By McKenna Middleton | Opinion Editor
On Election Day, 36 states held elections for governor. According to data from Baylor Institutional Research and Testing, 91.4 percent of undergraduate Baylor students are from states participating in governor elections.
The National Governors Association reported 17 of those 36 states had incumbents eligible for re-election, but even some of those seemingly predictable states were met with unexpected challenges. For example, in right-leaning Texas, incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott won re-election by 55.6 percent to Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez’s 42.2 percent as of 11 p.m. Tuesday with 78 percent of precincts reporting.
Dr. Patrick Flavin, associate professor of political science at Baylor, said these races reflect a larger narrative of nationalization in American politics.
“Given that the federal government under unified control isn’t doing much in terms of changing policy, the states I think are more really where the action is at. So I think they’re getting a little more focus in this election,” Flavin said.
In that way, Flavin said Republican control on a federal level could mean gubernatorial races are more important for Democrats to advocate for policy changes on a state level.
“So I think that what’s really on the ballot in several of these states is if you switch from a Republican governor to a Democratic governor, you could get some policy changes that wouldn’t otherwise happen,” Flavin said. “Democrats are usually the national party and Republicans are sort of the states-focused party, but that’s sort of flipped as they find themselves in the minority.”
At the same time, Flavin said governor elections can have a greater capacity in general for state-based political focus than other offices where national politics have taken hold.
Some of the governor races were projected to be a shoo-in for the incumbent party, such as in California and Texas. However, other races such as Georgia and Florida were much more highly contested in polling data.
Flavin said closer polls might motivate people to vote more because close races have more campaign spending and more mobilization efforts.
“Whether their vote’s going to potentially make a difference in the outcome is a motivating factor. And so not surprisingly, we see higher voter turnout in more competitive races. I think that’s one aspect that increased polling has sort of helped,” Flavin said.
In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp ran a tight race against Democrat Stacey Abrams. In the end, Kemp won the governor seat with 52.7 percent to Abrams 46.4 percent as of 11 p.m. Tuesday with 92 percent of precincts reporting.
“On one hand, it’s somewhat surprising given the red lean of Georgia, but I think what this probably signals is one, the changing demographics of the South, but also the ripe conditions for Democratic candidates this year,” Flavin said. “So I think if the conditions weren’t the way they are, it’s unlikely that the Georgia governor’s race would be as close just because of the lean of that state. But because the conditions are what they are, it’s propped up as probably the most prominent governor’s election.”
Augusta, Ga., senior Palmer Brigham said she’s noticed changes in Georgia both politically and with local businesses.
“I believe the fact that a normally predictable state like Georgia is hosting a close election for governor shows true democracy at work. A lot of important issues have drawn attention in this election and I hope whatever the outcome, this attention will garner the changes the state need,” Brigham said.
In the case of the Georgia race, Flavin said both candidates have focused on national politics based on their respective political parties.
“So neither is really trying to moderate their positions, and I think that’s part of the larger pattern of just the nationalization of all sorts of state level races,” Flavin said.
On the flip side, more decided races like the gubernatorial election in California and Texas have been characterized by a shift away from nationalization, Flavin said. This still wasn’t enough for California governor Republican candidate John Cox to win in such a blue state; he lost with 44 percent to Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom’s 56 percent as of 11 p.m. Tuesday with 16 percent of precincts reporting.
Flavin said they may downplay ties to national politics like Cox who did not emphasize the endorsement Trump gave him in his political advertising.
“I think in politically lopsided states like California, it behooves the challenger to be less linked to national politics,” Flavin said. “So Trump as a president and the Republican party as a party aren’t super popular in California, so I think it makes good political sense to do so.”