gubernatorial races of the cycle as Democrats look to break the GOP’s eight-year grip on state government. Outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is a key reason they have an opening: His popularity has tumbled during his two terms thanks in part to his disastrous handling of the Flint water crisis, as well as public unhappiness over underfunded schools and crumbling roadways.
The likely Democratic nominee is former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who has the support of much of the party establishment and labor groups. However, she’ll first have to overcome a primary that includes self-funding businessman Shri Thanedar, who has a long list of flaws as a first-time candidate, and former Detroit Health Department director Abdul El-Sayed.
On the Republican side, state Attorney General Bill Schuette has the backing of Donald Trump and is the favorite to win the August primary over Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. Assuming Schuette wins, Democrats will try to tie him to the national GOP’s unpopular policies such as ending Obamacare, which he has loyally fought for in court as attorney general.
● Minnesota – OPEN (D): Former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is seeking a comeback after retiring in 2010 following two terms in office, and he has been a prodigious fundraiser. However, he’ll first have to get past 2014 nominee Jeff Johnson, who has the support of conservative activists, in the primary. Meanwhile, Democrats have a competitive contest between Rep. Tim Walz, state Rep. Erin Murphy, and state Auditor Rebecca Otto, which could continue to an August primary if Walz doesn’t win the June party convention. Walz appears to be the frontrunner, but Murphy in particular can’t be counted out in what’s been a fantastic year for Democratic women.
Minnesota has long been competitive in gubernatorial elections, but it swung strongly to the right like most Midwestern states did in 2016 thanks to working-class white voters switching their votes from Democrat to Republican. However, Pawlenty picked up some baggage during his time in the wilderness: His recent work as a lobbyist for Wall Street and his failed 2012 presidential bid could prove detrimental for a candidate who never won a majority of the vote in his two gubernatorial victories.
● Nevada – OPEN (R): Gov. Brian Sandoval, a relative moderate in today’s GOP, is term-limited, and Republicans are set to nominate ultra-conservative state Attorney General Adam Laxalt. Democrats have a competitive primary between Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak, who has the support of Harry Reid and much of the state establishment, and fellow County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who has been running a campaign that has questioned Sisolak’s progressive bona fides.
Sandoval’s broad popularity could help buoy his party’s choice for successor, but Laxalt cuts a very different figure and lacks Sandoval’s crossover appeal. However, Nevada remains a closely divided swing state, and this contest could go either way right now.
● New Mexico – OPEN (R): Democrats are poised to regain the governor’s office after Republican Gov. Susana Martinez finishes out her second and final term with weak approval ratings. Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham has been the undisputed frontrunner throughout her entire primary campaign, and she’s set to face hard-right Republican Rep. Steve Pearce in the fall. While New Mexico is only light-blue, given the choice between a mainstream Democrat like Lujan Grisham and a Freedom Caucus fanatic like Pearce, we think the state will choose door number one.
● Rhode Island – Gina Raimondo (D): Raimondo narrowly won her first term in 2014 by just a 41-36 margin over Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, a Republican, while a third-party candidate took 21 percent. Raimondo and Fung could face a rematch after the September primaries, but Raimondo will have to ward off a primary challenge from her left from former Secretary of State Matt Brown first. Raimondo has had a turbulent relationship with progressives since pushing through pension reforms as state treasurer, and she’s also made missteps during her first term that could leave her vulnerable in a general election.
While Rhode Island is solidly Democratic in federal and legislative elections, voters have had no qualms about splitting their tickets during the last several gubernatorial contests. Limited polling has found Raimondo with a middling approval rating, but Rhode Island’s blue lean and the overall political environment should be enough to give her a second term in November.
● Georgia – OPEN (R): Former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams resoundingly won the Democratic primary in May, and she's determined to implement a new strategy for winning statewide in Georgia as she seeks to become the first black woman governor in American history. Rather than play to the middle and hope to win over enough white Republican voters to eke out a victory, Abrams plans to juice turnout among the Democratic base: namely black voters (especially black women), young people, and other voters of color. It's untried, but we can say for sure that the old playbook hasn't worked in Georgia since the 1990s.
Republicans, meanwhile, still have to decide between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp in a July 24 runoff, where Cagle appears to be the frontrunner. That gives Abrams time to replenish her coffers while the two remaining Republicans duke it out. But whoever emerges with the GOP will still be the favorite, if for no other reason than the state's traditional Republican lean.
