Gubernatorial elections could reveal national political tilt
The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to the writing or editing of articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Maine will hold one of the most unusual elections of all time. A current governor will face the governor she succeeded.
It’s a rare occurrence across the country and in US history, although it has happened before in Maine. But, beyond its rarity, it potentially has national significance.
The country is deeply divided between the conservative Republican Party revamped by former President Donald Trump and the Democratic Party with its big tent covering supporters from left to right. This split usually produces a stalemate.
While much attention is focused on congressional elections, where the outcome may be a verdict on Biden’s presidency, a better reading of the national political balance may be in gubernatorial races, including Maine’s.
The election of a governor allows voters to choose who leads a government that has a direct effect on them. This differs from a federal election in which the winner will best be part of the Washington system struggling to create policy. And, unlike votes for federal office, each voter has exactly the same influence in the election of governor.
Maine Governor Janet Mills, a moderate right-wing Democrat, faces former Governor Paul LePage who posed as a Republican under Donald Trump. Although they’ve never faced each other in an election before, they did battle when Mills served as attorney general during LePage’s tenure.
Mills has the advantage of being the incumbent in a state where voters often give governors a second term. But as the presidential elections have shown, the state is tightly divided along partisan lines. LePage’s ties to Trump would make him an upset victory in national news. If the state wobbles, much can be read in the outcome as a sign of Trump’s continued influence.
Several other states, though none have a two-gubernatorial race, can also send a signal about where the country is headed. If they were all going in the same direction, that would be a strong signal.
The political signs are that Georgia is becoming a swing state. Surprisingly for the Deep South, it now has two Democratic US senators. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is a Trump Republican hated by Trump for not throwing the 2020 presidential election at him. Georgia voters seem ready to go beyond Trump, but not necessarily beyond conservatism.
Kemp will face Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom he narrowly beat four years ago. She was a key architect of the 2020 Democratic victories in Georgia and is a national political figure. She offers a clear choice on issues, but perhaps more importantly, she is among the most adept politicians in her party and can get her vote.
Abrams could benefit from a policy shift that could send a broader message. There has been an influx of people from outside the South into the Atlanta area. Just as Maine might become more Democratic thanks to newcomers, the Atlanta area is becoming more Democratic. The Georgia results could reveal the upcoming Solid South collapse.
Texas and Wisconsin could provide readings on the national split, and the effect of Republican efforts to make it harder for traditional Democratic voters to vote could be a major factor. If the GOP is successful, it could reveal that it can retain control in many states, even when in a minority.
In Texas, GOP Governor Greg Abbott is an outspoken Trump loyalist and an active promoter of voter suppression. He takes on Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman and Democrat who ran well against Senator Ted Cruz in 2018. O’Rourke may be struggling to win, but even a close finish could put Texas in the sweepstakes category. for the 2024 presidential election.
Wisconsin is perhaps the state trying hardest to stop people from voting, and there are even questions about its vote tally. Democratic Governor Tony Evers faces a Republican Trump who will be selected on August 9. As much as the partisan test, the election will show whether voter suppression has taken hold, which could affect the 2024 presidential race in a key state.
The Nevada race stands as a test for Trump’s strengths. Its candidate, Sheriff Joe Lombardo, faces a moderate Democratic governor, Steve Sisolak. If Trump’s Republicans want to show they’re winning, this may be their best bet. A Democratic reversal here would send the same message to the loss of a Mills in Maine.
US House and Senate elections could determine whether Joe Biden will be able to accomplish much in the next two years. This is likely critical for the Democratic platform, as the 2024 election could be for an open presidential seat.
But on the larger question of the national political balance and its tilt in the future, it is the governor’s races that may provide the answer.