Briefing

The biggest 2022 gubernatorial races

For both Republicans and Democrats, the stakes couldn't be higher

The midterms are just a week away, and all eyes are on Congress, where Democrats are battling to maintain control of both the House and the Senate. But a number of consequential contests are unfolding off Capitol Hill, too — gubernatorial match-ups, namely — and you won't want to miss a minute of 'em.

To help catch you up, here is a look at where a few of the biggest gubernatorial races stand:

Texas: Abbott v. O'Rourke

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) was initially favored to prevail against challenger Beto O'Rourke ... and it seems he still is. Though his advantage has narrowed since the beginning of the year (per reporting from FiveThirtyEight), an Emerson College poll released Oct. 24 estimates Abbott with a ten-point lead over O'Rourke among Texas voters, 52 percent to 42. Four percent of voters are undecided, but when "asked who they are leaning toward, Abbott's lead tightens to nine percentage points, 53 percent to 44 percent." The incumbent Republican governor also "has a commanding 23-point lead among male voters, whereas O'Rourke holds a 3-point lead among women voters," added Spencer Kimball, Executive Director of Emerson College Polling.

For his part, O'Rourke is skeptical of the potentially bad news: "I take these polls with a grain of salt," the nominee said at the end of September. But perhaps he's taking solace in a new survey from Beacon Research that shows the candidate trailing Abbott by just 2 points — 48 percent to 45 percent — among likely voters, The Houston Chronicle reports. That said, it's important to note the Beacon Research poll was Democratic-funded, and that FiveThirtyEight grades the institution a "B/C" for its "overall historical accuracy and methodology."

As for issues, immigration has taken on newfound significance in the Texas race, after Abbott made headlines busing loads of migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to Vice President Kamala Harris' residence in Washington, D.C. The governor has been relocating migrants since the spring, but his efforts drew renewed Democratic ire after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) followed his lead. Both governors' stunts were intended to protest the Biden administration's immigration policies. Per the Emerson College poll, which was sponsored by The Hill, 53 percent of Texas voters support Abbott's relocation efforts, while 36 percent oppose them; 10 percent are unsure how they feel. The economy, however, is nonetheless the most important issue for 45 percent of Texas voters, the poll notes. 

Early voting in Texas opened Monday, Oct. 24. As of Oct. 26, both RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight were reporting a roughly 8-point polling average in favor of Abbott.

Emerson College Polling surveyed 1,000 very likely general election Texas voters between Oct. 17-19. Results have a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points. Beacon Research surveyed 1,264 registered Texas voters by phone between Oct. 15-19 on behalf of the Democratic Policy Institute. Overall results have a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent.

Pennsylvania: Mastriano v. Shapiro

How do you solve a problem like the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor, Doug Mastriano? For Democrats, you don't; instead, you spend millions to get him nominated, then pray his extremism sends voters running the other way — toward Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro. And at least for the time being, the left's risky gamble (known as the "pied piper" strategy) appears to be working. 

Not only is Shapiro outraising the former President Donald Trump-backed Mastriano eight to one, but "the Pennsylvania attorney general also significantly out-spent his Republican opponent in the last few months, using about $27.9 million of his massive war chest compared to Mastriano's less than $1 million in expenditures," The Hill reported at the end of September. While Shapiro has roughly $11 million left to play with in the weeks leading up to Nov. 8, Mastriano has just about $2.6 million, per the September report.

Shapiro is also besting Mastriano in the polls, where he's enjoying — as of Oct. 26 — a roughly 6- to 8-point lead, according to averages from RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight, respectively. Likewise, a recent CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker poll shows Shapiro ahead of Mastriano by 9 points. CNN polling conducted by SSRS furthered that narrative: "Democrat Josh Shapiro leads Republican Doug Mastriano in the race to replace Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, 56 percent to 41 percent, among likely voters."

