With the 36 Governorships up for election in November, there are quite a few with political odds that don’t jive with the actual chances of victory. Two of those can be found in the chances Democratic Governors get re-elected in Nevada and Wisconsin, and fortunately for us, with PredictIt we can legally bet on the outcomes.
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Political Odds: Wisconsin Governor
Why on earth is Tony Evers favored in these political odds?
Let’s take the names out of this and play a quick game. If a Governor of a state had negative approval ratings per Morning Consult, barely won his job in a blue wave, in a state won by his party by 0.63% in a bluer year than 2022 projects to be, would he be considered the favorite? No, and yet, Evers is, for reasons.
The actual reason he’s the favorite is the 538 Governor’s model has him ahead, and most people blindly take what Nate Silver has to say on political odds as gospel, but this is a case where the model makes little sense and is overrating Evers.
Wisconsin as a state is trending away from Democrats and incumbency is worth as little as it ever has been, and so the historical priors that the model uses about the ability of Governors to outperform their state’s partisanship, and about the relative partisanship of Wisconsin, end up misleading.
Given that the most optimistic Democrats are hoping for a neutral environment, the baseline result in Wisconsin is at least a ~4% GOP win, before we get to candidates and trends. Throw in the fact that the state is trending right, and the real baseline should be closer to 6%. Given that that’s the optimistic baseline, and the year could get even worse for Democrats if the post-Dobbs bounce reverts, then this is a steep cliff.
Years ago, this sort of cliff could be overcome, because state races used to be much less about Federal partisanship and more about how good the local politician was, but now federalization is higher and incumbent Governors are much more easily dispatched.
Even if you think that incumbency could, in theory, be worth more, the fact that Evers has a negative net approval rating suggests that he isn’t a particularly strong candidate and that he isn’t going to be some miracle worker that outruns Biden substantially.
In 2018, Evers ran and won by underrunning Clinton in the socially liberal Milwaukee suburban counties that are trending left as social liberals revolted against Trump’s illiberalism, and then outrunning Clinton in the right trending, working class west and north of the state.
The problem is, the GOP are running a Trump-endorsed candidate against Evers, so he’ll bleed votes in the west of the state especially, and so to overcome this, he’d need to massively outperform with the suburbanites in the WOW counties just west of Milwaukee.
The problem is Evers is a bad candidate for those voters, because he doesn’t understand their concerns and did very bad against in 2018. If he couldn’t even match Hillary with them despite a blue wave, how is he going to get the Biden-esque margins he’d need in the collar in a worse environment?
Evers isn’t a good enough candidate to win in a bad environment, and unfortunately for Democrats, incumbency isn’t worth enough to save him. He’s in deep trouble in Wisconsin, and for some reason he’s a favorite. Take advantage accordingly.
Political Odds: Nevada Governor
On the other side of the country, Democrats are trying to hold onto one of their other most vulnerable Governorships, and here the similarities seem apparent.
Like Wisconsin, they’re defending an incumbent who won by single digits in a blue wave in a marginally Biden state that trended right from 2016 to 2020. Superficially, it looks like a state where Democrats should be in trouble, but they should be fine.
The differences here are more important than the commonalities, with Nevada an ecosystem unto itself. It’s a state where the GOP lost control of the state in 2018, and are unlikely to win it back.
In 2010, Nevada Democrats lost the Governorship because of Hispanic turnout that wasn’t good enough, and because they ran against a Republican with broad crossover appeal.
They also didn’t have an incumbent Governor then, and while incumbency isn’t worth as much as it used to be, this year they do, which is worth something. But the biggest thing helping them is that there’s a Senate race happening at the same time, and it’s likely that Catherine Cortez Masto will help Steve Sisolak get over the line.
The overturning of abortion rights will do a lot of the work to keep Romney-Biden voters in Reno and the Vegas suburbs from reverting to the GOP, and the combination of Democratic anger over the decision and Cortez Masto boosting Hispanic turnout should solve the dual problems that usually plague Nevada Democrats in bad midterms.
So long as Sisolak can push the message about how the GOP would be a threat to women’s health, and the fact of having a Hispanic woman on the Senate does what it should for Hispanic turnout, then Sisolak should be easily favored.
The problem for Republicans is that Nevada is a version of Democratic Florida – a state that looks tantalizingly close that’s hard to actually win. Between 2008 and 2020, Democrats have won the Presidential election there all four times, won three of the four Senate elections held, and flipped back the Governorship in 2018.
Joe Lombardo also isn’t a Brian Sandoval level candidate. Where Sandoval was a temperamental moderate who didn’t offend, Lombardo, the Clark County Sheriff, is a noisy, brusque personality who will turn off key swing voters in the suburbs.
For Sisolak and the Nevada Democrats, the state looks to be in trouble long term, but the problem is that too many people have looked at long term trends and conflated that with short term analysis.
Joe Biden didn’t take the state seriously in 2020, and given his margins elsewhere, you can argue that was the right decision. Given that fact, his margin is deflated because there was no spending and no investment in Hispanic turnout.
With the pandemic restrictions lifted and Vegas humming like usual, the vaunted Democratic ground game will be able to get back underway, and Cortez Masto and Sisolak will be blanketing the airwaves with ads.
Throw in the fact that Sisolak has managed to pitch himself as responsible for a lot of the things that has allowed Vegas’ economy to have a much steadier floor than in the past – the Golden Knights, the Raiders, and 2023’s F1 race down the strip – he can make a compelling argument that he is helping make Vegas a less boom and bust city.
All in, Sisolak is the easy favorite, and it’s absurd to think he’s this narrow of one – especially when compared to Evers in Wisconsin. Until these two markets start to make sense, bet accordingly.