The Governor’s Races We’re Watching In 2022

Barbara Rodriguez

Originally published by The 19th

This year, 36 states are scheduled to hold elections for governor around the country and at least a dozen will include major bids from women, women of color and LGBTQ+ people. As of May 2022, eight incumbent women governors are seeking reelection; 23 women are running for open seats in eight states, according to data from the Center for American Women and Politics.

On the ballot is the potential for history, with several candidates poised to break representation barriers around gender and race:

  • At least 30 Republican women are running for governor this year, already breaking the 2018 record of 20.
  • Several women are running to become the first Black woman elected governor.
  • Women are poised to be contenders in several states that have never elected a woman governor.
  • Candidates this year could break the record for concurrent number of women governors at any one time (nine).

These bids for statewide office increasingly reflect the polarization of politics on issues including education, particularly around race; health care; immigration; LGBTQ+ rights; policing; and voting. Few candidates are making pitches that center around their gender, and instead are embracing their respective party’s policy priorities.

Some Republican candidates in particular have bolstered debunked myths about the 2020 election while supporting proposals that restrict voting.

Here’s what The 19th is tracking:

May 3

Ohio

Incumbent: Republican Mike DeWine, running
2020 presidential margin: Trump +8

Nan Whaley, the former mayor of Dayton, won the battle of the mayors in the Democratic primary for governor against John Cranley, the former mayor of Cincinnati. She’ll compete against Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who is defending his handling of the pandemic during his first four-year term.

Voters in Ohio have never elected a woman governor. At the end of 1998, Republican Nancy P. Hollister, then the state’s lieutenant governor, became governor for 11 days when her predecessor resigned to join the U.S. Senate.

But that history is up against political winds: Sen. Sherrod Brown is the only Democrat to win a statewide race in Ohio since 2006.


May 17

Idaho

Incumbent: Republican Brad Little, running
2020 presidential margin: Trump +31

Republican Gov. Brad Little faces a crowded primary, but none of his challengers have received as much attention as Janice McGeachin, the state lieutenant governor who has the backing of former President Donald Trump and has repeatedly embraced a far-right agenda.

McGeachin first gained national attention in 2019 when she posed with two members of an anti-government group at the statehouse. McGeachin received criticism this year for delivering a taped speech at a white nationalist conference in Orlando. She later defended her appearance.

Though they ran on separate tickets, McGeachin’s challenge of an incumbent governor in her own party is unusual, but not entirely surprising given her public criticism of her boss over his pandemic mitigation response. In the instances that she briefly served as acting governor when Little was out of the state, she signed executive orders banning mask mandates and COVID-19 testing and vaccine mandates.

The state’s political leanings mean the primary will determine who ultimately will be the winner in November.

Oregon

Incumbent: Democrat Kate Brown, not running
2020 presidential margin: Biden +16

Several Democrats and Republicans are running for governor of Oregon, an open seat because Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who is bisexual and considered the first out LGTBQ+ person to be elected governor in the country, has reached the state’s term limits.

Among the Democrats vying for the seat is Tina Kotek, who served as House speaker in the Oregon statehouse. If she wins, she will be one of the first out lesbian governors of any state. Polling shows she’s in a tight race with Tobias Read, the state treasurer.

The road to the Republican nomination is among the most crowded — 19 candidates are running.


May 24

Alabama

Incumbent: Republican Kay Ivey, running
2020 presidential margin: Trump +25

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, the first woman elected governor of Alabama, is in a crowded primary as she seeks a second four-year term.

Ivey’s reelection announcement in 2021 staked her bid on infrastructure, the economy and her response to the pandemic. But in the final weeks of the primary, she has pushed vague conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and expressed anti-immigrant sentiment.

“The fake news, Big Tech and blue-state liberals stole the election from President Trump,” she said in one ad. “But here in Alabama, we are making sure that never happens.”

There is no proof of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Ivey has raised the most money in the primary — $6.6 million — well above her competitors from both major parties.

Arkansas

Incumbent: Republican Asa Hutchinson, not running
2020 presidential margin: Trump +28

Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House press secretary under Trump, is poised to secure her party’s nomination for governor after she effectively cleared the field last year. Her campaign announcement leaned on her support for Trump, who quickly endorsed her.

Huckabee Sanders has become a prolific fundraiser, bringing in more than $12 million during her bid.

Huckabee Sanders, whose father is a former Arkansas governor, could make history in November: No woman has ever been elected governor of the state.

Georgia

Incumbent: Republican Brian Kemp, running
2020 presidential margin: Biden +0.2

Stacey Abrams is the presumptive Democratic nominee, hoping to become the first Black woman elected governor in the country.

It’s unclear if Abrams will go up against the same opponent when she ran in 2018. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is in a contentious primary with David Perdue, a former U.S. senator who lost a runoff election in January 2021 against now Sen. Jon Ossoff.

Four years ago Abrams accused Kemp of using his position at the time, as secretary of state, to suppress voter turnout. Kemp denied the allegation. But access to the ballot box continues to be a central theme in the Georgia governor’s race. Perdue, who has the backing of Trump, claims without proof that his runoff bid and the 2020 election were “stolen.”


June 7

Iowa

Incumbent: Republican Kim Reynolds, running
2020 presidential margin: Trump +8

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is the presumptive nominee for her party as she seeks a second four-year term.

Reynolds was the first woman elected Iowa governor in 2018. She has gained national prominence since then, delivering the Republican Party’s rebuttal of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address earlier this year.

Reynolds will face Democrat Deirdre DeJear, the lone candidate for her party after a state representative dropped out of the race. DeJear, a former secretary of state candidate who worked on the Iowa campaign of Kamala Harris when she ran for president, would be the first Black woman elected to statewide office if she wins.

