Skip to content

Current, former members shake up races for governor

More could join the fray as redistricting continues

Former Georgia Sen. David Perdue is back on the campaign trail after launching a Republican primary challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp.
Former Georgia Sen. David Perdue is back on the campaign trail after launching a Republican primary challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — It’s not always about Washington. With most of the 2022 attention on the fights for the House and Senate majorities, more than a handful of current and former members of Congress have their sights on becoming governor. 

At least a dozen current and former House members or senators are hoping to win the governor’s mansion this cycle. And that number could grow in the coming months as states finalize their congressional maps and some members find themselves looking for better political opportunities than running for reelection. 

There are lots of opportunities, considering 36 states have governor’s races next year. A few former or current lawmakers have already seen their fortunes change or are still exploring their gubernatorial options. 

In Arkansas, former Republican Rep. Tim Griffin, the current lieutenant governor, dropped out of the gubernatorial primary as it became clear that former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was going to win the nomination. Griffin is now running for state attorney general. Former Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa might run for governor in Hawaii, and GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger could run in Illinois. The congressman has already announced he won’t seek reelection

New York

Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi is running for governor instead of seeking a fourth term. It’s no secret the Long Island congressman has had his eye on the job, considering he also ran in 2006. 

And it can’t get much worse than that race, when he lost 82 percent to 18 percent to state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in the Democratic primary. But Suozzi’s got another uphill battle. A Nov. 29-Dec. 3 Siena College survey found him tied for a distant fourth at 6 percent in the Democratic primary. Newly installed Gov. Kathy Hochul — herself a former congresswoman — was first with 36 percent, followed by state Attorney General Letitia James (18 percent), New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (10 percent), and outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (6 percent), who hasn’t announced his candidacy. The poll also found that two-thirds of registered voters in the state don’t know enough about Suozzi to have an opinion of him. (James said Thursday she was dropping out of the race to run for another term as AG.)

Suozzi wasn’t the first House member from New York to enter the gubernatorial race. Republican Lee Zeldin announced his candidacy back in April, although his bid got decidedly more difficult when embattled Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned. A typical Democrat, even a liberal one, who hasn’t been accused of sexual misconduct, will start the general election with a distinct advantage. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Democratic.

Georgia

Former GOP Sen. David Perdue shook up the race recently when he announced a primary challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp. Former President Donald Trump has been vocally at odds with the governor ever since Kemp certified Joe Biden’s narrow 2020 victory there. Trump even went as far as saying the Peach State would be better off if 2018 Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams was its governor. 

Perdue is less than a year removed from his reelection loss to Democrat Jon Ossoff in a January runoff election that shifted Senate control to the Democrats. Perdue had outperformed Ossoff by almost 2 points in November 2020, but a third candidate kept him from going over the 50-percent mark. That forced a runoff in which Perdue’s chances may have been hurt by Trump’s continued complaints that the November vote was fraudulent and that GOP state officials weren’t doing enough to fix it. 

Trump’s hate for Kemp has apparently helped him look past Perdue’s previous loss to endorse the former senator in the governor’s race. Meanwhile, Abrams is running and likely to be the Democratic nominee once again. Georgia is an emerging swing state, and the race is rated a Battleground by Inside Elections. But the eventual GOP nominee should start with a narrow advantage in the current political environment, even though the race will likely devolve into a bitter, personal fight.

Florida

Governor is a familiar title and job to Democratic Rep Charlie Crist, who was elected to Florida’s top office in 2006 as a Republican. Crist only served one term after trying to make the jump to the Senate in 2010 (he lost as an unaffiliated candidate in the general election won by Republican Marco Rubio). In 2014, Crist ran for governor as a Democrat and lost to Republican Rick Scott.

This cycle, Crist is leaving behind his Tampa-area seat and faces a competitive Democratic primary against state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and state Sen. Annette Taddeo, who lost a 2016 Democratic primary for a South Florida seat to former Rep. Joe Garcia. Inside Elections rates the race a Battleground, but the winner of the Democratic primary will have to face GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, a onetime congressman, in a good political environment for Republicans in a state that typically votes Republican. 

