Governors – February 2016 Update
The table below shows summarizes and aggregates ratings for the most competitive gubernatorial races of 2016.
This year, there are 12 gubernatorial seats are up for election, with Republicans holding four and Democrats holding eight. Republicans have pickup opportunities in Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. North Carolina will be the most difficult seat for Republicans to hold.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is term limited, leaving an open seat. While Democrats have united behind Attorney General Chris Koster, Republicans will see a four-way competitive primary between Catherine Hanaway, Eric Greitens, John Brunner, and Peter Kinder. Polling indicates that the general election will be competitive regardless of the Republican nominee. He or she will need to build a strong campaign to be successful in a state where Republicans have struggled at the state level.
Tech entrepreneur Greg Gianforte is challenging Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Gianforte has strong free market ideas for Montana and hopes to build on his business experience. Gianforte faces little competition in the primary after his only serious challenger dropped out during the last week of January. This race may be an uphill battle for Gianforte, as Bullock has a 50 percent approval rating in the state. This race is rated Lean Democrat.
New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan could have likely easily won reelection, but instead will run for Senate, leaving an open seat in a competitive state. Both parties will see primaries. Republicans are currently facing a matchup between Chris Sununu and Frank Edelblut, while Democrats have a four-way primary. New Hampshire’s late statewide primary in September and the current fanfare over the presidential race could lead more candidates to jump into the race. A January poll showed voters evenly split on party preference for Governor: 42 percent indicated they would vote for a Republican in the general election while 42 percent indicated they would vote for the Democrat. This race will continue to get more competitive after the presidential primary.
West Virginia has been trending more conservative in recent years and is prime for a Republican pickup. Republican Senate President Bill Cole is unopposed in the Republican primary, while Democrats have a three-way race between Jim Justice, Booth Goodwin, and Jeff Kessler. The only poll conducted in this race is from April 2015 and showed Cole beating both Kessler and Goodwin. Justice was not included in the poll. West Virginia is likely Republicans’ best opportunity for a pickup.
The Republicans’ most endangered seat is in North Carolina, where Pat McCrory is facing challenges from both Republicans and Democrats. McCrory is facing a primary rematch from C. Robert Brawley, who also ran in 2012. McCrory has significantly outraised Brawley and will likely face Attorney General Roy Cooper in November. Polling in this race points to a highly competitive race as Democrats try to turn the race into a referendum on McCrory’s conservative governance.