Southern Gubernatorial Races
Given Doug Jones’ historic victory in Alabama of all places, it seems that people are finally starting to remember that the South can be hospitable to Democrats under the proper circumstances. One area in which there is further hope of Democratic victories in the South is the election of Governors. This is fortunate because if there is one area where Democrats desperately need to improve, it is the control of Governor’s mansions.
Currently Dems hold only sixteen of them, and to put this number in perspective, back in 1994 when Democrats lost 54 seats in the House, 9 in the Senate, and 10 Governors mansions they were still in better shape than they are today. Part of what has made this state of affairs so lopsided is that Governors’ races are about the only level of government where Republicans are not intent on seeing how extreme they can become and still be elected. While moderates have left the building in the House and can be counted on two or three fingers in the Senate, the GOP are actually fielding relatively moderate candidates for state office. In several deep blue states like Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, and even Vermont, moderate Republicans have prevailed. Not only does the GOP have influence in vast swathes of their home turf, they also hold most of the swing states, and quite a few otherwise blue ones. For liberal leaning Southerners, and for liberal folks willing to get involved in competitive elections, here are some states to keep an eye on in 2018.
Florida offers Democrats the best prospects for a pickup. Democrats have come close to retaking the governorship in 2006, 2010, and 2014. With two excellent candidates in Andrew Gillum, the young Mayor of Tallahassee, and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, the daughter of one of Florida’s most popular Democrats, 2018 may finally be the year Florida Dems have been waiting for.
Tennessee is no one’s idea of a swing state, but if the GOP goes with extremist candidates in 2018, the year may be a magical one for Democrats in regards to both the Senate race and Gubernatorial race. Tennessee voters tend to like their Republicans mild mannered, and a bit more bipartisan than your average Red State. As such if one of the tea party style candidates wins the Republican primary, the Dems have a narrow but viable path to victory. Candidates like Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh, the minority leader in the Tennessee statehouse, are also just the sort of well qualified and folksy Southern liberals who have pulled off such unexpected wins before.
Georgia is state that has frustrated Democrats for over a decade by being on the verge of going purple but repeatedly falling just short. Given Trump’s awful approval rating and how energized Democrats are, this may well be the year Dems finally turn the tide. Georgia voters have two candidates to decide between who are likely to pursue two very different campaign strategies. Stacy Abrams, the former minority leader in the Georgia state house, seems to believe that an overtly progressive campaign can energize enough minorities and millennials to pull off a win. Stacy Evans, meanwhile, a former Georgia state rep, seems to believe that the path to victory lies in courting swing voters and winning back Southerners who gravitated to the GOP under George W. Bush. That sort of strategy has allowed Georgia Dems to be competitive in recent years but it is also understandable why others think it is time to try something new. Regardless of the primary winner, Republicans will have to work hard in order to retain this seat.
Texas has proven Southern Democrats’ white whale over the past six years or so. On paper the state looks more like a purple one than solid red, but a host of factors have kept it firmly within the GOP camp. Democrats are long overdue for a victory, having not won a single statewide race since the mid 90s. Plenty of other races in the state look very winnable, and in order to maximize turnout, Dems need to field strong candidates across the board. If one of the relatively unknown Dems who have filed to run for Governor begin to attract attention, the odds of victories on the down ballot will improve greatly.
Kevin covers southern U.S. politics from Alabama