Races for governor in several states have ties to Capitol Hill
Former and current members vying for or leaving states’ top offices
ANALYSIS — Even though 14 races for governor will take place hundreds, or even thousands, of miles from Washington, D.C., many of the gubernatorial battles have a connection to Capitol Hill. A batch of current and former members are either finishing their tenure in office or hoping to get started with a political life away from the nation’s capital.
Three states are electing a governor this year: Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Republican Jeff Landry was elected to Congress from Louisiana's 3rd District in 2010 and then lost reelection two years later to fellow Republican Charles Boustany in a redrawn district. Landry went on to get elected state attorney general in 2015 over incumbent Republican Buddy Caldwell and won reelection easily four years later. Now Landry is running for governor.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is term-limited, leaving Republicans with a genuine opportunity to win back the governorship. The initial jungle primary isn’t until Oct. 14, and though Landry doesn’t have the field to himself, he’s a strong contender to become the state’s next governor.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron isn’t a former member, but he worked on Capitol Hill as an aide to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from 2015 to 2017. Less than a decade later, Cameron is one of the few Black Republican statewide officeholders and considered a potential successor to McConnell.
Cameron is the frontrunner in the upcoming May 16 primary, but the race is competitive as former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft exercises her financial muscle in television ads. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who won by a 0.4-point margin in 2019, is seeking reelection.
GOP Gov. Tate Reeves is also up for reelection this year in Mississippi. That race doesn’t have a direct D.C. connection, but GOP state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who nearly knocked off long-time GOP Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014 and unsuccessfully ran for Senate again in 2018, is running for lieutenant governor this year.
Next year’s races
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee just announced that he’s not seeking a fourth term in Washington. Inslee previously served more than a dozen years in the House in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Former Democratic Rep. Denny Heck, who served in the House from 2013 until he was elected lieutenant governor in 2020, is definitely not running for Inslee’s job. Specifically, Heck said via email he’s, “100 percent not running.” But former GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is considering a bid.
Herrera Beutler failed to get out of her district’s top two primary in 2022, in large part because she voted to impeach President Donald Trump after the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Though she has an independent streak, getting elected governor won’t be easy for any Republican in Washington. There hasn’t been a GOP governor in the Evergreen State since the early 1980s, and President Joe Biden will likely win Washington by close to 20 points.
Sen. Mike Braun is the frontrunner to be elected the next governor of Indiana where Republican incumbent Eric Holcomb is term-limited. Braun announced his candidacy late last year, and the combination of his current office and personal wealth has made him the prohibitive favorite for the state’s top job.
While Braun is trying to get out of Washington, Republican Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia is trying to get in. He recently announced his Senate candidacy, which could set up a clash of the titans against Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin, who hasn’t announced whether he’ll seek reelection.
Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte is up for reelection in Montana. He actually lost a race for governor in 2016, was then elected to the House in a special election for the state’s at-large district the following year and served on Capitol Hill until he was elected governor in 2020. Gianforte hasn’t announced what he’ll do this cycle, but a polling firm run by one of his former campaign managers released a survey that tested how the governor would do against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.
Former Rep. Mark Walker is seriously considering a run for governor in North Carolina. Democratic incumbent Roy Cooper is term-limited, giving Republicans a good opportunity to win the governorship. But Walker will need to get past Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson in the March primary, which will not be easy.
If GOP Gov. Chris Sununu doesn’t run for reelection in New Hampshire, either to run for president or because he’s tired of the two-year terms, Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas is likely to take a serious look at the race. That could leave open the congressman’s 1st District seat, which could be vulnerable to a GOP takeover in certain political conditions.
Delaware, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah and Vermont will also elect a governor next year, but without a clear connection to Washington, D.C., unless former Rep. Jason Chaffetz decides to take on Gov. Spencer J. Cox in the Beehive State.
Along with Inslee and Gianforte, eight other current governors served on Capitol Hill before their current post (although some of them were not elected directly from their Washington position), including Democrats Jared Polis (Colorado), John Carney (Delaware), Tim Walz (Minnesota), Michelle Lujan Grisham (New Mexico) and Kathy Hochul (New York), and Republicans Ron DeSantis (Florida), Mike DeWine (Ohio) and Kristi Noem (South Dakota).
Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.