Eric Davis: GOP governors could sweep New England

New England is the region where President Trump’s approval ratings are lowest, and where the congressional delegations are most heavily Democratic. Currently, 11 of the 12 U.S. Senators from New England are members of the Democratic caucus, as are 20 of the 21 U.S. House members. However, Republicans could possibly hold all six New England governorships after November.

The New England governors most likely to be re-elected are Republicans Charlie Baker in Massachusetts and Phil Scott in Vermont. Baker and Scott are moderate Republicans of a type that has practically disappeared outside New England. Their approval ratings are high, they have spoken out against Trump on issues such as immigration, trade and health care, and their opponents have never previously held elected office. Both are favored for re-election in a year in which Democrats will do well for most other offices in their states.

Republican Chris Sununu appears to be heading toward re-election in New Hampshire. However, incumbent governors in New Hampshire are not always re-elected, as has been the case in Vermont since 1964. New Hampshire statewide elections are now among the most competitive in the nation. Sununu does benefit from a well-known New Hampshire political name: his father was governor and his brother served in both houses of Congress. Sununu faces an experienced Democratic candidate, Molly Kelly, who served in the New Hampshire Senate for 10 years.

The fourth New England governor running for re-election is Democrat Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, coming to the end of her first term. Raimondo is a moderate, business-oriented Democrat who started the first venture capital firm in Rhode Island. She was opposed by two progressive candidates, who together received 43 percent of the vote, in this year’s Democratic primary. Raimondo needs the support of progressive voters to be assured of re-election.

The Republican candidate in Rhode Island is Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who lost to Raimondo by four points in 2014. Fung is a moderate Republican in the Baker-Scott mold. Polls indicate that Raimondo and Fung are each supported by 35 to 40 percent of voters, with independent candidates receiving the balance. Unlike in Vermont, a plurality of the votes cast is sufficient to be elected governor in Rhode Island.

Connecticut’s governorship is open because incumbent Democrat Dan Malloy, the governor with the lowest approval rating in the nation earlier this year, decided not to seek a third term. Some of Malloy’s unpopularity may rub off on Democratic candidate Ned Lamont, who has lost two previous statewide races, one for U.S. Senator, the other for governor. The Republican candidate for Connecticut governor, Bob Stefanowski, is a business executive whose platform is largely based on supply-side economics, and has been endorsed by Trump. The winner of the Connecticut governorship may end up being the less unpopular candidate.

The most interesting gubernatorial election in New England is in Maine, where two-term Republican Paul LePage cannot seek re-election because of a term limit. LePage was elected in 2010, and re-elected in 2014, with less than 50 percent of the vote because the non-Republican vote was divided between Democratic and independent candidates. The same outcome, with different candidates, could happen again in 2018.

The Republican nominee in Maine is Shawn Moody, a conservative who portrays himself as a political outsider. The Democratic nominee is Attorney General Janet Mills. There are also two independent candidates: State Treasurer Teresa Hayes, and Alan Caron, head of Envision Maine, a non-profit supporting small business development.

Maine uses ranked-choice voting in primaries, but not in general elections. Polls indicate that the second choice of most voters supporting Hayes and Caron would be Mills, not Moody. However, if the independent candidates end up drawing votes from Mills, Moody could, like LePage, win the governorship with less than 50 percent of the vote.

Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.


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