CNN also found Democratic voters in Pennsylvania to be "highly unified" around their party's gubernatorial candidate, with "relatively weak consolidation among GOP voters." To that end, the outlet writes, "99 percent of Democrats support Shapiro, compared with a smaller 82 percent of Republicans backing Mastriano." However, that "raises the potential for a shift" if Republican voters "rally around" Mastriano before Nov. 8.

Mastriano's campaign has been marred with scandal and bad press, and he himself has proven a pretty controversial guy. Not only does he believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, but he also chartered buses to Washington, D.C., for the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, 2021, and dabbled in efforts to overturn President Biden's win. He's been characterized as a Christian nationalist (though he'd disagree with that label), has shared a number of tweets featuring the QAnon hashtag, and was once photographed wearing a Confederate soldier uniform. It was also reported that he once suggested women in violation of his proposed abortion ban should be charged with murder

As for top issues in the Pennsylvania contest, 40 percent of adults cited inflation as being at the forefront of their minds, per a Sept. 27 Marist poll. After that came preserving democracy (29 percent), abortion (16 percent), immigration (7 percent), and health care (7 percent). Most Republicans (56 percent) are concerned about inflation while preserving democracy ranks as the top issue for Democrats.

Early voting has begun in Pennsylvania.

The CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker poll surveyed 1,084 registered Pennsylvania voters between Oct. 21-24. Results have a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percentage points. CNN's Pennsylvania poll was conducted by SSRS between Oct. 13-17 and among a sample of 901 registered voters and 703 likely voters. Results have a margin of error of +/- 4.1 points and 4.6 points, respectively. Marist Poll interviewed 1,356 adults (1,242 registered voters, 1,043 of whom definitely plan to vote) from Sept. 19-22. Results for each subset have a margin of error of +/- 3.3, 3.5, and 3.8 percentage points, respectively. 

Georgia: Kemp v. Abrams

It's the rematch of a lifetime — or, at the very least, of 2022. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams are at it again after their 2018 battle royale ended in a Kemp victory, much to Abrams' chagrin. Though lacking some of the drama and extremism coloring other gubernatorial contests, the Georgia race is nonetheless one to watch, if only to see how these storied opponents fare. 

Right now, it's looking like Kemp is in the lead. A new poll from the Republican Trafalgar Group for The Daily Wire puts Kemp ahead of Abrams by nearly 7 points. And when asked in a separate Landmark Communications poll who they would choose if the election were held today, 51.2 percent of likely voters picked Kemp, while just 44.6 percent picked Abrams. Moreover, as of Oct. 25, FiveThirtyEight classified Kemp as "clearly favored" to win re-election, with its updating average indicating a 6.2-point lead. RealClearPolitics puts that advantage at 6.7 points.

When analyzing the Georgia re-match, one might consider how the landscape has changed since 2018. For instance, as highlighted by The Washington Post, certain "anti-Trump fervor" in the state has dissipated; rather, "it's Republicans who are eager to register their displeasure with [Biden's] policies," perhaps bolstering GOP turnout. At the same time, however, Democrats have enjoyed significant victories as of late, including in the 2020 election and the runoffs in early 2021. "Knowing that you can win in a state like Georgia when you've been told that you can't is very motivating for Democrats in the state," senior Abrams campaign adviser Seth Bringman told the Post. As of Sept. 29, the non-partisan Cook Political Report had classified the state's gubernatorial race as "lean Republican."

Meanwhile, Abrams is working overtime to address allegations of election denial as journalists and critics continue to compare her rhetoric immediately following the 2018 race to that of Trump post-2020. In her final speech at the time, Abrams said she could not concede the governorship, levying charges of voter suppression; 10 days later, she officially acknowledged Kemp's victory, but specified her remarks were "not a speech of concession." Now, Abrams is looking to get on the other side of the comments: "I have never denied that I lost. I don't live in the governor's mansion; I would have noticed," she said during a September appearance on The View. "My point was that the access to the election was flawed, and I refuse to concede a system that permits citizens to be denied access. That is very different than someone claiming fraudulent outcome," she recently told The 19th, alluding to Trump. And in the pair's gubernatorial debate on Oct. 17,  Abrams once again explained her apparent non-concession in 2018 and made very clear her stance on the matter for 2022: "I will always acknowledge the outcome of elections, but I will never deny access to every voter, because that is the responsibility of every American to defend the right to vote."

As for issues, the cost of living ranked first among likely Georgia voters, while threats to democracy, jobs, and the economy placed second and third, respectively, according to a September poll conducted for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Among nine total issues, abortion ranked eighth, above COVID-19 and below climate change. 

Early voting has begun in Georgia.

The Trafalgar/Daily Wire poll surveyed 1,076 likely voters between Oct. 21 and 23. Results have a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percent. Landmark Communications surveyed 500 likely general election voters between Oct. 15-17. Results have a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percent. The University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs conducted the poll for AJC, surveying 861 likely general election voters from Sept. 5-16. Results have a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. 

Florida: DeSantis v. Crist

When it comes to securing re-election, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis probably isn't worried. Not only is the Republican leader already top of mind when it comes to the 2024 ticket, but he's also boasting a double-digit lead for his race in 2022: Among likely voters, Desantis bests Democratic challenger Charlie Crist 55 percent to 41 percent, according to a University of North Florida poll released Oct. 26. (Crist previously served as the Florida governor from 2007 to 2011 before switching from a Republican to a Democrat, The Hill notes.) "Given DeSantis's historic fundraising and popularity among Republicans, his lead in this race is not surprising," said Michael Binder, faculty director of UNF's Public Opinion Research Lab. "The surprise in these numbers is that a statewide race in Florida is closer to a blowout than a recount." As of Oct. 26, FiveThirtyEight's updating average had DeSantis with a 10.2-point lead.

The gubernatorial opponents also recently held the first and only debate of their contest, in what was ultimately a "rowdy exchange featuring a raucous crowd and a slew of culture war issues that have dominated the state's political discourse," The New York Times summarizes. The match-up was initially scheduled for Oct. 12 but was postponed in the wake of Hurricane Ian. For his part, Crist happily fanned the 2024 flames and strongly condemned the governor for Florida's pandemic deaths. DeSantis, meanwhile worked to tie Crist to the struggling President Biden and riffed on the cultural issues — like critical race theory — that tend to galvanize his base. Crist also went after DeSantis on abortion (Florida not long ago implemented a 15-week abortion ban with no exceptions for rape and incest), while DeSantis decried his opponent as being far too pro-choice. Ultimately, the Times writes, "no single moment from Mr. Crist seemed like it would upend the dynamics" of the race.

It's also worth noting that, on Oct. 25, a state judge gave DeSantis' administration 20 days to hand over any records connected to the migrant flights the governor ordered from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, Politico reports. Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh ruled DeSantis' office was in violation of Florida's public records law and could not wait until Dec. 1 to turn over the documents, as the governor's lawyers had argued. The controversial migrant relocation flights — which mimicked efforts from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) — consisted of primarily Venezuelan migrants and were paid for using the interest earned off the state's federal COVID-19 relief money. A Treasury Department investigator is currently looking into DeSantis' use of the funds.

Early voting in Florida began Oct. 24, with Tampa Bay's Fox 13 reporting over 220,000 in-person ballots cast as of that Wednesday. More than 1.4 million Floridians had, at that point, already voted by mail, per Fox 13.

The University of North Florida poll surveyed 622 likely Florida voters between Oct. 17 and Oct. 24. Results have a margin of error of +/- 4.7 percentage points.

