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2016 Gubernatorial Elections

Posted at 7:27 pm March 21, 2016, in 2016 Election, U.S. Governors

2016 Gov Elec MapWith so much attention focused on the 2016 presidential campaign, it is easy to forget that twelve states will also be choosing new governors this November. Half of these races will feature an open seat, with incumbents either retiring voluntarily, running for a different office, or ineligible to run due to term limits.

From a party standpoint, while Democrats hope to make inroads into the Republican majorities in the U.S. Senate and even the House of Representatives, it is unlikely that they will be able to challenge the current Republican dominance of the nation’s governorships. Currently, 31 governors are Republican, 18 are Democrats, and one is an Independent (Gov. Bill Walker of Alaska). But eight of the twelve seats up for vote in 2016 are held by Democrats, leaving only four opportunities for Democrats to cut into that majority.

Thus, even if Democrats swept all 12 contests, they would only hold 22 governors’ chairs to the Republicans’ 27—and such a sweep is not likely. Incumbents are running in three of the four Republican states and the only open Republican governorship is in a solidly Republican state: North Dakota. Indeed, despite the lack of an incumbent in that race, election analyst Larry Sabato has rated the seat “Safe R.”

Of course, it is not out of the question that Democrats could gain seats in one or more of the remaining three races by defeating an incumbent. It will not be easy, however. Incumbent Gary Herbert (UT) is likely safe, while Mike Pence (IN) is also favored to win. The Democrats’ best chance to pick up a governorship may be in North Carolina, where Pat McRory is favored, but is expected to face a strong challenge from current Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Meanwhile, Democrats will have to defend eight seats, including five that are open. This may be a particular challenge in Missouri, New Hampshire, and West Virginia, all open seats that Republicans are considered to have a good chance of winning.

Much can happen between now and November, and the Center on the American Governor will continue to provide updates on the gubernatorial elections. One thing is certain, however. Regardless of who is elected president and which party winds up controlling the House and the Senate, come January 2017, a majority of the nation governors will continue to be Republicans.

A quick look at the 2016 gubernatorial races:


State  Incumbent  Race Status
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) Open (incumbent term limited)
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) Incumbent running for re-election
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) Open (incumbent term limited)
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) Incumbent running for re-election
North Carolina Gov. Pat McRory (R) Incumbent running for re-election
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) Open (Incumbent retiring)
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) Open (Incumbent running for Senate)
Oregon* Gov. Kate Brown (D) Incumbent running for re-election
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) Incumbent running for re-election
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) Open (Incumbent retiring)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) Incumbent running for re-election
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) Open (Incumbent term limited)

*Note: Oregon will hold a special election in 2016 to determine who will serve the final two years of former governor John Kitzhaber’s (D-OR) term. Kitzhaber resigned in February 2015 and Lieutenant Governor Kate Brown (D-OR) became governor. Brown is running in the special election.

– Kristoffer Shields