Gonzales

The Important Connection Between Governors and Congress

A first look at the gubernatorial race ratings for 2017-18

South Dakota Rep. Krisit Noem is a candidate for governor in 2018 and leaves behind a safe Republican seat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In Washington, it’s easy to ignore governors as distant rulers over far away lands. But now is a good time to start paying attention to what’s happening in state races.

Voters in 38 states (including nine of the 10 most populated) will elect a governor over the next two years, and the results have a direct connection to Capitol Hill. The large number of races give aspiring (or weary) members an opportunity to leave the House, and consequently, leave behind potentially vulnerable open seats. And governors in 28 of those states will have a role (specifically veto power) in the next round of redistricting, which will impact what party controls the House in the next decade. 

Democrats are particularly focused on electing governors in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, where Republicans maximized their power to draw favorable maps prior to the 2012 elections. In some of these states, Republicans have wide majorities in the state legislature, which means one gubernatorial victory can neutralize some of the GOP’s redistricting power. 

Overall, Democrats believe they stand to gain up to 44 House seats if “fair” maps were instituted in 18 states. They currently need to gain 24 seats to retake the majority.

But races for governor can have a more immediate impact on the House. In some places, members are leaving behind relatively safe districts for gubernatorial runs including Democrats Michelle Lujan Grisham (New Mexico’s 1st District) and Ed Perlmutter (Colorado’s 7th) and Republicans Kristi Noem (South Dakota’s At-Large) and eventually Diane Black (Tennessee’s 6th), after she announces her bid. 

What You Need to Know About the Gubernatorial Landscape

But other members are leaving behind seats that could be difficult for their party to hold including Democratic-Farmer-Labor Rep. Tim Walz, who is leaving Minnesota’s 1st, which Trump carried by 15 points in 2016, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. GOP Rep. James B. Renacci is vacating his seat in Ohio’s 16th District, which Trump carried by 17 points but Mitt Romney won by a more narrow 8 points in 2012 and could become a GOP headache.

A majority of governorships doesn’t count for much, but Republicans currently hold 33 compared to the  Democrats’ 16 (and one independent governor in Alaska). Controlling governorships gives a party more influence over policy and the politics of redistricting. 

Democrats are eager to rebound from a shocking 2016, and winning as many governorships as possible might be the most efficient way for the party to regain its footing in the short term and lay a foundation for the future.

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