2016 Gubernatorial Elections Preview

With so much (all?) of the focus on the presidential election, as well as races for the U.S. House and Senate, it's easy to forget that 12 governors' races will also be decided on election day, and most states have legislative elections this year as well. With this in mind, the analysts at MultiState have put together a handy breakdown of the 2016 state government elections. This blog post covers gubernatorial elections, with a rundown of state legislatures coming later this week.


Open Seats: 7 (2R, 5D)

With incumbent Gov. Mike Pence (R) serving as the GOP nominee for Vice President, Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) has stepped in as the party's nominee for governor, facing off against former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg (D). The race is considered a toss up, and Democrats, optimistic about flipping the state, are pouring in a large amount of national resources.

North Dakota
The Republican nominee, businessman Doug Burgum, is expected to safely win against Democratic state Rep. Marvin Nelson and to extend GOP dominance of North Dakota state government.

Both parties are making the race between the state's Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster and Republican former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens a priority. The contest remains close, but both parties are hoping Trump will play a determining role in the outcome - with Democrats looking to paint Greitens as too extreme, and Republicans banking on Trump's popularity to propel their outsider nominee to a win.

West Virginia
Republican state Senate President Bill Cole and Democratic businessman Jim Justice, the richest man in West Virginia, have both taken pro-coal, pro-Trump and anti-Clinton stances in this entertaining race. Both parties are heavily targeting this race, but Democrat Justice has led in the polls since 2015.

Democratic Congressman John Carney is expected to safely take victory over Republican state Senator Colin Bonini, and Republicans are not putting any national resources into the race.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is very popular and leading in polls against the lesser-known Democratic state Rep. Sue Minter. Vermont is a Democratic-leaning state however, so this race is expected to be tight.

New Hampshire
With incumbent Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) seeking a U.S. Senate seat, Republican Chris Sununu and and Democrat Colin Van Ostern are locked in a very close, and very expensive, race for the governor's mansion. Sununu has high name recognition compared to Van Ostern, but Trump is trailing by a large margin in NH polls, which is expected to work against Sununu.

Incumbents Seeking Re-Election: 4 (2R, 2D)

Despite the state trending Republican, Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock has high approval ratings and is favored to win at this point against Republican challenger Greg Gianforte.

North Carolina
The governor's race in North Carolina is the top priority for both parties. Incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is locked in an extremely tight race against a formidable opponent, long-time state Attorney General Roy Cooper (D). The negative publicity and economic fallout over the HB2 “bathroom bill” is a major headache for McCrory, but Cooper has problems of his own with the state crime lab allegedly in disarray under his tenure.

Incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert (R) should easily fend off Democratic challenger Mike Weinholtz. Democrats are not devoting national resources to this race.

Democratic incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to handily dispatch Republican challenger Bill Bryant. No Republican has won the governor's race in Washington since 1980.

Special Elections: 1 (D)

Gov. Kate Brown (D) is expected in win the special election to finish out the two-year remainder of her disgraced predecessor, former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D). Her opponent is Republican oncologist Bud Pierce, an early Trump backer, who has recently announced he no longer supports the GOP Presidential nominee.

MultiState will continue coverage of Election 2016 from a state and local perspective with a number of blog posts over the next few weeks covering ballot measures on hot-button topics in the states.

MultiState’s policy analysts are tracking all the hot 2016 election issues from a state & local perspective. For more election-related news, click here.

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