● Iowa – Kim Reynolds (R): Iowa took a sharp right turn in 2016, and Reynolds, who inherited the governorship when Terry Branstand was confirmed as Trump’s ambassador to China, has been running a formidable campaign so far. Democrats, however, aren’t ready to give up on this long-time swing state just yet. Wealthy and well-connected businessman Fred Hubbell has run a strong race so far and appears on track to win the Democratic nomination. While beating an incumbent free of scandal is typically a difficult task, Republican over-reach on issues like reproductive rights, anti-union laws, and health care could give Team Blue an opening.
● Maryland – Larry Hogan (R): Maryland is one of the most consistently blue states in the country, but voter dissatisfaction with his Democratic predecessor and abysmal turnout helped the relatively moderate Hogan pull off an upset in 2014. Since then, polls have consistently crowned him as one of the most well-liked governors in the country. At the same time, though, Hogan hasn’t posted daunting leads when matched up against his prospective Democratic opponents.
Democrats have a crowded and competitive June 26 primary on their hands, but Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and former NAACP president Ben Jealous are the top contenders for the nomination. Hogan’s popularity makes him an intimidating foe, but he’ll have to overcome a state that’s normally hostile to Republicans up and down the ballot and has only ever given a single Republican a second term, all the way back in 1954.
● Ohio – OPEN (R): The Buckeye State will feature a rematch of the 2010 race for state attorney general, when Republican Mike DeWine (then a former two-term U.S. senator) unseated incumbent Democrat Richard Cordray by just 1 point. Cordray went on to become head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and his statewide track record (which includes two wins and that one narrow loss amidst the GOP wave) make him just about the strongest possible contender Democrats could have put forth.
But DeWine has a longer history of winning across the state, and perennial swing state Ohio veered sharply to the right in 2016, with Trump's 8-point victory the GOP's largest since 1988. The Democrats' deterioration among working-class white voters gives DeWine the advantage, but if the state snaps back—Obama won it twice—then this race could become a Tossup.
● Wisconsin – Scott Walker (R): Walker is one of just two governors seeking a third term this year (along with New York's Andrew Cuomo), but perhaps surprisingly, it's a feat that incumbents have successfully pulled off 20 of 24 times since 1970. And thanks to his war on organized labor, Walker retains an adoring fan base among conservative voters and an appreciative donor base in the business world.
But Walker himself is panicked, repeatedly warning his fellow Republicans that Wisconsin is at risk of a "blue wave" following a string of progressive wins at the ballot box. Including the 2012 recall, Walker has won each of his elections with 52, 53, and 52 percent of the vote, so he has little room for error. And thanks to that recall, "Walker fatigue" might be a little higher than normal, since he'd actually be trying for his fourth straight win.
Thanks, however, to the GOP's dominance in Wisconsin this decade, the Democratic bench has suffered. Limited polling shows Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, the only Democrat in the field who hosts statewide office, leading the pack, though the primary is not until mid-August. Ultimately, the overall political environment may wind up mattering more than the quality of Walker's opposition, but right now, he retains the edge.
● Illinois – Bruce Rauner (R): It's rare to find an incumbent in as deep a hole as Rauner is, but his poor luck is a direct outcome of his good luck: Four years ago, he had the fortune to run against a deeply disliked Democratic incumbent during a GOP wave election, allowing him to overcome Illinois' strong blue lean and win the governorship. But the years since have seen Rauner mired in a never-ending war with the Democratic-controlled legislature—a conflict he's usually been on the losing side of.
Voters now seem eager to dump him, and polls show venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker simply demolishing Rauner. Pritzker has his own baggage, but in this battle of self-funding billionaires, he's likely to deliver one final defeat to the incumbent.
● Oregon – Kate Brown (D): Oregon holds the distinction of owning the nation’s second-longest streak of continuously electing Democratic governors (behind only Washington), having last voted Republican for Vic Atiyeh way back in 1982. That run looks unlikely to come to an end this year. Brown convincingly won a 2016 special election for the remainder of her first term, and while relatively moderate state Rep. Knute Buehler gives the GOP a well-funded challenger, it’s hard to see him pulling off a historic upset in this blue-leaning state in a year that favors Democrats.
● Pennsylvania – Tom Wolf (D): Wolf pulled off the difficult feat of unseating a Republican incumbent during the 2014 GOP wave, but with the legislature firmly in Republican hands, he's feuded with lawmakers ever since. Unlike many similarly situated peers, though, Wolf's approval ratings have stayed above water, and the GOP's optimism about taking him out has dimmed.
Wolf's opponent is wealthy state Sen. Scott Wagner, who openly identifies with Trump and is one of the most conservative legislators in the state. While Trump did narrowly carry Pennsylvania in 2016, the political environment is considerably more hostile to him this year. Wolf's fundraising has been strong, but he's also rich and can tap his own resources if need be. National groups on both sides don't seem to have the Keystone State in their focus, so Wolf is likely to win a second term.
