Gonzales

Members Face Tough Odds in Races for Governor

Competitive primary, general elections await nine representatives running

Hawaii Rep. Colleen Hanabusa would be a heavy favorite to win her state’s governor’s race if she gets past the Democratic primary. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

There’s been plenty of media attention on the twelve members who have decided to call it quits and retire from the House, and another eight members are seeking a promotion to the Senate. But nine additional members are forgoing likely re-elections for uncertain and challenging races to become their state’s governor.

Many of them have to navigate crowded and competitive primaries (including knocking off an incumbent in one state), and the precedent for members getting elected governor isn’t great.

Just eight of the 50 current governors previously served in the House, and only five of them were elected directly from the House without holding a statewide office or another job in the interim period.

[Roll Call’s 2018 Election Guide]

Kansas Republican Sam Brownback was a senator before becoming governor. Ohio Republican John Kasich chose not to seek a 10th term in 2000 and wasn’t elected governor for another decade. Arkansas Republican Asa Hutchinson left the House to take a position in the George W. Bush administration and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006. He was later elected governor in 2014.

Georgia Republican Nathan Deal and Washington Democrat Jay Inslee were elected from the House but resigned before the end of their terms in order to spend more time on the campaign trail, which could signal some resignations next year.

The bad news for Hawaii gubernatorial candidate Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is that she must knock off Gov. David Ige in the Aug. 11 Democratic primary. The good news is that Ige defeated Gov. Neil Abercrombie 67 percent to 32 percent in the 2014 primary, so a victory would not be unprecedented. As the Democratic nominee, Hanabusa would be a heavy favorite in the general election in a state where President Donald Trump received 30 percent of the vote. Inside Elections rating: Solid Democratic.

On the other side of the partisan spectrum is Idaho, where Hillary Clinton failed to reach 28 percent. Rep. Raúl R. LaBrador faces a competitive Republican primary against Lt. Gov Brad Little and wealthy real estate developer Tommy Ahlquist in the open-seat race to replace GOP Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a former congressman. Democrats haven’t won a gubernatorial race in Idaho in over a quarter-century. Inside Elections rating: Solid Republican.

In South Dakota, Republican Rep. Kristi Noem is a top contender in the race to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard. The congresswoman faces a competitive primary on June 5 against state Attorney General Marty Jackley and others. But the nomination is critical, considering Clinton fell short of 32 percent in 2016, and Democrats haven’t won a gubernatorial race in South Dakota since Gerald R. Ford was president. Inside Elections rating: Solid Republican.

In Tennessee, Rep. Diane Black faces fellow Republican Randy Boyd, a wealthy former state economic development commissioner, and a host of others in a competitive primary. The GOP nominee will start the general election with an advantage, but Democrat Karl Dean, a former mayor of Nashville, should be a formidable foe. Inside Elections rating: Likely Republican.

In Ohio, Kasich is term-limited, leaving a wide-open race on both sides of the aisle. Rep. James B. Renacci must win a crowded and competitive Republican primary next May against state Attorney General (and former Sen.) Mike DeWine, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. The congressman might start the general election with a slight edge, considering Trump won Ohio by 8 points in 2016. But this looks like two tough races for Renacci. Inside Elections rating: Tilts Republican.

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham looks like the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in New Mexico, although she faces state Sen. Joe Cervantes and former Univision executive Jeff Apodaca (whose father Jerry served one term as governor in the late 1970s) in the June 5 primary. She could face fellow Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, in the general election, which would ensure that at least one current House member is elected governor next year. Inside Elections rating: Leans Democratic.

In Colorado, wealthy Rep. Jared Polis is a top contender for the Democratic nomination but faces a formidable primary field including former state Sen. Mike Johnston, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne. Rep. Ed Perlmutter announced for governor before ultimately deciding to run for re-election. Polis, or whoever the Democratic nominee is, will start the general election with an advantage. Inside Elections rating: Leans Democratic.

And in Minnesota, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Rep. Tim Walz is a top contender for the nomination, but like colleagues Polis and Lujan Grisham, he faces a crowded and competitive primary that includes St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and state Auditor Rebecca Otto. Fellow DFL Rep. Rick Nolan decided not to run for governor after months of public speculation. The DFL nominee should start the race with the advantage. Inside Elections rating: Likely DFL.

Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree has not ruled out a run for governor in Maine, where incumbent Republican Paul R. LePage is term-limited and GOP Sen. Susan Collins recently announced she wasn’t running.

And Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis is actively considering a run in Florida, where GOP Sen. Rick Scott is term-limited. While Pingree could likely muscle out some top contenders, DeSantis would face difficult primary and general election odds. 

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