Former President Trump’s nearly two dozen endorsements in gubernatorial races this election season showed a near-dead-even split in wins and losses in races across the U.S.
Of the 21 gubernatorial candidates who ran in the general election with Trump’s backing, nine won their races while 11 lost, following a tally of the latest governor’s race to be called in Arizona late Monday that saw Democrat Katie Hobbs defeat Republican nominee Kari Lake, a Trump-backed election denier. One governor’s race remains outstanding in Alaska, where Republican incumbent Mike Dunleavy, who the former president also endorsed, currently leads Les Gara (D) by more than 27 points.
There was also a sharp divide between incumbents and nonincumbents backed by Trump.
Seven of the eight incumbents endorsed by Trump won reelection, while the race in Alaska is still ongoing. All eight incumbents endorsed by Trump ran in what are considered to be red-safe states.
Nonincumbents backed by Trump only won two out of 13 races, a record well below incumbents but on par with nonincumbents who were not backed by Trump. Only one out of eight GOP nonincumbents without Trump’s backing won their races.
Some high-profile losses for Trump-backed candidates racing for a governor’s mansion were in Pennsylvania where Republican Doug Mastriano was unable to overcome Democrat Josh Shapiro. That was also a state where Democrat John Fetterman beat back another Trump-endorsed candidate, GOP nominee Mehmet Oz, for a coveted Senate seat.
In total, 36 states held gubernatorial races in 2022.
Despite some high-profile losses in key states, a couple of Trump-backed candidates who were not incumbents were able to prevail in their races.
They are Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s former White House press secretary who is slated to become the next governor of Arkansas, and Joe Lombardo, the GOP gubernatorial nominee in Nevada who defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak.
GOP strategist Doug Heye noted that most of Trump’s endorsements were in lower-stakes races where he could take credit for wins and potentially dodge responsibility for losses.
“There were only a handful of races really where you could see that he was sticking his neck out,” Heye said.
GOP candidates backed by Trump in races considered by the Cook Political Report to be toss-ups in Arizona, Kansas, Nevada and Wisconsin didn’t fare well. In these races, only Lombardo in Nevada was able to notch a victory.
Governorships following the midterm elections will be nearly evenly split across the U.S., with 24 Democrats holding office compared to 25 Republicans, and the Alaska race hanging in the balance.
Just before midterm results rolled in, Trump told NewsNation (which is owned by Nexstar, the company that also owns The Hill) in an interview that he encouraged many candidates to run and that his responsibility would depend on the outcome.
“When they do well I won’t be given any credit, and if they do badly they will blame everything on me so I’m prepared for anything, but we’ll defend ourselves,” Trump said.
Trump hasn’t weighed in on some of the higher-profile losses such as those in Michigan, where Republican Tudor Dixon lost to incumbent Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, or that of Lee Zeldin’s (R) loss in New York to current Gov. Kathy Hochul (D).
Incumbency alone proved to be a significant determining factor of the governor’s races, according to Harvard government professor Stephen Ansolabehere. But so did other statewide factors such as responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, making it somewhat unclear how much the Trump factor weighed in.
Ansolabehere said that incumbency is a built-in advantage in a gubernatorial race.
“It’s really hard to beat an incumbent governor of either party because it’s like you add four or five points to their vote margin,” said Ansolabehere.
Other factors that make governor’s races different from congressional contests include economic factors, crime and schools, he added.
“Governors are held accountable for all these indicators,” Ansolabehere said. “In that setting, I think it was more about whether people thought the governor did a good job rather than whether the challenger was kind of a desirable candidate.”
Heye reiterated the idea that the effect of Trump’s endorsement for candidates running in the general was unclear.
“Republicans are supposed to win in red states and Democrats are supposed to win in blue, and so it’s not about Donald Trump” Heye, the GOP strategist. said. “Where candidates that he backed lost, he can say, well, it was a tough state.”
Despite Trump’s support being an unclear factor in many races, Heye said it still remains valuable in Republican primaries noting the race for governor in blue-state Maryland where Dan Cox, a far-right candidate and 2020 election denier, won the GOP primary over moderate Kelly Schulz.
“The role in the primary is important. The role in the general is sort of a nonfactor where he’s just trying to claim credit,” Heye said.