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Democrats within shooting distance in Oklahoma, Tennessee; GOP incumbents heavily favored in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and South Carolina
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Eight Southern governorships are on the ballot in Tuesday’s midterm elections, highlighted by close and contentious races in Florida and Georgia that have garnered national attention.
Democrats are hoping to make history: If Democrat Andrew Gillum wins in Florida, he will be the Sunshine State’s first African-American governor, while a victory by Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia would make her not only its first black governor but also the first woman to hold the post and the first black female governor in U.S. history.
However, in both states, Democratic nominees will have to overcome a long history of Republican control. The last time a Democrat won a governor’s race in Florida was 1994; in Georgia, 1998.
In Florida, the Republican nominee is former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has received considerable help in his quest for the governorship from President Donald Trump. The president stopped twice in Florida to campaign for DeSantis in the closing days of the campaign.
The Republican nominee in Georgia is Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who has also benefited from a Trump endorsement and a presidential visit on the Sunday before the vote.
Public polling has shown both races are within the statistical margin of error, which means neither race can be forecast with certainty heading into election day.
In 2016, Trump carried Florida by a single point and Georgia by 5 points. While Florida has long been a swing state, the result in Georgia was the smallest win by a Republican in the Peach State since 1996, giving Democrats hope that it might be in play in 2020.
A win by either Abrams or Gillum would be a boon to Democratic prospects in 2020. It will also give them a say in redrawing congressional districts after the 2020 census — a process that Republicans have totally controlled in both states for the past decade.
And if the race in Georgia is close, it might not be decided on election night. State law requires a candidate to win an outright majority to claim the governorship. With a Libertarian in the race, neither major-party candidate could reach that threshold, triggering a December 4 runoff between them.
The remaining six Southern governorships up this year — all held by Republicans — look to be more secure, though Democrats may have outside shots in Oklahoma and Tennessee.
In the Sooner State, where Republican Governor Mary Fallin is term-limited, Republican businessman Kevin Stitt is facing former Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who comes to the race having served 16 years in statewide office.
Approval polling has pegged Fallin as America’s most unpopular governor, which has not helped Stitt’s cause. Oklahoma teachers also went on strike last year in a public display of protest that has reverberated through state politics.
Public polling has shown Stitt with a small lead near the edge of the margin of error. While Stitt is still regarded as the favorite, one prominent national prognosticator, The Cook Political Report, rates the race as a toss-up.
In Tennessee, where voters are also filling an open seat for a term-limited incumbent, Governor Bill Haslam, Republican Bill Lee, a first-time candidate who worked in Haslam’s administration, is facing Democrat Karl Dean, the former mayor of Nashville.
Public polling has shown Lee above 50 percent and with a statistically significant lead over Dean.
Four other governor’s races on the midterm ballot — in Arkansas, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina — all feature Republican incumbents who are expected to easily win re-election:
- In Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson is facing Jared Henderson, a non-profit executive and former NASA research scientist.
- In Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey is being challenged by Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. Ivey became governor in 2017 after her predecessor, Robert Bentley, resigned after a sex scandal. Since then, Ivey ridden a wave of public approval for her handling of the aftermath.
- In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott is squaring off against former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.
- In South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster is running against Democratic State Rep. James Smith from Columbia. McMaster became governor in 2017 after Nikki Haley left office to become Trump’s U.N. ambassador.
Heading into Tuesday’s election, Republicans hold 11 of the 14 Southern governorships; Democrats are in charge in North Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia.