Vote 2018 Results: The Governors’ Races

This is the first part of a four part series about the results of the 2018 election in the US. Today we look specifically at the gubernatorial results.

Who occupies the Governor’s mansion in a given state is important, most obviously to the people of that state. Beyond, that, though, it is important to the national picture. The 2020 census numbers will lead to redistricting for the Congressional districts across the country. The district lines are drawn by the various state legislatures, with input always (and often subject to the veto power) of the sitting Governor. For much of the country, this election has decided which Governor will offer that input, and wield that veto. In an age when both racial and partisan gerrymandering are regular headline issues, that is no small thing.

In aggregate terms, the Democratic Party had a very good night at the gubernatorial level. The Party gained 7 seats. Republicans picked up only one seat, and it didn’t come at the expense of a Democrat: their pickup was in Alaska, where the outgoing Governor is an Independent.

In each of these states a Republican is on the way out and a Democrat is on the way in: Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, and Nevada. Some of the most closely watched races didn’t lead to a change of party, but constituted a near escape. The Republicans only just managed to hold on to the Governor’s office in Florida and Georgia.

So much for the map of the forest. What follows is a description of three of the trees in this select forest that we at found especially fascinating.

Maine: The Opioid-Crisis Campaign

Janet Mills (D) won in her campaign to become that state’s Governor. Opioid-abuse was the central issue of the campaign, as Mills had made it the central issue of her period as AG.

Maine is a term-limits state, and the incumbent (Republican) Governor, Paul LePage, was not eligible for another run.

One might ask: is it odd that a Democrat is running, and winning, with drug abuse as a major issue? Isn’t that one of those cultural/wedge issues that have worked for Republicans?

The fact is that the current frenzy, about the abuse of prescription drugs, is one in the Democratic comfort zone because they can see it as “nasty corporations preying on the little guy,” rather than as “The Man enforces conformity from adherents of an alternative lifestyle.”

Mills as state AG had brought lawsuits against drug manufacturers, claiming that they had marketed products as non-addictive that, in fact, were not.

As candidate for Governor, she spoke passionately about supporting a therapeutic response for the addicts, and “addressing the stigma associated with substance abuse disorder.” Her hapless opponent, Shawn Moody (R), tried to co-opt the issue but made a hash of it, speaking like a technocrat, “We must evaluate our recovery centers by implementing a ‘Dashboard’ consisting of not less than five and not more than 10 key matrices that will allow us to measure results and share best practices across the recovery community.”

Pro tip for politicians. If you are going to try to co-opt somebody else’s issue: try not to talk like that! Mills received 51.1% of the vote, Moody 43%, and independent candidate Terry Hayes (the state treasurer, who had run on a message of replacing “conflict based” politics with “collaborative” politics) received the remaining 5.9%.

Georgia: Glass Ceiling Remains Intact

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic Party’s candidate this year for Governor of Georgia, could not quite break through to become the first African-American women to become the Governor of any state of the United States.

It was not for lack of an impressive resume that she could not. In her college days, Ms Abrams was an intern at the Environmental Protection Agency under President Clinton. She later studied public policy at the University of Texas at Austin, and law at Yale. Her resume includes the Sutherland law firm in Atlanta, the office of Deputy City Attorney of that city, and years in the Georgia House of Representatives, where she became the House Minority Leader in 2010.

Ms Abrams’ opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, received 50.3% of the vote. Abrams received 48.7%. A Libertarian, Ted Metz, received the remainder. Georgia requires that the winner receive more than 50%, so if Metz’ count had been a little higher, he could have forced a Kemp-Abrams run-off.

That a “blue” candidate came this close to success in what has always been regarded as a deep “red” Republican/conservative state is, to some, the biggest story out of this state, and it will probably strengthen one wing of the Democratic Party over the other: to speak a bit crudely it may favor the Sanders wing over the Clinton wing or, to be even cruder, the progressives over the centrists.

Kemp himself was the survivor of a bitter two-round Republican primary. His most formidable intra-party opponent had been Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Cagle raised twice as much money as Kemp and had the endorsement of the NRA.

Having defeated both Cagle and Abrams, Kemp now has won the prize. And his loyalties on the national scene are clear. Indeed, in the last week of campaigning he cancelled a scheduled debate with Abrams so that he could attend a Trump rally.

Alaska: When Walker Stopped Running

The Republicans picked up a seat in Alaska, despite an act of political self-sacrifice expressly designed to avoid that result.

When last we at checked in on the race, incumbent Bill Walker, who was elected without a partisan affiliation in 2014, seemed likely to come in third in his effort to win another term. He lagged behind both a Democrat and a Republican — Mark Begich and Mike Dunleavy, respectively.

There were a lot of reasons for discontent. Alaska is the state with the country’s highest unemployment rate, and it has a continuing budget crisis fueled by weak oil and gas prices.

The bearish O&G market had hurt the Alaska Permanent Fund, a dividend paid to Alaska’s permanent residents from oil revenues. The size of that dividend was sharply reduced in each of the last two years by legislative action.

Entering October, the polls put Dunleavy in the lead with 44% of the state naming him as their preference. Begich came in with 29%, Walker with just 22.9%, the remainder were undecided.

On October 19, Walker formally suspended his campaign (through it was too late to do anything about removing his name from the ballot). He was explicit that he was dropping out in order to prevent a Dunleavy win. In reaction, the chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, expressed gratitude for this decision, saying that Walker was “putting Alaska first once again.”  

In the end, though, Dunleavy and the Republicans got the prize. They received 52.5% of the vote.

Also in the end, at the statehouse level, the Republicans were not without victories, but the Big Picture victory nationwide must be assigned to team blue.

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