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Governors Update: Democrats Suddenly Have A Real Chance In Alaska

The news on governors races this weekend was good for the Democrats in two states — although nothing happened to dramatically alter our forecast, which already projected major gains by Democrats at the statehouse level. We estimated that Democrats were on pace to govern 194 million people when we launched our forecast last week vs. 135 million for Republicans; that’s up to 197 million now.

The big actual news — not just fresh polls — happened in Alaska. On Friday night, Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, suspended his re-election campaign and endorsed the Democratic candidate, former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. Begich has said he will continue the expansion of Medicaid in Alaska through Obamacare, a hallmark of Walker’s tenure, while Republican Mike Dunleavy has been noncommittal about continuing the program.

With Walker gone, the chances of a Dunleavy loss have gone up. Polls had shown Walker well behind the former state senator, in part because Begich and Walker were splitting the non-Dunleavy vote. Early voting starts this week in Alaska, so Walker acted just in time to signal to his supporters not to back him and potentially doom Begich’s chances.

Dunleavy is still the favorite. Alaska’s leans red, after all: Trump won there by 15 percentage points in 2016, and a Democrat last won a gubernatorial race in Alaska in 1998.1 Moreover, Walker’s name will remain on the ballot because he withdrew too late to have it removed. So a few of his supporters may vote for him anyway. That could matter in a very close race.

All that said, the Classic version of our forecast now suggests that Dunleavy has a 2 in 3 chance of winning, or 65 percent; Begich is a 1 in 3 underdog. That’s a huge shift: The model gave Dunleavy a 5 in 6 chance at launch and had him winning by about 12 percentage points on average. He’s up just 3 points now.

The bottom line is that Democrats have a real chance in Alaska now. And they really didn’t with both Begich and Walker in the race.

The other good news for Democrats came in Florida. Two polls released over the weekend — one from CNN, the other by SEA Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm — showed Democrat Andrew Gillum ahead of Republican Ron DeSantis in Florida’s gubernatorial race. The CNN survey showed Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, up by 10 points among registered voters and by 12 among likely voters. That’s unusual — typically Republicans do better among likely voters than registered voters — and it’s one potential sign of a Democratic enthusiasm advantage.

As for the SEA poll: You should generally be skeptical of partisan polls, but I’d take this one at least somewhat seriously. The poll, which found Gillum ahead by 6 percentage points, showed Republican Rick Scott leading Sen. Bill Nelson in Florida’s Senate race. So SEA is not just churning out numbers favorable to Democratic candidates. FiveThirtyEight rates SEA as a fairly decent pollster, with a B- rating. And Gillum’s margin in the SEA poll is generally in line with what other firms have found. In other words, it’s not a crazy result.

The DeSantis campaign said over the weekend that its internal polling put the Republican ahead 47 percent to 45 percent. This, though, is the kind of partisan polling I’d be particularly wary of — the kind released by a campaign that’s losing according to most other data. Those surveys are usually further off from the final results than other polls.

That said, races in Florida are usually close. I’d be surprised if Gillum wins by double digits. Sure, the CNN poll was an outlier, showing Gillum up by much more than most other surveys. But the survey from the DeSantis campaign was an outlier too, as virtually every other poll of the race has shown Gillum ahead.

So overall, this data is good for Gillum but not that significant. The forecast last week suggested that Gillum was the favorite, with about a 7 in 10 chance of winning. His chances are up but not dramatically; he’s now a 7 in 9 favorite.


  1. Begich was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008 but lost narrowly in 2014.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.