Texas

If there’s an election, Beto O’Rourke is likely going to run for something. The former Democratic congressman lost a 2018 race to GOP Sen. Ted Cruz and lasted seven and a half months in the 2020 Democratic race for president before dropping out. This cycle, he’s back to Texas and challenging GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. That’s assuming the governor, who has multiple primary challengers — including former Florida Rep. Allen B. West — is the Republican nominee. 

Even though O’Rourke is a fundraising machine and came within 3 points of unseating Cruz, 2022 is shaping up to be a decidedly more difficult political environment for Democrats compared with 2018. Voters then were focused on sending a message to Trump. This cycle, they are more focused on a far-reaching Democratic agenda and holding Democrats in leadership responsible for the country’s problems. Even though O’Rourke will run a well-funded campaign, the race is rated Solid Republican.

Arizona

Former GOP Rep. Matt Salmon was part of Arizona’s congressional delegation two different times over the past 25 years, and now he’s running for governor. Despite his longevity in Arizona politics, Salmon (who lost the 2002 governor’s race to Democrat Janet Napolitano) is an underdog for the GOP nomination. He’ll have to overcome former local TV news anchor Kari Lake, who has Trump’s endorsement. State Treasurer Kimberly Yee and others are also running for the GOP nod.

Despite recent Democratic success, including capturing both Senate seats, Arizona is the type of state that could flip back to Republicans in the current political environment. GOP Gov. Doug Ducey can’t seek reelection because of term limits. Inside Elections rates the race a Battleground. 

Nevada

GOP Sen. Dean Heller lost reelection in 2018 by 5 points to Democrat Jacky Rosen. Now he’s on the comeback trail, running for governor. In an interesting twist, Heller might share the ballot with 2018 gubernatorial nominee Adam Laxalt, who is the initial front-runner for the 2022 GOP Senate nomination against Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto

Despite being a former senator, Heller doesn’t have as clear of a path to the gubernatorial nomination as Laxalt has for the Senate nod. North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore and others are in the GOP race to challenge Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. 

The fight for the Republican nomination is important considering the competitive nature of Nevada and how it tends to swing toward the GOP in a good political environment when there’s a Democrat in the White House. The race is rated a Battleground. 

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania features two former House members in the GOP race for governor: Lou Barletta and Melissa A. Hart. Barletta is the onetime mayor of Hazelton who lost to Democratic Sen. Bob Casey by 13 points in 2018. Hart hasn’t been on Capitol Hill since she lost reelection in 2006. 

Barletta and Hart are just two of many running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Others include state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale and state Sens. Scott Martin and Doug Mastriano (who was on U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6). Because Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is term-limited, the winner of the GOP primary will likely face Democratic state Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a swing state in a GOP-leaning cycle. Inside Elections rates the race a Battleground.

Ohio

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, a former congressman and senator, faces a primary challenge from James B. Renacci, who gave up his House seat in 2018 for an unsuccessful challenge to Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. DeWine rankled conservatives with his aggressive actions to combat the pandemic in 2020, and he acknowledged Biden’s victory over Trump. But Renacci, who had Trump’s support in 2018, lost that race by 6 points when every other GOP statewide candidate won. He recently picked a running mate who produced a Trump documentary, but the former president has not endorsed in the contest so far. The race is rated Solid Republican.

South Carolina

After losing reelection in 2020, former Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham is running for governor. He has primary opponents, but would likely face a tougher general election against GOP incumbent Henry McMaster in a Republican state in a Republican year. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.

Recent Stories

Capitol Ink | MAGA spin off

Senate AI ‘road map’ potentially a dangerous detour, critics say

‘I’m totally devastated’: Hill cafeteria worker recalls carjacking

Spared angry protests at Morehouse, Biden pushes post-war Gaza plan

Capitol Lens | Duck dodgers

Election year politics roil the EV transition