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Governors Update: After Flirting With Trump In 2016, These Three States Are Looking Blue Again

Welcome to our Election Update for Wednesday, Oct. 24.

From the launch of our governors forecast, three purplish states with no incumbent governor running — Maine, Michigan and Minnesota — have all sat firmly in the Democratic column. Democrats’ chances of winning have remained at or above 89 percent in all three races.

Yet, this overwhelming Democratic lean is somewhat unexpected, as all three states had margins of fewer than 3 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election. Maine split its electoral votes because President Trump won one of its two congressional districts even though Hillary Clinton carried the state. And Trump won Michigan by just 0.2 points, the closest margin of all 50 states, while Clinton edged Trump out in Minnesota by 1.5 points (although the presidential result continued Minnesota’s rightward trend). Still, recent polls suggest that the Democrats hold the advantage in each state’s gubernatorial race, although there are signs that one race may be tightening.

Let’s first start with our seat rated “solid Democratic.” In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, a former state Senate minority leader, has a 29 in 30 chance of defeating Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette. The most recent Michigan survey, from GOP pollster Marketing Research Group, found Whitmer up 50 percent to 36 percent.1

As for both Maine and Minnesota, the respective Democratic nominee has about a 9 in 10 chance of winning. Maine Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills led Republican Shawn Moody by 9 points in a recently released poll from Pan Atlantic SMS Group, although the survey was in the field at the start of October.2 However, the latest Minnesota polls have raised at least a few eyebrows. Although Democratic Rep. Tim Walz remains a strong favorite against Republican Jeff Johnson, a new Mason-Dixon survey found Walz ahead just 45 percent to 39 percent.3 This comes on the heels of a survey from Democratic pollster Change Research that gave Walz only a 3-point edge in the race.4 This potential tightening of the polls makes Minnesota a race to keep an eye on.

Notably, none of these races features an incumbent, which might have helped either party as governors often have a strong incumbency advantage in elections.5 So, it’s possible that a Republican incumbent in one of these states would have strengthened the GOP’s chances. That said, in this Democratic-leaning environment, it’s not all that surprising that Democrats appear to have the upper hand in states that would be more competitive based on their baseline partisan lean under more neutral circumstances. But Minnesota might prove to be more competitive than it first appeared. We have seven polls from there so far, so we will just have to wait for more polling to see how much more!

Footnotes

  1. The poll was conducted from Oct. 14 to Oct. 18.

  2. The poll was conducted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 7.

  3. The poll was conducted from Oct. 15 to Oct. 17.

  4. The poll was conducted from Oct. 12 to Oct. 13.

  5. Maine and Michigan have term-limited Republican governors, while Minnesota’s retiring governor is a Democrat.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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