● Alabama – Kay Ivey (R): Alabama is a dark-red state, but potential fatigue with Republican corruption in the state capitol could give Democrats a change to pull off an upset against Ivey, who assumed office last year after her predecessor resigned in disgrace over a scandal involving the abuse of state resources to conceal an affair. Democrats have primary between Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, but they will need a lot of luck to replicate Sen. Doug Jones’ epic win.
● Arizona – Doug Ducey (R): Arizona's a bit hard to get a read on: Ducey won his first term by double digits in 2014, and top Democrats passed up the race. Nevertheless, the Republican Governors Association included Arizona in its first round of TV ad reservations, along with several states that are more obviously competitive, like Nevada and Florida. It could be a sign of worry, or it could just be insurance—but even then, you don't take out insurance if you don't think you'll ever use it.
Democrats will host an August primary between state Sen. Steve Farley and college professor David Garcia, who narrowly lost a bid for superintendent of public instruction during the 2014 GOP wave and has released some internal polling showing a tight race. Trump's 3.5-point win in Arizona was the worst for a Republican in two decades, so this one could be a real sleeper.
● Kansas – Jeff Colyer (R): Kansas Republicans have been punished up and down the ballot ever since former Gov. Sam Brownback’s radical tax cuts forced harsh reductions in government services, especially to education funding. Colyer assumed office after Brownback was appointed to an ambassadorship earlier this year, and his association with his predecessor’s tenure should give Democrats an opening despite Kansas’ deep conservative inclinations. Complicating matters further for the GOP is the fact that notorious voter suppression crusader Kris Kobach is waging a primary challenge against the incumbent.
However, Democrats have a major complication of their own: independent Greg Orman. A wealthy businessman, Orman became Team Blue’s de facto nominee in the 2014 Senate election; he lost that race 53-43, which was a respectable showing given the extremely adverse circumstances. But this time, Democrats aren’t making way for Orman, and his independent candidacy is liable peel off the critical swing voters and moderate Republicans whom Democrats need to win over to prevail in a state that backed Trump by a daunting 56-36 margin.
● New Hampshire – Chris Sununu (R): Republican Gov. Chris Sununu barely won his first two-year term in 2016, but every poll to date has given him a stellar approval rating. While New Hampshire is notoriously prone to wild swings when it comes to elections for Congress and its state legislature, Granite State voters have a strong tendency to give their governors a second term. Democrats have a primary between former state Sen. Molly Kelly and former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, but either Democrat will have a hard time unseating such a popular incumbent.
● Oklahoma – OPEN (R): Democrats have coalesced around former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who narrowly lost the primary when he ran for governor in 2010. Republicans, meanwhile, have a multi-candidate field that might not yield a nominee until the likely Aug. 28 runoff. General election polling has been nearly non-existent, but there are signs Democrats just might have a chance to pull off an upset.
Republicans dominate Oklahoma at every level, but as in neighboring Kansas, a brewing backlash over devastating budget cuts that have forced many schools to operate just four days a week has left outgoing Republican Gov. Mary Fallin incredibly unpopular, and teachers have been on strike for better funding. Democrats have posted a string of stunning over-performances in state legislative special elections since 2016, and it’s not impossible that fed-up Republican voters could take out their frustrations with Fallin by supporting a Democrat to clean up her mess.
● South Carolina – Henry McMaster (R): South Carolina has been almost implacably red in recent years, but a corruption scandal involving one of McMaster’s closest associates could give Democrats an opportunity to pull off an upset—if he’s the GOP nominee. McMaster assumed office in early 2017 after former Gov. Nikki Haley became U.N. ambassador, but he faces a vigorous primary challenge from former state cabinet official Catherine Templeton, who is campaigning against the culture of corruption that state politics is increasingly known for. Democrats have their own competitive primary, but even if Team Blue gets to face a wounded McMaster, the race would be a serious longshot.
● Tennessee – OPEN (R): Ordinarily, we'd probably rate a governor's race in a dark-red state like Tennessee as Safe Republican, but a few factors combine here to place a Democratic pickup in the Volunteer State on just this side of plausibility. Most notably, the party has not one but two surprisingly credible candidates running, in former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh. It's also an open-seat race in what's shaping up to be a good year for Team Blue, and the last Democrat to win the governor's mansion, Phil Bredesen, will also be on the ballot in this year's Senate contest.
Republicans have a contested primary of their own, with Rep. Diane Black leading businessman Randy Boyd in most polls. Whoever earns the GOP nomination would have to screw up pretty big-time to lose this race, but we can't rule out the possibility. That's especially true if the nominee is Black, who recently declared pornography to be a "root cause" of school shootings.
