Ron Faucheux: The exciting races this fall are for governorships. Who is at risk, who is not. | Opinion

Attention is focused on Congress during the midterm elections. But don’t forget the 36 governors’ races across the country in November. They will be important — and could reshape the nation’s agenda on a host of big issues, especially abortion, crime and education. They can also make or break presidential ambitions.

Of the 50 US governors, 27 are now Republicans and 23 Democrats. Of these, 20 Republican seats and 16 Democratic seats are up for election this year. Louisiana is one of three states to elect its governor next year.

Democrats are battling to jeopardize gubernatorial positions in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Kansas and Maine. The Republicans are fighting to keep Arizona and Georgia and risk losing Massachusetts and Maryland. A few states with favored incumbents – Democrats in New York and Minnesota; Republicans from Florida, Texas and Ohio – will have interesting contests, but maybe not so close.

The national political winds, if they blow strong enough, could surprise.

Georgia has not elected a Democratic governor for 24 years. But Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is now fighting a GOP primary battle against Donald Trump’s hand-picked candidate, former Sen. David Perdue. A victory for Kemp in the May 24 primary would be a blow to the former president’s role as the party’s kingmaker. The Democratic candidate is Stacey Abrams, a party celebrity and national fundraiser. Polls show Kemp leading Abrams, but could Trump’s attacks on Kemp help Abrams?

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has a term limit. Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro is his party’s nominee. The Republican field is fractured. State Sen. Doug Mastriano leads most polls with former U.S. Representative Lou Barletta and former U.S. attorney William McSwain trailing. McSwain is being opposed by Trump for being a “coward” in not contesting the 2020 presidential election. The primary is May 17.

Two Democratic strongholds, Massachusetts and Maryland, are in the same boat: They have popular two-term Republican governors no longer running and Democrats are favored to win both seats. Larry Hogan of Maryland and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts are frequent critics of Trump with a mix of centrist, conservative and liberal stances — probably the only kind of Republicans who can win deep blue states.

As he leaves the governor’s office, Hogan considers a presidential bid. While Baker says he wants out, a new poll shows him winning another term as an independent against a progressive Democrat and a Trump-endorsed Republican.

Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who was on Joe Biden’s shortlist for vice president, is seeking a second term. A poll shows her in what could be a contest against Republican James Craig, a former Detroit police chief. If Whitmer wins, she could have a bright future in Democratic national politics.

Democratic Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, who won a narrow victory four years ago over the then governor. Scott Walker, a Republican, is seeking re-election. Former Republican Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who has Walker’s backing, leads the GOP field.

In Nevada, Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak could be vulnerable. In the Republican primary, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is in charge of the crime problem and leads the polls. He is followed by Dean Heller, former US senator, and Joey Gilbert, lawyer and former boxer.

New York Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul is in crisis, but she is still the frontrunner. The recent campaign finance scandal that brought down her appointed lieutenant governor hasn’t helped her stay on her feet. If former Gov. Andrew Cuomo enters the race as an independent and splits the Democratic vote, he could give Republicans a fighting chance.

Democrats keep telling themselves they can win statewide in Texas, but that hasn’t happened in 28 years. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott faces off against former Democratic U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke, who ran a tight Senate race in 2018. Although Abbott has had some glitches at work, polls show him beating his challenger O ‘Rourke, who injured himself with a fatal stroke for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Florida could play a big role in 2024 presidential politics. But before the state’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis runs for the White House, he must first be re-elected. His likely Democratic opponent is former Governor Charlie Crist.

Although Democrats would love to beat DeSantis, unseating the hard-hitting and well-funded incumbent is proving increasingly difficult. He has consolidated his power and is now favorite to win a second term with votes to spare. If he does, the question becomes: Will two Florida residents, DeSantis and Trump, oppose for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination?

There. Many fascinating state elections to watch between now and November.

Ron Faucheux is a nonpartisan political analyst based in New Orleans. He publishes LunchtimePolitics.com, a free national polling and public opinion newsletter, and is the author of Running for Office, an eye-opening book for political candidates.

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