Predicting 5 high-profile governor races to watch in the US midterm elections

Florida's Ron DeSantis seen as challenger to Donald Trump for potential Republican presidential nomination in 2024

Former president Donald Trump appears with Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake at a campaign rally in Mesa, Arizona. AFP
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On the eve of the midterm elections, former president Donald Trump seems to be aware that his most potent rival for a potential 2024 presidential run could be Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida.

Mr Trump, who could announce a third bid for the White House as soon as next week, labelled the Florida governor as “Ron DeSanctimonious” at a rally in Pennsylvania before Mr DeSantis is expected to win his re-election battle.

Governors are powerful politicians in that they shape state laws that do not fall under the federal government's purview. Such hotly contested issues include abortion, immigration, voting rights and climate policies.

But the office also gives politicians a national profile that they could ride to a presidential campaign. In fact, 17 of America's 46 presidents, including Ronald Reagan, George W Bush and Bill Clinton, first served as governors.

Here are five races to watch in the 2022 midterm elections:

Florida: Ron DeSantis (R) versus Charlie Crist (D)

Seen as Mr Trump's heir apparent, Mr DeSantis has thrust himself into national headlines by taking on Disney and other progressive businesses, transporting migrants to Democratic strongholds and leading his state's recovery following Hurricane Ian.

His challenger Charlie Crist was Florida's governor from 2007-2011 as a Republican. He joined the Democratic Party in 2012 after endorsing Barack Obama for president.

He is hoping to sway voters with his stance on education. Mr DeSantis in April rejected 50 mathematics books from classrooms, accusing them of teaching “woke math”.

A win for Mr Crist would deal a serious blow to Mr DeSantis's presidential hopes, but data suggests the Republican will cruise to victory on November 8.

But Mr DeSantis has a sizeable lead over Mr Crist, with election day looming. The incumbent governor leads his Democratic challenger by more than 11 points, data compiled by FiveThirtyEight show.

New York: Lee Zeldin (R) versus Kathy Hochul (D)

New York Governor Kathy Hochul is facing a tougher-than-expected gubernatorial campaign after Republican challenger Lee Zeldin made crime a central focus of the race.

Quinnipiac, which polled the race for the first time this year on October 18, showed Mr Zeldin well within striking distance of the Democratic incumbent. FiveThirtyEight's polling average has Ms Hochul with a 7.8-point lead over Mr Zeldin, down from a high of 18 points in August.

The reason for Mr Zeldin's surge can be attributed to crime in the state, which New Yorkers see as the biggest issue this election.

The issue has become a central one for Mr Zeldin, who was attacked onstage during a campaign event in Rochester in July.

“Zeldin making crime a major part of his campaign could be where he’s making inroads in this race,” said Quinnipiac University polling analyst Mary Snow.

And New York City faced a summer surge in crime driven by murders, shootings and robberies. The crime rate in the bustling metropolitan area home to nearly nine million people has since increased further to 15.2 per cent compared to a year ago, statistics from the New York Police Department showed.

Georgia: Brian Kemp (R) versus Stacey Abrams (D)

Voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams will have to defy polling expectations if she is to defeat incumbent Brian Kemp in a rematch of the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial contest.

Ms Abrams was a relative political unknown when she first ran for office, but has been credited with delivering the Georgia electorate to Mr Biden in 2020 and was even seen as a potential running mate.

This composite image shows Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams. AP

Ms Abrams registered hundreds of thousands of voters to flip Georgia in 2020 and will need that legion of voters if she is to unseat the Republican to whom she narrowly lost in 2018.

Data show Mr Kemp with a 7.5-point lead over his Democratic rival in the polls before November 8.

Should Ms Abrams defy those odds, she would be the state's first black female governor.

Arizona: Kari Lake (R) versus Katie Hobbs (D)

Arizona's gubernatorial race pits a 2020 election denier against a former electoral official who received death threats after declaring Mr Biden the state's victor.

Buoyed by Mr Trump's blessing, former news anchor Kari Lake has seen her lead narrow since overtaking former Arizona secretary of state Katie Hobbs in the race for governor last month. FiveThirtyEight's aggregate shows Ms Lake with a 2.6-point lead.

Ms Lake, a 2020 election denier, has not said if she would accept the results of the gubernatorial race should she lose. Speaking on CNN, she also reiterated false claims that the presidential election was rigged.

Arizona's race for governor features Republican governor Kari Lake, a 2020 election denier, against Democrat and former election official Katie Hobbs. AFP

“The people don't trust our elections,” she said on CNN's State of the Union.

The Maga (Make America Great Again) candidate is seen as a potential running mate for Mr Trump should she win the governor's race — and should Mr Trump decide to run in 2024.

Ms Hobbs meanwhile has defended Arizona's election results amid Maga Republican opposition. She also has repeatedly defended her office's handling of the 2020 election.

Texas: Greg Abbott (R) versus Beto O'Rourke (D)

Texas became one of the hottest political grounds in the US after it was rocked by a mass shooting in the town of Uvalde.

Republican incumbent Greg Abbott and former US representative Beto O'Rourke have engaged in heated moments over a number of policy issues, but perhaps none more so than gun violence.

Mr O'Rourke was even thrown out of Mr Abbott's Uvalde press conference after confronting the governor over his inaction on gun legislation.

Several families of victims killed in the Robb Elementary School mass shooting have endorsed Mr O'Rourke.

But breaking through in a Republican-leaning state may be too tall a challenge for the former presidential candidate.

Data compiled by FiveThirtyEight show Mr Abbott with a 9.1-point advantage.

Nearly all likely voters — 95 per cent — have said their minds are made about whom they will vote for, a Quinnipiac poll showed.

Texas has not had a Democratic governor since 1995.

Updated: November 07, 2022, 7:45 PM