● California – OPEN (D): While California's unusual top-two electoral system creates considerable uncertainty as to which candidates might make the November ballot, there's little doubt that Democrats are overwhelming favorites to prevail in this solidly blue state. Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has led every survey of the race and is the undisputed frontrunner. Businessman John Cox, a Republican who has Trump's backing, has frequently polled well enough to proceed November, but it's possible that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa could snag the other general election spot and make November an all-Democratic bout with Newsom.
● Hawaii – David Ige (D): Ige’s serious stumbles during his first term in office represent an existential threat to his career, but only in the Democratic primary. Ige's poor relationship with legislators and his disastrous handling of a false alarm warning of a ballistic missile attack have left him deeply vulnerable against his intra-party challenger, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. Against Hanabusa, the GOP has no hope, but even if Ige somehow survives, Republicans are in no position to capitalize since they have no credible candidates running.
● New York – Andrew Cuomo (D): Republicans haven't won a race for governor in New York since 2002, when George Pataki secured his third and final term. They won't have any greater luck this year than they did in their past three tries. Despite his $30 million war chest, Cuomo does face a serious primary challenge from his left from actress and activist Cynthia Nixon. But whoever emerges with the Democratic nomination will remain the heavy favorite against Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the likely GOP nominee.
● Arkansas – Asa Hutchinson (R): Hutchinson handily won a heavily contested general election to secure his first term in 2014, but he faces only nominal opposition this time from Democratic nominee Jared Henderson, who was the former state director of Teach for America. Democrats dominated Arkansas downballot as recently as a decade ago, but it has zoomed hard to the right since then with astonishing speed. Consequently, Hutchinson should have no problems prevailing in November.
● Idaho – OPEN (R): Idaho has long been one of the reddest states, and Republicans are heavily favored to win November's race between GOP Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Democratic former state Rep. Paulette Jordan. Democrats' slim chances of victory likely diminished after the establishment-flavored Little won the GOP primary over Rep. Raul Labrador, a bomb-throwing member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Jordan has not shied away from progressive positions, and as a member of the Coeur d'Alene tribe, she’d become the first Native American to become governor of any state in U.S. history if she were to pull off the upset. However, heavily Republican Idaho hasn’t elected a Democrat to the governorship since 1990.
● Massachusetts – Charlie Baker (R): Baker has posted a consistently stellar approval rating during his first term, and Democrats only have two relatively unknown contenders who have struggled to raise enough money to mount a serious campaign after many more prominent names declined to run. New Englanders strongly favor Democrats in federal races, but they’ve often backed more moderate Republicans like Baker for state office, and Massachusetts is set to do just that once again.
● Nebraska – Pete Ricketts (R): After a first term free of any major missteps, Nebraska’s ruby-red hue all but guarantees Ricketts of winning re-election over state Sen. Bob Krist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat.
● South Dakota – OPEN (R): South Dakota has the longest streak in the nation of continuously electing one party for governor, and there’s no reason to think Democrats will win this year for the first time since 1974. State Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton does have experience winning a staunchly Republican legislative district, but whether the GOP nominates Rep. Kristi Noem or state Attorney General Marty Jackley on June 5, Republicans don’t have much to worry about.
● Texas – Greg Abbott (R): After Abbott smashed the much-hyped campaign of Wendy Davis in 2014, Democrats have shown far less interest in challenging him this year. Rather infamously, no Democrat has won any statewide office in Texas since 1994, the longest such streak in the nation, and with his astonishing $43 million war chest, Abbott will be all but unbeatable. However, Democrats hope that former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez will at least help them turn out voters for more competitive contests further down the ballot.
● Vermont – Phil Scott (R): Even though Vermont has become a deep blue state on the federal level over the last three decades, it still has a habit of electing moderate Republicans to state office. Scott, who'd been lieutenant governor, won his first term by a comfortable 53-44 margin in 2016, even as Clinton was cruising to a 57-30 victory. Notable Vermont Democrats took a pass on challenging him this year (the state elects governors to two-year terms), leaving the task to a first-time candidate, former Vermont Electric Cooperative CEO Christine Hallquist, who would be the country's first trans governor.
● Wyoming – OPEN (R): Wyoming was Trump’s best state in the country, and there’s no sign that outgoing Gov. Matt Mead has the kind of unpopularity that is weighing down the GOP in other red states like Kansas or Oklahoma. Republicans have a crowded primary where billionaire megadonor Foster Friess’ late entry has scrambled the race, but whomever the party nominates won’t have much trouble defeating former state House Minority Leader Mary Throne in the general election.