In 2018, there were eight states that elected governors of the opposite persuasion of their 2016 Presidential vote – a sharp decline since the mid 2000s, when that number was double. With that downward trend, there are a couple of races this year that could see that number decline even more, with Republicans in Kansas and Democrats in Maryland trying to win back states that they feel they never should have lost in the first place. Fortunately, we can bet on election odds legally with PredictIt.
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Kansas Governor Election Odds
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We’ll start with the Democratic theft of a Republican crown jewel in 2018, earned from Republican malpractice more than anything. Republicans nominated Kris Kobach, who was Secretary of State, but more importantly, had led Donald Trump’s weird anti-voter fraud panel after the 2016 election that found no evidence of any fraud.
Kobach’s association with such a non-issue, and the sense that he was focused more on national fame and getting on Fox more than doing his actual job led to him souring with the voters of Kansas, and polls up to the Kansas primary had him underwater on approval.
He was in a primary fight against appointed Governor Jeff Coyler, who had replaced the elected incumbent when the incumbent stepped down to take an administration job. Coyler couldn’t turn incumbency into votes in a GOP primary, because the primary electorate loved Kobach’s obsequious behavior to the then-President, and rewarded him with the nomination by a couple hundred votes.
When Kobach won the nomination, Democrats saw an opening, especially with independent 2014 Senate candidate Greg Orman there to take some GOP votes, and Laura Kelly ended up winning a narrow plurality in a blue wave.
Four years later, Republicans have three distinct advantages – Orman isn’t on the ballot, it’s looking like a red wave this time, and presumptive GOP nominee Derek Schmidt isn’t Kris Kobach.
Meanwhile, Democratic hopes are pinned on the value of incumbency and the state’s blue trends. The incumbency argument is worth something. Kelly has done a good job by most standards, and in the past, that was traditionally enough to get an incumbent Governor re-elected. The state is trending left, as all of the Kansas City suburbs in Kansas sprint leftwards.
That said, Kelly won last time not just out of incredibly strong results in Kansas City’s suburbs and the east of the state, but she won because she did extremely well for a Democrat in the midwest. She didn’t win those areas, but she was outrunning Hillary Clinton by 20-30% in a bunch of small, rural counties in the west of the state.
There’s no chance that she gets similar votes in the rurals, with Schmidt less controversial and much more focused on actually arguing a case for Kansas conservatism that isn’t just about national issues. Throw in the fact that Republicans are less hurt by the stench of the Brownback years, and the extreme spending cuts that the Brownback era led with, and the path to a Democratic win just isn’t there.
If Democrats only had a shift in environment or a much better GOP candidate, maybe they’d have a chance of winning. But the combination of Schmidt being a huge upgrade on Kobach and the national environment likely moving at least 10% right means the Kansas GOP is easily going to win this race.
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Maryland Governor Election Odds
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This wasn’t that much of a 2018 failure for Democrats. Their true failure was losing it in the red wave of 2014, when Martin O’Malley was term limited and Democrats got caught napping, leading to the election of Larry Hogan.
Hogan won again in 2018 mostly because every impressive name in Maryland Democratic politics decided to give the race a pass, thinking that despite the national environment, Hogan’s moderate credentials meant that they didn’t have a chance to beat him – which of course became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This year, with Hogan off the ballot, the GOP is trying to play the same game as 2014 – run as a moderate check on the Democratic state legislature that will keep the state’s status quo going the right way, instead of electing a rubber stamp who will get run over by the worst ideas of the legislature.
The red wave and lack of Democratic incumbent suggests that the ground might be fertile, but the problem for Maryland Republicans is simple – the state is moving left rapidly these days, and the path to pulling off that sort of 2014 redux is harder.
In 2014, Black turnout fell off a cliff, meaning that the electorate that Hogan had to win was full of educated white social liberals who voted for Obama but certainly didn’t hate the Republican Party or Mitt Romney. He won because enough of them in the DC and Baltimore suburbs and the western part of the state voted for him after having voted for Obama.
The problem is, the next GOP nominee won’t be able to pull that trick off because of the way the Republican brand is currently destroyed with those kinds of voters after four years of Trump. While the voters of the nation as a whole might not care about January 6, Maryland suburbanites who work in DC are probably amongst the top 1% who do, and it was that kind of voter who gave Hogan his win.
Without those well-off white social liberals in and around D.C. and Baltimore, the GOP is drawing dead to actually winning a third straight term. Yes, state partisanship is different than federal partisanship, and yes, these sorts of college educated voters are more Republican for state offices than for federal ones. That’s all true, but it doesn’t matter.
Democrats won Maryland in 2012 by 26% with insane, never-before-seen and never-since-seen Democratic turnout with Black voters. In 2020, they got substantially worse relative Black turnout and won by 33%. Democrats won the state in a more reliable and sustainable way by getting a better midterm coalition and boosted their margins to boot.
Whichever of the three leading Democrats gets the nomination will be on much more secure footing than the Democratic nominee in 2014 was, and this time, they won’t blow an easy win by ignoring the state. In a year where Democrats have to play a lot of Gubernatorial defense, they won’t let one of their few offensive chances go to waste.