Four term-limited Republican governors in swing states have kept a surprising distance between themselves and the nominees picked by their party to replace them, an unusual dissonance that could have long-lasting effects on their states.
In Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval, who broke with much of his party to oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, has said he will stay neutral in the November election between Republican Adam Laxalt and Democrat Steve Sisolak. In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder has declined to endorse Bill Schuette, who defeated Snyder’s lieutenant governor to win the GOP nomination.
“I’m focused on being governor of Michigan,” Snyder told reporters this month when asked when he’d endorse Schuette. “Less politics, more governing.”
Two other Republicans have hinted that their support for the party’s gubernatorial nominees will be limited. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who, like Sandoval, opposed the repeal of the ACA, said that Republican nominee Stevan Pearce was “the best candidate” in the race but demurred on whether she’d campaign for him. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has defended the state’s Medicaid expansion from some Republican criticism, has endorsed GOP nominee Mike DeWine, but did so only after DeWine clarified that he would not undo the policy.
“He came out for Medicaid expansion,” Kasich told reporters this month, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I had a very direct conversation with him, and he came out for it, so yeah, I’m going to be supporting Mike.”
Democrats, who are defending just nine governors’ mansions in 2018, see the discord in the GOP as an opening. Republicans, defending 26 states this year, enjoy a cash advantage — their party committee ended the summer with $87 million to spend, while the Democratic Governors Association does not release its cash on hand.* But where Sandoval, Snyder, Kasich and Martinez cultivated moderate images — all of them supported the expansion of Medicaid, and most criticized President Trump — their would-be successors won primaries or effectively cleared fields by running as allies of the president.
“This is all indicative of a Republican Party that’s moving far to the right,” said DGA spokesman Jared Goldberg-Leopold. “It creates a lot of voters who are up for grabs. People who voted for John Kasich or Brian Sandoval need to think hard about what Mike DeWine or Adam Laxalt would do for their state.”
None of this, say Republicans, alters their plans to invest in the swing states ahead of November. And governors can always change their minds about how much to focus on elections; after initially keeping out of the Aug. 7 special election for his old House district, Kasich surprised Democrats and cut an ad supporting the Republican nominee, Troy Balderson.
*This story has been updated to reflect that while there are public reports of the DGA’s cash on hand, the association does not report a total number.