With a week and a half to go until Election Day, a handful of gubernatorial showdowns across the country that were once believed to be anything but competitive have tightened up in the closing days of the 2022 campaign, which could result in November surprises at the ballot box.
In the high-profile race for New York State governor, where polls indicate that Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul and Republican challenger Rep. Lee Zeldin are now locked in a close contest, the two candidates quickly fired away at each other in their singular debate on Wednesday.
Zeldin for weeks has been hammering Hochul over soaring crime and inflation, blasting the Democratic incumbent at the very start of their debate, charging “you’re poorer and less safe because of Kathy Hochul and extreme policies.”
Hochul, formerly the state’s lieutenant governor who was sworn in as New York’s first female governor after three-term Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace amid multiple scandals 14 months ago, fired back on crime and targeted Zeldin over his stance on abortion.
She also took aim at the conservative congressman and strong supporter of former President Donald Trump for election denialis and his stance on climate change, calling him an “election denier” and “also a climate change denier.”
Zeldin is aiming to become the first Republican in 20 years to win a gubernatorial election in blue state New York, where the latest public opinion polls indicate that Hochul’s once formidable lead has melted away.
And it’s not just New York state.
It’s been 16 years since a Republican was elected governor in Minnesota, but most of the latest polls suggest a very close contest between Democratic incumbent Gov. Tim Walz and GOP challenger Scott Jensen, a former state senator and physician.
The two candidates attacked each other last week in their one and only debate. Jensen criticized Walz on crime and specifically for his handling of the 2020 riots following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, while the governor knocked Jensen for his past support of abortion bans.
In the key Midwestern battleground state of Michigan, first-term Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger and conservative commentator Tudor Dixon clashed on the debate stage Tuesday over legalized abortion, election denialism, school safety and education. Whitmer’s once comfortable lead over Dixon has diminished, according to the most recent public opinion surveys.
In New Mexico, which leans blue, new polling suggests Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti, a former meteorologist at a local TV station and the 2020 GOP Senate nominee, closing the gap with first-term Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
And in red-state Oklahoma, where state superintendent of public instruction Joy Hofmeister is hoping to become the first Democrat in 16 years to win a gubernatorial election, polls indicate she’s closed the gap with first-term Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt.
With Democrats facing historical headwinds — the party that wins the White House traditionally suffers major setbacks in the ensuing midterm elections — and a rough political climate fueled by record inflation, soaring crime and a border crisis and accentuated by President Biden’s rebounding but still underwater approval ratings, Republicans aim to win back majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate in next month’s elections. And they aim to hold or even increase their current sizeable control over governorships and state legislatures.
While congressional races are often dictated by national issues and trends, gubernatorial showdowns tend to be more compartmentalized.
“Sometimes we can see national issues have an effect on governors’ races,” Jessica Taylor, the Senate and Governors editor for nonpartisan political handicapper the Cook Report with Amy Walter, told Fox News.
And she pointed to the New York and New Mexico gubernatorial elections, where crime is playing an outsized role.
But Taylor also emphasized that “a lot of times it’s very localized or statewide issues” that can dictate the outcome of a gubernatorial election. She pointed to Oklahoma, where a clash between Stitt and Native American tribal leaders has made plenty of headlines.
Republicans currently control 28 governors’ offices, with Democrats running the other 22. Thirty-six states are holding gubernatorial elections this year, with Republicans defending 20 of the 36 seats up for grabs.