The Competitive Governors’ Races Flying Under the Radar

Could Oklahoma Democrats pull off a Sooner State Stunner? Can Oregon Republicans end their 40-year losing streak?


Media coverage of the midterm elections tends to focus on the perennial swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and Michigan.

However, this year several states that are typically safe for one party at the federal level – New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Dakota – are home to surprisingly competitive governors’ races.

  • The Land of Enchantment has voted for Democrats for president for two decades, but Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s quest for a second term has run into challenges. A record-setting homicide rate in Albuquerque and illegal immigration have given Republican nominee Mark Ronchetti a chance to flip New Mexico red.
  • The governor’s race in solidly Republican Oklahoma hasn’t garnered much attention, but Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) is polling within the margin of error or trailing his Republican-turned-Democratic challenger, state schools chief Joy Hofmeister.
  • Hofmeister has benefitted from substantial outside spending and hostile relations between Gov. Stitt, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and the state’s powerful Native American tribes. This week, Hofmeister won the first joint endorsement from the state’s five largest tribes.
  • President Joe Biden is headed to deep-blue Oregon this weekend to fundraise for the Democratic nominee for Governor Tina Kotek. Kotek is locked in a three-way battle with Democrat-turned-independent Betsy Johnson and Republican Christine Drazan, who’s led several recent polls.
  • South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, only leads her Democratic foe, James Smith, by a slim 45-41 margin in the strongly conservative Mount Rushmore State, according to a new South Dakota State University poll. Noem won her first term by a surprisingly narrow 51-48 margin in 2018.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • POLITICO covered one reason these states’ races could grow in importance: Republican gubernatorial candidates’ underperformance in the traditional swing states. In Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, G.O.P. candidates Kari Lake, Tudor Dixon, and Doug Mastriano are lagging in fundraising and are “largely missing from the airwaves.”
  • Daily Kos published a deep dive into Oklahoma’s governor race after a Saturday SoonerPoll found Democrat Joy Hofmeister ahead of G.O.P. Gov. Kevin Stitt by a 47-43 margin. Hofmeister’s outside support has dominated the airwaves as Democratic-aligned groups aired 77% of the race’s commercials between Sept. 19 and Oct. 2.
  • FiveThirtyEight explored the decline in split-ticket voting and how this trend could affect states where candidates of different parties are leading in the polls for different statewide races (e.g., Democrat Peter Welch and Republican Phil Scott in Vermont’s Senate and governor’s races, respectively).


  • Oklahoma Gov. Stitt has made opposition to ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) non-financial standards a key piece of his reelection campaign and gave an interview on the subject to Fox News. Stitt called ESG “a political agenda” that “breaks down the free market principles of capitalism.”
  • The Washington Free Beacon reported Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is “the most-hated governor in America for the second year in a row.” Brown is so unpopular she’s created an opportunity for Republicans and forced Democratic nominee Tina Kotek to distance herself from the incumbent.
  • The Washington Examiner wrote about the role the unprecedented volume of illegal immigration is playing in New Mexico’s gubernatorial election. Republican Mark Ronchetti has emphasized border enforcement in a race “political handicappers see as a potential Nov. 8 upset.”


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© Dominic Moore, 2022