Arizona: Lake v. Hobbs

Folks, this one's tight. Over in Arizona, the Trump-backed Republican Kari Lake and Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs are locked in a close race to replace the term-limited Gov. Doug Ducey (R), but don't let the margins fool you — as far as demeanor and platform, Hobbs and Lake are pretty dang different. The bombastic Lake, for her part, is a former TV news anchor that has peddled lies about the 2020 election. But the quieter Hobbs, who refused a televised debate with her opponent, has run a relatively subdued campaign, one that's seemingly failed to paint her as "tough or transparent enough to be governor," writes The New York Times. (Hobbs' campaign rejects that characterization, noting the candidate has done a number of interviews over the last month.)

As of Oct. 26, Lake was leading Hobbes by 2.8 points, per FiveThirtyEight's updating average; that advantage widened to 3.2 points by RealClearPolitics' count. A recent Trafalgar Group poll sponsored by The Daily Wire was in agreement, having found Lake besting Hobbs with likely voters 49.2 percent to 46.4 percent. By their estimation, Lake's lead falls inside the poll's 2.9-point margin of error.

At the moment, Lake is enjoying a "wave of support from corporate leaders," having received more than a dozen $5,300 checks — the maximum amount an individual can give an Arizona candidate for state office —  from said demographic in Q3 alone, CNBC reports per state campaign finance records. It was Lake's best fundraising quarter of the year.

Hobbs, on the other hand, made headlines after her campaign office was burglarized last week. Campaign manager Nicole DeMont appeared to blame the incident on misinformation spread by "Kari Lake and her allies," an allegation Lake decried as "absolutely absurd." Hobbs is "trying to deflect from her own abysmal campaign and the fact that, you know, nobody even knows where her campaign office is," Lake said. An arrest in the incident has been made.

Early voting is underway in Arizona.

Trafalgar Group/Daily Wire surveyed 1,078 likely 2022 voters between Oct. 16-17. Results have a margin of error of +/- 2.9 points.

Oregon: Drazen v. Kotek v. Johnson

Don't look now, but Oregon is on the verge of electing its first Republican governor since 1982. That's right, GOP candidate Christine Drazan and Democrat Tina Kotek are polling neck-and-neck (at least per FiveThirtyEight) in a state Biden won by 16 points in 2020. The "unusual" race, as Vox describes it — which has also seen democratic-turned-independent candidate Betsy Johnson siphon a "sizeable bloc of support" away from Kotek — illustrates "both frustration with one of the nation's most progressive state governments and the power of a single billionaire donor to shape an election to his whims," writes The New York Times. To that end, Drazan specifically recently received $1 million in backing from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, whose "largess has helped turn the race into a tossup," the Times adds.

Though Drazan has painted herself as a moderate, her "conservative credentials," as the Times calls them, are certainly up to snuff. She's anti-abortion (a stance that would normally prove politically detrimental in blue Oregon), boasts an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, and thinks some of the state's climate goals implemented via executive action should be reversed. Kotek, meanwhile, despite being Drazan's socially progressive foil in an otherwise liberal stronghold, is struggling to square up, seemingly hampered among even her own base by poor favorability ratings. Case in point — an Emerson College poll released in early October found that 50 percent of Oregon voters view Kotek unfavorably, versus just 38 percent who feel the opposite. On the contrary, just 41 percent of voters view Drazan unfavorably, while 42 percent see her in a positive light. 

The challenge from Johnson has also seemingly bolstered the GOP candidate's chances, considering that, outside of independents, 17 percent of Democrats (as well as nine percent of Republicans) plan to vote for her, per the Emerson College survey. Republican strategist in Oregon Rebecca Tweed told The Guardian to keep an eye on those voters on Election Day. "We'll have to see if any of those voters that got pulled towards Betsy end up going back into their corners of the Democratic and Republican parties," she said. Knight has also notably donated $3.75 million to Johnson's campaign since January.

Emerson College Polling surveyed 796 likely Oregon voters between Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Results have a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

New York: Zeldin v. Hochul

Speaking of Republican governors … believe it or not, GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin stands a solid chance of usurping incumbent Kathy Hochul (D) as the leader of reliably-blue New York. Formerly the state's lieutenant governor, Hochul took over for the now-disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in the summer of 2021 after a sexual harassment scandal forced his resignation. For months, she led Zeldin, a Trump ally who voted to overturn the election, in the polls … but the race has since tightened, Time notes. 

