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Voters In 36 States Will Decide Who Is Their Next Governor


Today, voters in 36 states will decide who their next governor will be. Democrats could make significant gains by picking up more than a dozen seats currently held by Republicans. President Trump is well aware of that fact, and he has been out on the stump. Last night, he headlined rallies for several Republicans in Ohio. And he outlined the stakes as he sees them.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If the radical Democrats take power, they will take a wrecking ball to our economy and to our future.

MARTIN: We're going to dig in to what is actually at stake for voters and the White House in some of these key governors' races. And we're going to do it with NPR's lead political editor, Domenico Montanaro.

Hey, Domenico.


MARTIN: So some of these races, we've heard an awful lot about, Georgia and Florida chief among them. But what are the other interesting races out there that we might not have heard so much about?

MONTANARO: Well, first of all, overall - just looking at the big picture - right now Republicans control about two-thirds of all governor seats. But Democrats are looking to roll back a decade of GOP gains at the state level tonight. That includes in swing states like Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin, by the way. They're all states that saw Republican governors swept in with the Tea Party wave in 2010 and that went for Donald Trump in 2016 that Democrats are trying to flip. By the way, Democrats also are competing in very red states that you might not expect like Oklahoma, South Dakota and Kansas.

MARTIN: What about the reverse? I mean, are there any races where Republicans are likely to take over gubernatorial seats from Democrats?

MONTANARO: Yeah, there are. Republicans have shots in Oregon, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Colorado. Those are all states that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. And I have to say, I find it really fascinating that, just as we talk about dysfunction and polarization at a federal level, you know, voters seem open to candidates from another party when it comes to running their states. In fact, two of the governors with the highest approval ratings up for re-election today are Republicans in liberal states, in Massachusetts and Maryland.

MARTIN: So we have seen President Trump - clearly, he cares a lot about this election. He has said time and time again he feels like this is a referendum on him, which in many ways it is. And he's spent a lot of time stumping for congressional candidates. But talk about why he would spend so much time on governors' races. Why is that so important to him?

MONTANARO: Yeah. Well, governors in a lot of these states help control redistricting. The census is happening in two years. And that certainly does affect federal lawmaking depending on how many Republicans or Democrats are in Congress based on the way those districts are drawn. They also affect a lot of down-ballot races. Take Florida, for example. Republicans are really worried that if Democrat Andrew Gillum wins that he'll put incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson over the finish line. And he's somebody who was a big target of Republicans early on in this cycle.

MARTIN: Coattails, yeah.

MONTANARO: Exactly. The president could also certainly use the governors' help in 2020 when he's running for re-election. And if people are used to voting Republican in their governor's race, they might be more inclined to do so at the presidential level. Plus, having lots of governors from a party helps create a strong bench of possible federal officeholders, even presidents. You saw that huge field in 2016. Of course, Donald Trump emerged from those as opposed to all those others governors.

MARTIN: Right.

Let's talk a little bit about turnout before we close because this is the big deal. Right? This is what matters on Election Day, who - which party is able to mobilize their supporters to turn out. And we've been hearing all these reports that it's going to reach record levels - already has. Right? What are you seeing?

MONTANARO: Yeah. Well, we have some more data now based on early voting. But wow, turnout is expected to be the highest in a generation for a midterm. There are some signs of that from early voting. If you look at what the Election Project (ph) at the University of Florida does where they track turnout, they say that more than 38 million people voted early, which could signal a turnout for midterm anywhere from about 105 million to 114 million people. That would be levels not seen since 1970 at the lowest and at the highest, since 1914. That's the last time we had 50 percent of the country - which doesn't sound like a very high number - 50 percent of eligible voters go to the polls, back when you first had the direct election of senators in 1914.

By the way, early voting was so high in some places that Arizona, Nevada and Texas - all places with really important Senate races, their turnout - their early vote was higher than the entire total vote cast in those states in 2014.

MARTIN: I saw that. That is really unbelievable.

MONTANARO: It's amazing. And they all had key statewide races on the ballot.

MARTIN: All right. Stay tuned. We'll be following it all. NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro.

Thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.