Eric Davis: Sizing up the races for governor


Voters in all six New England states, as well as New York state, will elect governors in 2022.

Connecticut Democrat Ned Lamont and Vermont Republican Phil Scott received praise, and high approval ratings, for their response to COVID-19 in 2020 and early 2021. Lamont announced his campaign for a second term last week, and Scott is likely to run for a fourth term, although he may not make an announcement for several months. Recently, both Lamont and Scott have come under criticism, from different perspectives, for their response to the virus.

Lamont has been dubbed “King Ned” by opponents of vaccination mandates for state employees and by parents who object to mandatory mask-wearing in schools. In Vermont, legislators and public health advocates want Scott to reimpose mask mandates and other mitigation measures in light of the state’s high case load in the last two months. Currently, both Lamont and Scott would be considered favorites for re-election, although in Scott’s case by less than the 40-point margin by which he won a third term in 2020.

New Hampshire Republican Chris Sununu announced last week that he would seek re-election to a fourth term as governor rather than run for the U.S. Senate as a challenger to Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. Sununu said he would prefer to be a governor and get things done in Concord rather than go to Washington and talk. With Sununu’s approval rating strong, he is likely to be re-elected, although Democrats will try to recruit a candidate who can make the race competitive.

Maine’s Democratic governor Janet Mills will seek a second term in 2022. Her Republican opponent is likely to be Paul LePage, a populist before Donald Trump came on the scene, who has already served as governor for two terms. In both 2010 and 2014, LePage was elected with less than 50 percent of the vote, because the anti-LePage vote was split between Democratic and third-party candidates.

Although Maine uses ranked-choice voting for federal elections, state elections are decided on a plurality winner basis. Until we know whether Mills and LePage will be joined by other candidates — such as an anti-Trump center-right contender, and a Green or other candidate to the left of Mills — the Maine campaign will be a challenge to analyze.

Since Massachusetts extended its governor’s term to four years, no Bay State governor has won three consecutive terms. (Michael Dukakis served three terms as governor, but they were not consecutive.) Republican Charlie Baker has not yet said whether he will run for a third term, but he is raising money for a campaign. Baker would be opposed in the Republican primary by populist right-winger Geoff Diehl, who has already been endorsed by Trump.

Although several Democrats have already announced their candidacies, the strongest potential contender, Attorney General Maura Healey, has not yet declared her intentions for 2022. If Healey runs, she would be the favorite to win in November, but only if Baker were to be defeated in the Republican primary. Massachusetts law allows independents to vote in primaries, so if Baker runs, his primary campaign would be geared to independents as much as to Republicans.

In both Rhode Island and New York, Democratic lieutenant governors who became governor earlier this year will seek election to the office in their own right. Kathy Hochul became governor of New York when Andrew Cuomo resigned in the face of allegations of harassment and unwanted sexual advances, while Dan McKee became governor of Rhode Island when Gina Raimondo joined the Biden Administration as Secretary of Commerce.

Hochul and McKee will have to win renomination in competitive Democratic primaries, against large fields including, among other candidates, statewide officers such as the attorney general in New York and the secretary of state and the treasurer in Rhode Island. With plurality-winner rules in place, Hochul and McKee could win these primaries with less than 50 percent of the vote.

Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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