2020 Gubernatorial Elections

 

Overview

Updated August 2020

Eleven states will hold gubernatorial elections in 2020. Republicans currently hold seven of those 11 seats, while Democrats hold four. Two of the contests are likely to be for open seats, as Montana incumbent Steve Bullock (D) is term limited and Utah incumbent Gary Herbert (R) has announced he will not run for a third full term. The remaining nine races will feature incumbents, many of whom are likely to be re-elected. See below for a quick state-by-state look at this year’s races, including dates (and results) for the primaries.

Delaware

John Carney (D) is finishing his first term as governor of Delaware. He previously served as lieutenant governor from 2001-2009 and then as a U.S. Representative from 2011 – 2017. Carney is eligible to seek a second term as governor. He is expected to run and will be a heavy favorite; Carney has not publicly indicated his intention to run, but has filed official paperwork. Among the Republicans who hope to challenge him, the candidate with the highest profile is State Senator Colin Bonini, who previously ran for governor in 2016, losing to Carney. Fellow State Senator Bryant Richardson also intends to run in the Republican primary. A Republican has not been elected governor of Delaware since 1988.

Primary date: September 15, 2020

Indiana

Eric Holcomb (R) was first elected governor of Indiana in 2016. He was originally the incumbent Governor Mike Pence’s (R) running mate in that election, but when Pence withdrew to accept the Republican nomination for vice president, Holcomb successfully ran for governor in his place. Holcomb is running for reelection in 2020. Holcomb ran opposed in the Republican primary; businessman Brian Roth filed to run against him, but did not have enough signatures and was removed from the ballot. Holcomb will be the favorite in the general election against former State Health Commissioner Woody Myers (D), who also ran unopposed in the Democratic primary after former Chairman of the Indiana Charter School Board Josh Owens withdrew from the race.

Democratic nominee: Woody Myers

Republican nominee: Governor Eric Holcomb (incumbent)

Missouri

Mike Parson (R) became governor of Missouri in June 2018 after then-Governor Eric Greitens (R) resigned. Parson had been serving as Greitens’s lieutenant governor, elected in 2016. Parson also has experience in the state senate, state house of representatives, and as a county sheriff. He is running for his first full term in 2020. Parson easily won the Republican primary with 74.9% of the vote; Lawyer and Air Force veteran Saundra McDowell finished second. State Auditor Nicole Galloway won the Democratic nomination even more easily, with 84.6% of the vote. While the incumbent Parson is considered the favorite to ultimately hold onto the seat, Galloway has had fundraising success and is a familiar name in Missouri: she is currently the only statewide elected Democrat in the state. Recent polls have shown the potential for a closely contested race; Galloway was within two points of Parson in at least one.  Galloway has been vocal in criticizing what she considers an inadequate response by Parson to the coronavirus epidemic, which could become a defining issue in the race.

Democratic nominee: State Auditor Nicole Galloway

Republican nominee: Governor Mike Parson (incumbent)

Montana

With incumbent Governor Steve Bullock (D) ineligible to run for a third term due to term limits, Montana is one of only two races to feature an open seat this year. The race is therefore wide open. Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney won the Democratic nomination in a closely contested race against businesswoman Whitney Williams. On the Republican side, U.S. Representative Greg Gianforte—who was the Republican nominee for governor in 2016—won the primary, defeating state Attorney General Tim Fox by over 20 points. Cooney and Gianforte will now run a race that is likely to be one of the most closely watched gubernatorial races of 2020.

Democratic nominee: Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney

Republican nominee: Rep. Greg Gianforte

New Hampshire

As one of two states with a 2-year gubernatorial election cycle, it is almost always gubernatorial election season in New Hampshire. Incumbent Chris Sununu (R) will run for reelection in 2020, seeking a third term. He is not expected to face significant opposition in the primary (though radio talk show host Rich Paul, who legally changed his name to Nobody, has announced a run). The Democratic primary is expected to be closer, with state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes facing off against Executive Council Member Andru Volinsky. Both are serious contenders, but either will likely be an underdog against Sununu in the general election.

Primary date: September 8, 2020

Along with Montana, North Carolina is likely to be one of the most closely scrutinized gubernatorial races of the year. Unlike Montana, the North Carolina seat is not open; incumbent Governor Roy Cooper (D) is running for a second term after winning the Democratic nomination by a comfortable margin. Cooper’s 2016 general election win, however, over then-Governor Pat McCrory (R) was extremely close; Cooper prevailed by just over 10,000 votes, 49.0% – 48.8%. The general election is expected to be close again in 2020, when Cooper will face Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, who also won his primary by a comfortable margin. Forest’s win set up the extremely unusual situation in which a sitting lieutenant governor is challenging the sitting governor in a gubernatorial general election.

