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The Washington Post: The top 10 gubernatorial races of 2018

When it comes to gubernatorial races, Republicans say they’re a victim of their own success from two great election cycles in a row. Going into 2018, Republicans control a near-record high of 33 governor’s mansions, including a number in blue and swing states. Democrats, meanwhile, hold a near-record low.

Which means in 2018, the only place to go may be up for Democrats.

And Democrats will have a lot of opportunities to chip away at their deficit. Of our top 10 governor races, eight are Republican-held seats. Most of those Republican governors are term-limited out in 2018, which is good news for Democrats, since one of the hardest thing to do in politics is kick out a sitting governor.

Any seat Democrats win back is critical for the future of the party. Many of the governors will be able to veto electoral maps drawn by state legislatures with new census data in 2021. And since Republicans also currently control a majority of state legislatures, the governor’s mansion may be the only way for Democrats to stop maps that lock them out of power for the next decade.  

Here are the top 10 governor posts most likely to flip parties, ranked in order of least (10) to most (1):

10. Maryland (Republican incumbent): This is one of several blue states that Republicans now control, and it won’t necessarily be easy for Democrats to wrestle it back. Polls show that two-thirds of the state approve of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), and Democrats are mired in a crowded and messy primary to unseat him. But anti-Trump sentiment in this liberal state may be too strong for even a politically skilled governor like Hogan to overcome.   

9. Ohio (Republican-held seat that will be open in 2018): Here’s the first of several governor mansions in Trump states that Democrats are targeting. Gov. John Kasich (R) is term-limited, and Democrats hope that nearly a quarter century of Republicans in the state mansion, plus anti-Trump sentiment, plus a liberal hero of sorts in former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray running for the Democratic nomination, could give them the edge. But it’s not clear if Ohio will go Democratic, given it went for Trump by nearly 10 points.

8. Connecticut (Open): Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) has decided not to run for a third term, and with good reason. More than two-thirds of the state disapproves of him, according to a 2016 Quinnipiac poll, and the state is struggling financially. Republicans sense an opening, saying Connecticut will likely be their top offensive target next year. “We are playing heavy defense, but there are a strong handful of states that we plan to play offense in,” said Jon Thompson, communications director with the Republican Governors Association. First, they’ve got to pick a candidate. There are nearly a dozen on either side, and no one in particular stands out.

7. Michigan (Open): Democrats are bullish about taking back the governor’s mansion here for a few reasons: Trump won the state by less than a percentage point and outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is highly unpopular and his handling of the Flint water crisis might taint any Republican nominee. Democrats are excited about Gretchen Whitmer, the former party leader in the state Senate who is the primary front-runner.

6. Florida (Open): This perpetually competitive governor’s race just got a lot more interesting thanks to President Trump, who endorsed Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) to replace outgoing Gov. Rick Scott (R), setting up a potentially expensive primary on the Republican side against front-runner Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Democrats have their own primary. Former congresswoman Gwen Graham, the daughter of a popular governor, hasn’t been able to stamp out lesser-known challengers. A competitive Senate race, potentially including Scott, could overshadow and shape the governor’s race.

5. Nevada (Open): Nevada Democrats have found electoral success when the rest of their party struggled. Voters here went Democratic down the ballot in 2016. This time, term-limited Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is one of the most popular politicians in the state, and he has so far declined to offer his endorsement to the front-running Republican, Attorney General Adam Laxalt. A potential front-runner on the Democratic side is Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, a well-known figure in the Las Vegas area. Also watch a competitive Senate race here to try to unseat vulnerable Sen. Dean Heller (R), which could bring out voters for either side.

4. Illinois (Republican defending): What happens when two billionaires clash? We’re about to find out. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) is running for reelection in the bluest states in the Midwest and has already given his own campaign $50 million. But that’s peanuts to fellow billionaire JB Pritzker, of one of the wealthiest families in the country, who has said if he wins the nomination (over a field that includes a member of the Kennedy family), he’ll spend whatever it takes to win the general election. The Illinois race is shaping up to be the most expensive nonpresidential race in American history, which both sides say make it extremely unpredictable.

3. Alaska (Independent): Gov. Bill Walker (I) is the only independent governor in office right now, and he could soon realize the perils of not having a major-party backer. Republicans are planning to make an effort to oust him, while this race in a Republican state isn’t really on Democrats’ radar.

2. Maine (Open): Term-limited Gov. Paul LePage (R) is one of the most controversial governors. He’s also one of the least popular, which makes any Republican effort to replace him an uphill battle. Both sides acknowledge this seat is likely to flip to Democrats, especially since Sen. Susan Collins (R) decided not to run for it.

1. New Mexico (Open): Alongside Maine, New Mexico is Democrats’ best pick up opportunity in 2018. State voters  went for Hillary Clinton by nearly 10 points, and outgoing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez (one of just six female governors in office now) isn’t very popular. She’s leaving behind a high unemployment rate and struggling education system. This race could come down to two members of Congress: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and Stevan Pearce (R).