With Election Day upon us, Republicans continue to be the clear favorites to take control of the U.S. House and, possibly, the U.S. Senate. Given those odds, House and Senate Republicans have already stated their priorities in a likely majority as government and corporate oversight; energy production; reliability and affordability; government spending; and confronting foreign adversaries like China. However, successfully threading the legislative needle in an upcoming presidential cycle will not be easy (trust me I’ve tried). No matter how bullish Republicans are on today’s outcomes, they will not have the 60 votes to break Senate filibusters, nor the 67 votes it takes to overcome a presidential veto for those thinking reconciliation. I am confident Republicans can pass legislation on party line votes in both chambers and fulfill their promises to voters, but there seems little prospect of President Biden signing those legislative packages into law, requiring some ability to compromise by an incoming Republican majority.
So where does that leave companies, trade associations, and other stakeholders that need government action and not just oversight? The answer is in the states. I have had the privilege of working with countless governors and their respective staffs over nearly twenty years – they are a force that is often miscalculated and certainly underutilized as they deliver results at home and at the federal level. Let’s take a closer look at why governors are so important on this Election Day.
This year (2022) brings my favorite four-year cycle – the Supercycle – where voters cast ballots not only for House and Senate, but also for 36 governors who provide the prospect for real change. That number is more than the 35 Senate races that the media is wringing its hands over – let us not forget that governors wield significant power at home and influence that can transcend state lines. When messaging and communication is so critical to political and policy success, it’s critical to look beyond the Beltway. Governors (and possible presidential aspirants) on both sides of the political divide are grabbing the country’s attention. It’s not surprising that some of these state executives are household names, including Governors Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Glen Youngkin (R-VA), Gavin Newsome (D-CA), and Greg Abbott (R-TX).
Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said, “all politics is local.” How right he was and continues to be with much of the hottest action over the next two years expected to be at the state and local level – all while the country braces for the 2024 presidential Thunderdome! Governors see political tidal waves long before they hit Washington, D.C. In this spicy political climate, voters are demanding immediate action and expecting instant gratification at the local and state level, placing enormous pressure on the shoulders of governors to address the state of the economy, education, and general safety concerns. While the national media dominates the airwaves, and local media dwindles in size and scope, it further illustrates why our attention is on the nation’s capital, and not at home where critical work will be done.
The 36 gubernatorial races today include Republicans defending 20 and Democrats defending 16 – the stakes couldn’t be any higher. Many of the same themes we are seeing in House and Senate races will define who wins these statewide races. But the issues of crime, education, abortion, and cost of living are turbocharged at the state level. The difference being, come swearing-in day, these newly elected governors will be on the hook for solving these problems with no latitude for excuses. As I like to say, governors cannot jump on a plane to Washington and blame somebody for not fixing the problem. They must solve it at home. There is no escape hatch. The buck always stops at the top.
So, while many of the contested gubernatorial races in the country overlap with Senate battleground races, there is a push and a pull driving those campaigns on the popularity of President Biden. For instance, races in Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Georgia all feature races where the national Republican and Democratic political party messaging and solutions to daily economic challenges are top of mind for the voter. Republicans are on offense in many of these races and are bullish on flipping state capitals in Nevada, Oregon (where they have not won since 1982!), Kansas, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. There are also gubernatorial races that are surprisingly competitive and have national Democrats worried, including in blue states like New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. On the flip side, Democrats will likely win back the governorships in blue states Massachusetts and Maryland with the retirements of popular Governors Charlie Baker (R-MA) and Larry Hogan (R-MD). In addition, Democrats are making a last-minute charge to flip ruby red Oklahoma and upset Gov. Kevin Stitt (R-OK).
Issues like the economy, crime and safety, pandemic response, and homelessness have rattled independent voters and could result in a tidal wave of red wins today for gubernatorial candidates like Rep. Lee Zeldin in New York, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo in Nevada, and former weatherman Mark Ronchetti in New Mexico. Interestingly, some of those most highly anticipated gubernatorial races that were drawing national attention appear to be an afterthought with incumbents, such as Brian Kemp (R-GA) and Greg Abbott (R-TX), in strong positions to win over Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke, respectively.
There will be plenty of time for both political parties to perform election post-mortems, but conditions are ripe for Republicans to expand state control beyond their current 28 governorships. These state leaders will play critical political roles in the 2024 presidential race and today’s results will be profound. Their actions over the next two years can either produce a friendly or unfavorable environment for the Democratic or Republican nominee. Moreover, voters can be fickle and often credit or blame their governor (and the corresponding presidential candidate) for the state of affairs in their backyard.
Get your popcorn and drink of choice out tonight. It’s going to be a long one as voters decide more than just congressional majorities, but also who will be running their respective states. No matter if your party wins or loses control in Washington come Wednesday, don’t think all is lost. Look to the governors as a great option to achieve policy success in what could be a contentious few years in the nation’s capital.
Randall Gerard has a deep bench of relationships in our nation’s capital and in state capitals, spearheading government relations campaigns for a range of Cogent clients on tax, energy, environment and telecommunications policy issues. Randall is an active member of the finance committee at the Republican Governors Association and maintains close ties to governors and their staffs across the country, participating in key leadership conferences throughout the year. For Randall’s complete bio, click here.