Hochul is still ahead, but the margins are a bit "too close for Democrats' comfort," the outlet adds. For instance, an Emerson College poll released Oct. 28 found that while 50 percent of voters support Hochul's bid for re-election, 44 percent plan to support Lee Zeldin. When the four percent of undecided voters are asked who they're leaning toward, "Hochul's support increases to 52 percent and Zeldin holds at 44 percent," per Emerson Polling. Notably, since the institution's September poll, "Hochul has held her 50 percent support while Zeldin's support has increased nine percentage points, from 35 percent to 44 percent." As of Nov. 1, updating averages from RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight estimated Hochul with a 4.5-point and 6.2-point lead, respectively.

If Hochul wins outright, she would become the first woman elected as New York governor. That said, she's "had a lower profile than her predecessor and has been working to introduce herself to New Yorkers over the past year," The Associated Press writes, while Zeldin, meanwhile, has focused on the seemingly-effective issue of crime. Democrats have also targeted their efforts toward New York City, in particular, arguing that if Hochul" "can secure enough votes" there, "she will more than offset any gains [Zeldin] makes in the suburbs and rural swaths of upstate, where he is more competitive," adds The New York Times.

On the issues, 33 percent of New York voters are most focused on the economy, followed by "threats to democracy (15 percent), crime (13 percent), abortion access (11 percent), and healthcare (7 percent)," per Emerson College. And on the topic of public safety, 57 percent of voters think Hochul's bail reform policy has increased crime, "while 28 percent think it has had no impact on crime, [and] 16 percent think it has decreased it."

The Emerson College Polling/Pix11/The Hill New York poll surveyed 1,00 likely voters between Oct. 20-24. Results have a margin of error of +/- 3.02 percentage points. 

Michigan: Dixon v. Whitmer

The Michigan governor's race has tightened thanks to a last-minute push from Republican nominee Tudor Dixon, who's hoping to "capitalize on GOP momentum across the country" despite her lagging campaign presence earlier in the race, The Associated Press reports. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic incumbent, remains favored to win, but any victory will likely be narrow. "We always knew that this would be a close race," Whitmer said at the end of October. "I never for a second doubted that. What I did doubt was polls that had it at double digits." 

Polling averages from FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics show Whitmer with a 5.2-point lead and 3.6-point lead, respectively, as of Nov. 1. And a Cygnal tracking poll released that same day reported that gap at roughly 51 percent to 45 percent among likely general election voters. (As a polling institution, Cygnal has a B+ rating from FiveThirtyEight.)

Dixon is a far-right right online news commentator who has hammered Whitmer for her proximity to President Biden as well as her stringent COVID restrictions at the height of the pandemic, per AP. She's backed not only by Trump, but by the family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Republican Governors Association (which earlier this year committed to a $3.5 million ad spend in support of her campaign). But Democrats have come after the candidate as too extreme and unfit for office; Dixon has previously indicated "she believed Trump was the rightful winner in Michigan, where Joe Biden won by 154,000 votes, and she has refused to commit to accepting the results of the November election," AP writes.

At the end of September, the GOP candidate also made light of the 2020 plot to kidnap Whitmer: "The sad thing is Gretchen will tie your hands, put a gun to your head and ask if you're ready to talk. For someone so worried about being kidnapped, Gretchen Whitmer sure is good at taking business hostage and holding it for ransom," she said at an event, per The Washington Post. Whitmer's campaign later condemned the remarks.

Cygnal surveyed 1,584 likely voters between Oct. 27-31. Results have a margin of error of +/- 2.46 percent.

Update Nov. 1, 2022: This article has been updated throughout, and also now includes a section on both the New York and Michigan races.

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