Democratic nominee: Governor Roy Cooper (incumbent)

Republican nominee: Lt. Gov. Dan Forest

Incumbent Doug Burgum was first elected governor of North Dakota in 2016 and is running for a second term. He easily won the Republican nomination with 89.9% of the vote over Michael Coachman. Burgum will be a strong favorite in the general election, as well—he won in 2016 with over 76% of the vote. The state’s Democratic-NPL Party endorsed veterinarian Shelley Lenz in a convention held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. Lenz then ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Democratic nominee: Dr. Shelley Lenz

Republican nominee: Governor Doug Burgum (incumbent)

Utah

Utah is the second state—along with Montana—to feature an open seat governor’s race in 2020. While Utah does not have gubernatorial term limits, incumbent Governor Gary Herbert (R) has announced that he will not seek a third full term. Herbert took over as governor in 2009 when then-Governor Jon Huntsman (R) resigned to become Ambassador to China under then-President Barack Obama (D). Herbert was elected to a full term in 2012 and reelected in 2016. The general election in Utah is not likely to be close. Utah professor Chris Peterson ultimately ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, but he will be a significant underdog in the general election; a Democrat has not won the Utah governorship since 1980. The Republican primary itself, however, garnered significant attention. Herbert endorsed his sitting lieutenant governor, Spencer Cox, to succeed him. Cox had to overcome a number of high-profile primary opponents, however, including former Speaker of the State House Greg Hughes, Salt Lake City Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, former Chair of the Utah Republican Party Thomas Wright, and most notably, aforementioned former Governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. Cox and Huntsman broke apart from the rest of the field and fought a very close fight through the primary. While it remained very close–it appears the final vote total will be withing approximately two percentage points–Lt Gov Cox won the primary and will now be a heavy favorite to be Utah’s next governor.

Democratic nominee: Prof. Chris Peterson

Republican nominee: Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox

Vermont

Like neighboring New Hampshire, Vermont elects governors on a two-year cycle. Incumbent Governor Phil Scott (R), therefore, was reelected in 2018 for his second two-year term. While he has not officially announced his intention to seek a third term, he is expected to run. Scott will be a favorite against the only declared candidate in the Republican primary, conservative commentator John Klar. The general election could be a bigger test. While Scott won in 2018 by a 55.2 – 40.2 margin, he may this time face Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman in the general election. Zuckerman, who has also served in the State Senate and the State House of Representatives, will face former State Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe and lawyer Pat Winburn in the Democratic primary.

Primary date: August 11, 2020

Washington

The Washington gubernatorial race lost much of its intrigue in August 2019 when incumbent Governor Jay Inslee (D) announced that he was dropping out of the 2020 presidential race and would instead seek a third term as governor of Washington. Washington runs a “top two” primary, in which all candidates run regardless of party and the top two vote-getters advance to the general election. Inslee easily finished first in this primary, with over 50% over the vote. No other prominent Democrats competed in the primary. Loren Culp, the police chief of the Town of Republic, finished second, ahead of State Senator and fellow Republican Phil Fortunato. Inslee will now face Culp in the general election in November, with Inslee a strong favorite to win a third term.

Democratic nominee: Governor Jay Inslee (incumbent)

Republican nominee:  Chief Loren Culp

West Virginia

Governor Jim Justice (R) won the West Virginia governorship in 2016—as a Democrat. In August 2017, however, Justice announced that he was switching to the Republican Party, or more accurately switching back. He had been a registered Republican prior to 2015, when he changed to the Democratic Party before launching his gubernatorial run. Justice will run for reelection in 2020 as a Republican, and is a strong favorite. Justice faced a large field in the Republican primary, but easily won the nomination with 63.0% of the vote. Former State Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher finished second with 18.3%. The Democratic primary was much closer. Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, considered the establishment candidate, edged community organizer Stephen Smith 38.9% to 33.3%. Smith made a late charge after turning his campaign into a “COVID-19 response program” late in the race, but fell just short. State Senator Ron Stollings finished third with 13.4%. Salango will now face Justice in the general election, but will be a significant underdog.

The West Virginia primary was originally scheduled for May 12, 2020, but was moved to June 9, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Democratic nominee: Ben Salango

Republican nominee: Governor Jim Justice (incumbent)