But DeJear’s political prospects are an uphill battle in a state that has shifted more conservative in recent election cycles. Reynolds has also raised millions for her reelection bid while DeJear had just $8,500 available as of January, according to the most recent numbers released.

New Mexico

Incumbent: Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, running
2020 presidential margin: Biden +11

Five Republicans are running for governor in an effort to defeat Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is seeking another four-year term.

Lujan Grisham, who was elected in 2018, is only the third woman of color to ever be elected governor in the country. She has outraised all her opponents as she counters criticism about her response to the pandemic — which included extended restrictions on gatherings. Lujan Grisham has defended her decisions, saying they helped save lives in the state.

South Dakota

Incumbent: Republican Kristi Noem, running
2020 presidential margin: Trump +26

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem is seeking a second four-year term and had raised a record-setting $8.5 million as of January for her reelection bid.

Noem gained national attention after the start of the pandemic for challenging mitigation measures. In recent months, she signed the first anti-trans law of the year and signed an executive order that prohibits mandated teaching of “divisive concepts” in K-12 schools.

Republican Steve Haugaard, a state representative, is running against Noem. He has yet to share publicly how much he has raised. In early March, he faced criticism for remarks he made on the House floor where he described a woman as a “wrung-out whore.” He later apologized.


June 14

Maine

Incumbent: Democrat Janet Mills, running
2020 presidential margin: Biden +9

With Democratic Gov. Janet Mills clearing her party’s primary, the real test for her reelection bid will come in November when she faces Paul LePage, a two-term former Republican governor who has also cleared his party’s primary ballot.

LePage, who clashed with members of both major parties during his time in office, notoriously said he was “Donald Trump before Donald Trump.” He has made his criticism of Mills’ response to the pandemic a key issue for his campaign.

South Carolina

Incumbent: Republican Henry McMaster, running
2020 presidential margin: Trump +12

Two Democrats — State Sen. Mia McLeod and former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham — have raised the most money in their party’s primary for a chance to go up against Republican Gov. Henry McMaster in November.

McLeod would be the first Black woman elected governor of South Carolina and the first in the country.

Cunningham, who lost a reelection bid to Congress in 2020 against now-Rep. Nancy Mace, is outraising McLeod. He has brought in $1.7 million as of mid-April, while McLeod’s campaign says she has raised about $359,000 as of March. McMaster has raised more than $5 million.


June 28

New York

Incumbent: Democrat Kathy Hochul, running
2020 presidential margin: Biden +23

Democrat Kathy Hochul became New York’s first woman governor last year when her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, resigned in disgrace over allegations of sexual misconduct. (He has mostly denied wrongdoing.)

Now Hochul is seeking to be elected on her own to a full four-year term, and her fundraising — a record-setting $21.6 million as of January — helped clear some of the field. But she faces a challenge from a handful of Democrats, including Jumaane Williams, who holds the position of public advocate for New York City.

Hochel is also dealing with the fallout from the resignation of Brian Benjamin, her lieutenant governor, after he was arrested on charges related to a campaign bribery investigation. Hochul is replacing Benjamin with Rep. Antonio Delgado, and he is expected to campaign with her. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary but then join a ticket for the ballot in November. Williams has been campaigning with Ana María Archila, who has picked up endorsements following Benjamin’s exit.


August 2

Arizona

Incumbent: Republican Doug Ducey, not running
2020 presidential margin: Biden +0.3

It’s a crowded primary for both major parties. In the multiple-person race for the Republican nomination, Trump has endorsed Kari Lake, a former television anchor who has called Biden’s 2020 win “a sham.”

Katie Hobbs, the current secretary of state, is among three Democrats seeking the party nomination. Hobbs has campaigned on ensuring accessible elections, a holdover from her messaging as the state’s top elections official during the 2020 election.

More than $13.6 million has been spent as of April for this statewide race, exceeding the total spent in 2018.

Kansas

Incumbent: Democrat Laura Kelly, running
2020 presidential margin: Trump +15

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is seeking reelection in a conservative-leaning state where Republicans who control the legislature have clashed with her policies. In the general election, she is expected to face Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a longtime statewide official who has been critical of Kelly’s pandemic response.

Michigan

Incumbent: Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, running
2020 presidential margin: Biden +3

Several Republicans are vying to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who gained national prominence during Trump’s years in office for her public criticism of the former president’s policies.

Whoever advances from the Republican primary will face Whitmer’s fundraising prowess: She brought in more than $14 million last year. It was a total that surpassed campaign contribution limits and eventually required her to give the money away — she chose to distribute it among other Michigan Democrats.


August 23

Florida

Incumbent: Republican Ron DeSantis, running
2020 presidential margin: Trump +3

Whoever faces Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in a general election will be up against nearly unparalleled fundraising for a gubernatorial race. DeSantis, who is seeking a second four-year term, has raised more than $100 million for his reelection bid. Unlike other candidates with similar records, he has amassed the money without tapping into independent wealth.

A potential 2024 presidential hopeful, DeSantis has gained recent national attention for signing a so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law that restricts public school teachers from discussing LGBTQ+ history or people in public elementary schools.

A handful of Democrats want to unseat Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis this year: U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist; Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture and Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat; and State Sen. Annette Taddeo. Florida voters have never elected a woman governor.


September 6

Massachusetts

Incumbent: Republican Charlie Baker, not running
2020 presidential margin: Biden +33

The decision by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker to not seek reelection gives Democrats one of the clearest shots at reclaiming a top statewide post for a state that leans heavily blue.

Attorney General Maura Healey has raised more than $4.2 million in her effort to become governor, and polling shows her with a dominating lead against State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, a Democratic state senator who has raised less money.

If Healey wins the primary, she will be one of the first out lesbian governors of any state and the first in Massachusetts.

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