2022 Governors’ Races: Could The GOP Flip Any Blue States?

Written By Evan Scrimshaw on February 14, 2022

With the continued low approval ratings of Joe Biden and the looming prospect of a good GOP year, one of the more underrated and under-discussed aspects of this year could be the Governor’s races up this November in a majority of states.

Usually when a party is in office federally, they lose Governorships – the GOP lost 7 in 2018 with Trump in office and Democrats lost 9 between the two drubbings of 2010 and 2014 – and usually there’s a couple of odd races.

In 2018, Democrats nearly won in South Dakota and did win in Kansas, while 2014 saw Democrats lose Maryland and Illinois, and so if 2022 is going to be the kind of wave election that seems possible, where could the GOP maybe make their push?

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Illinois election odds

(Dems 89 cents, GOP 12 cents)

A 2014 loss for the party, Democrats won the state back in 2018 behind billionaire J.B. Pritzker, who is running to be the first Illinois Governor to serve two full terms since the 1990s.

Despite being a reliably Democratic state federally, Illinois elected GOP Governors all throughout the 80s and 90s, and even as Governors’ elections have become more polarized by federal results, the Illinois GOP still managed to find a winning message in 2014.

This year, the GOP is looking likely to be running Richard Irvin, Mayor of Aurora, on a message that has worked before in Illinois politics – low taxes, cleaning up corruption, and more low taxes. Irvin has held moderate positions on abortion in the past, and as a Mayor of a small city in Greater Chicago, Irvin has the credentials to make the race close.

Will he win? Probably not – Pritzker being a billionaire means that he will be able to self-fund his campaign to whatever extent he needs, and that money advantage means that Pritzker will be able to be on the air consistently in one of the most expensive media markets in America.

That said, Republicans have a history of outrunning their federal results in this state, and an African American Chicagoland Mayor who can (at least in theory) dilute Democratic advantages with Black voters and swing the suburbs back is a formidable foe – or, at least, might be, and 12 cents for a race that could easily find itself being competitive in a few months isn’t a bad bet at all.

Oregon election odds

(Dems 69 cents, GOP 23 cents)

This race is one that seems superficially easy, but is actually much more complicated than it appears.

Oregon is a state that voted for Joe Biden by a 16% margin, and their winning price is under 70 cents. It seems ludicrous, until you realize why the market is the way it is.

There’s not just two main candidates in this race, there’s a third – Betsy Johnson, a State Senator running on an unaligned ticket as a pro-choice, pro-jobs moderate, and that’s why this isn’t an open and shut Democratic bet.

If the Johnson candidacy falters and fails to actually excite the residents of Oregon, then it goes back to being a traditional race, which Democrats will be favored to win. Yes, Oregon voters tend to only narrowly re-elect their Democratic Governors, but the GOP hasn’t won the Governorship of the state since 1982.

If Johnson can find her way to a competitive position, it’s likely she will be this cycle’s Bill Walker, the Alaska Independent who got ahead of the Democratic nominee in 2014 polls before the Democrat dropped out to consolidate the field against the GOP.

It’s unlikely the GOP would go that far, or that whoever the GOP nominee is would agree to be Johnson’s LG, as the 2014 Alaska deal ensured, but if the GOP and their voters think that Johnson is more likely to win that their own candidate, they could create pressure for voters to tactically support the best anti-Democrat.

A “No” buy on the GOP to win the race is sensible, because it won’t be the GOP who end up on top when the music stops, and while Johnson could, in theory, catch enough heat to make a real run, betting against third parties to hit their potential has been some of the most free money on the board in recent political betting history.

New Mexico election odds

(Dems 67 cents, GOP 34 cents)

This is the state where the GOP have the best chance of pulling off another Virginia – it’s a Biden +11 state with definitely mixed trends for the Democrats. It’s a state with an urban center trending left, mostly on the basis of younger, educated professionals moving to Albuquerque, but it’s also a heavily Latino state at a time when Democrats are struggling to keep Hispanic support high.

With an incumbent first elected in 2018, the state should be okay for Democrats, but without a Senate race to get any attention and national Democratic attention focused elsewhere, the state could see a fairly localized, uninteresting race – which helps the GOP.

If you’re trying to turn a blue state red, having the ability to run your own race away from the spotlight and without the forces of national politics around is usually crucial. Yes, Virginia shows it can be done without that, but in Kentucky 2019 and Kansas 2018, Democrats won red states precisely because they were running not as representatives of the Democratic Party at large, but as local candidates who happen to be Democrats.

For the GOP, running the same playbook in New Mexico makes a lot of sense, as does the fact that Mark Ronchetti, the GOP’s Senate nominee in 2020 who outran Donald Trump, is their likely candidate. Ronchetti, a former weather man in Albuquerque, clearly has some amount of non-traditional appeal and could be the kind of candidate who gets over the line.

Now, it would be foolish to suggest that the GOP are favorites here, but with Joe Biden’s approval at the level it’s at, the GOP will break through and win somewhere they’re not expecting to – it’s how waves work, and while it’s not guaranteed to be a wave by the time the election comes, this is the exact kind of state that could go red if Biden doesn’t right his approvals.

With a GOP wave very much in play at this point, these three races all provide potential value as races that could pop into real contention if Biden and his team don’t get their popularity up, and soon. At this point in the 2018 cycle nobody thought Kansas was in play, nor did anyone think Democrats could lose Maryland at this point in 2014. If Democrats are going to suffer a loss of that nature, you could do a lot worse than these three states.

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