But the impact of governor’s races should never be undersold, particularly in an era in which the federal government is gridlocked and much of the action is at the state level (see: abortion rights).
In recent weeks and days, we’ve seen a number of key developments. Some of Democrats’ most surprising near-misses from the 2018 cycle announced that they’d put their names on the ballot again. We’ve also seen the advent of some GOP primary challenges that will test the trajectory of the Republican Party and Donald Trump’s influence. And in a number of cases, high-profile former statewide officeholders are cueing up challenges to incumbent governors.
Georgia unites all three. Former senator David Perdue (R) has made clear in recent weeks that he’s angling for perhaps the biggest primary challenge of the cycle against Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who ran afoul of Trump for disagreeing with the former president’s bogus stolen-election claims. And on Tuesday, the Democrat whom Kemp narrowly defeated in 2018, Stacey Abrams, announced that she’ll run again.
The dynamics here are fascinating. A little more than a year ago, you’d have said Kemp was on firm footing. Then came his falling out with Trump, which dropped Kemp’s numbers among Republicans and which Perdue has sought to seize upon. (Trump reinforced Tuesday he’ll back a Kemp primary challenge.) The environment doesn’t seem conducive to Abrams avenging her 2018 loss — Kemp, after all, still won even in a good year for Democrats — but she’s surely the highest-profile available candidate in a blue-trending state, and there was all kinds of bad blood between them. It also poses a fascinating choice for Republicans, with Perdue already seeking to argue that he’s the guy who can unite the party (albeit by unseating the incumbent Republican governor).
Perdue isn’t the only former statewide officeholder running. In Maine, colorful former two-term governor Paul LePage (R) is challenging Gov. Janet Mills (D) after having previously announced his retirement from politics and moving to Florida. And in Nevada, former senator Dean Heller (R) is running against Gov. Steve Sisolak (D).
Perdue-Kemp is also one of several big primary challenges in the offing. Another is Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin challenging Gov. Brad Little, after using his absence from the state to briefly push through executive orders in line with the Trump base. (Little hasn’t committed to seeking reelection.) There’s also Alabama, where former Trump administration ambassador Lynda Blanchard is looking at switching from the Senate race to challenge Gov. Kay Ivey. In Ohio, former congressman Jim Renacci is running against Gov. Mike DeWine, who at times alienated portions of the conservative base (though Trump hasn’t intervened there yet).
A fifth potential big primary fell by the wayside Tuesday, with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) opting against seeking a third term in a race that would have pitted him against Trump-backed former state representative Geoff Diehl in the primary.
Trump, needless to say, celebrated this. The national GOP won’t as much, given that Baker was perhaps their only hope to hold the seat. (Also making news on that front Tuesday: Politico reported Biden administration labor secretary and former Boston mayor Marty Walsh is considering a run on the Democratic side.)
Another primary that is technically of interest is in Texas, where former Florida congressman and Texas state party chairman Allen West is running against Gov. Greg Abbott (R), ostensibly from the right. Early polling suggests Abbott has little to worry about there. But Abbott will at least face a high-profile Democrat in Beto O’Rourke, the former presidential candidate who lost narrowly to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in 2018. Like Abrams, O’Rourke came close, but he doesn’t exactly appear to be striking while the iron is hot. At the same time, governor’s races can be a bit less predictable. And like Abrams, he’s basically fighting to keep alive a promising political career.
(One name we also learned this week won’t be on the ballot in Texas: McConaughey.)
Beyond all of these, there are some races that are just downright intriguing, for varying reasons.
In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) ascended to the governorship after scandal forced out Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), but she faces a primary with state Attorney General Letitia James and, we learned this week, Rep. Tom Suozzi, who has run for the job before. Oh, and outgoing New York mayor Bill de Blasio has filed some necessary paperwork to run, and Cuomo hasn’t ruled out a run either, despite having resigned. Imagine a governor, an attorney general, the former mayor of the nation’s largest city and even a former governor in the same primary.
Another race with huge national implications — for the 2024 presidential race, perhaps most of all — is in Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is likely to face either the Democrats’ only statewide officeholder, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, or former Republican governor and current Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist. Polls suggest DeSantis is in good shape, but he’ll want to legitimize his status as the leading non-Trump Republican ahead of 2024.
And a little down the pecking order — but also very significant — is Arizona, the other formerly red state besides Georgia that surprised by going blue in 2022. There, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), who pushed back on Trump’s claims and from whom Republicans stripped some powers because of it, will probably face former local Fox TV anchor Kari Lake (R), who has aligned with the extreme elements of the right wing that are generally prevalent in the Arizona GOP.
It’s quite likely we’ll all be watching the battles for House and Senate come November 2022; we shouldn’t lose sight of some of these races in the meantime. There’s a huge amount at stake — not just in those states, but when it comes to the near future of our politics.