Trump supporters’ election test: a movement or a moment

(Reuters) - In rally after rally, President Donald Trump exhorts throngs of red-hatted supporters to treat next week’s congressional elections as a referendum on Trumpism and the grass-roots movement that swept him to power.
“You’re voting for me in 2018,” Trump told a raucous crowd in a late September appearance for Republican candidates in Missouri. “You’re voting for me.”
The plea speaks to the challenge facing the president and his supporters: With Democrats threatening to take over the House of Representatives and key governors’ offices, the success of his legislative agenda over the next two years hinges on whether he can energize his backers around candidates who are not named Trump.
This year’s election is the first real test of whether the coalition behind Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan can evolve from a diffuse, personality-driven following to an organised political force able to boost candidates outside his electoral strongholds.
Reuters surveyed officials from 18 Republican campaigns, analysed data from polling partner Ipsos and interviewed dozens of candidates, strategists and Trump supporters to assess the reach and influence of the president’s self-styled “MAGA Movement” ahead of the elections.
United behind Trump’s “America First” agenda of tighter borders, protectionist economic policies and unilateralist diplomacy, the MAGA coalition swept up 2016 voters who felt ignored by Washington and welcomed Trump’s vows to upend its institutions. Today, it attracts Tea Party conservatives, evangelical Christians, gun rights advocates, and working-class voters drawn to Trump’s outsider persona.
Trump’s populist base is firmly established in the mostly southern and western parts of the country where he’s most popular. MAGA supporters turn out in force for Trump-backed candidates in those areas, boosting them in opinion polls and volunteering for their campaigns. In some cases, they have taken control of state party machines, harnessing their infrastructure and money for candidates in Trump’s mold.
But outside of Trump’s strongholds, the influence of MAGA supporters is more pocketed, especially in Rust Belt states, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the upper Midwest. So, while Trump loyalists can tip the scales in specific U.S. House districts in those areas, they have done less to boost Trump-backed candidates in statewide contests for governor and U.S. Senate.
With no central organization and little regard for Republican hierarchies, MAGA enthusiasts agitate largely through social media and Internet forums, such as Facebook and Reddit, the social networking site. In dozens of interviews, Reuters found their willingness to back local campaigns often has less to do with party loyalty than with helping Trump.
“The 2018 elections will be a test of how popular Trump is, how popular his policies are, did we organise well or do we need to do better and improve things for 2020,” said Scott Presler, a MAGA activist in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Among the 18 Trump-endorsed Republicans running for Senate or governor in states where Trump won the presidential race by more than 10 percentage points in 2016, more than 80 percent are ahead in opinion polls, based on data aggregated by RealClearPolitics and, non-partisan websites that gather polling from multiple sources.
Yet among the 16 Trump-backed candidates for Senate or governor in states where he won by fewer than 10 points, just four –  a quarter – are polling ahead.


The challenge is starkest where Trump-backed candidates are trying to flip governors’ offices and Senate seats held by Democrats, Reuters found.
U.S. President Donald Trump exits Air Force one after holding a rally in Springfield, Missouri, as he arrives in Newark, New Jersey, U.S., September 21, 2018. Picture taken September 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
In states where Trump won by double digits in 2016, two of the five candidates he has endorsed in races for Democrat-held Senate and governors’ seats are leading in the polls, and two others are within a few points. But in states where Trump won by less than 10 points, all six candidates he has endorsed in races for Democratic seats are behind in recent polls, five of them by at least 10 points.
Through much of the campaign season, Trump supporters in many places were “leaning on their shovels,” because they were over-confident of victory, Steve Bannon, a former Trump adviser and campaign strategist, told Reuters.
MAGA loyalists have grown more energized in recent weeks, realizing Trump’s agenda “would come grinding to a halt” if Democrats capture the U.S. House, Bannon added. “You’ve seen the establishment and the hardcore anti-establishment in the Trump base all come together.”
The president remains enormously popular with that base - Reuters/Ipsos polling gives him an 84 percent approval rate among Republicans - and more than two-thirds of those who voted for him in 2016 say they identify with MAGA ideals.
Yet their views diverge on what MAGA means: while more than half equate it with strengthening the economy and tightening borders, upwards of a quarter say MAGA simply means “Donald Trump.” (Graphic:
That raises questions about the future of MAGA once Trump leaves office.


On Oct. 1, Trump whipped up a crowd of nearly 10,000 at a rally supporting Marsha Blackburn’s U.S. Senate campaign in Tennessee, where Trump won in 2016 by 26 points.
“A vote for Marsha is really a vote for me and everything that we stand for,” he told the audience.
Soon after, opinion polls showed Blackburn, a U.S. House member, pulling ahead of her Democratic opponent, former two-term governor Phil Bredesen.
“We knew President Trump would be an extraordinary surrogate in East Tennessee,” Republican Party spokesman Garren Shipley told Reuters.
Bredesen’s campaign dismissed the polls: “The only poll that matters is on election day,” said spokeswoman Alyssa Hansen.
On Oct. 10, the president held another rally 500 miles (800 km) away with a similar message for Lou Barletta’s U.S. Senate campaign in Pennsylvania, where Trump eked out a one-point victory in 2016. “I need you,” Trump told the crowd. “Vote for Lou!”
It was Trump’s second rally with Barletta since August. But Barletta, also a U.S. House member, trails incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Casey, and has remained behind by more than 10 points in polls.
The divergent fortunes of Blackburn and Barletta reflect the challenge in harnessing Trump’s MAGA coalition.
Following Trump’s victory in 2016, Tennessee’s Republican establishment embraced his agenda and welcomed his supporters. Many are volunteering now for Blackburn and other Trump-backed candidates, helping with phone banks, neighbourhood canvassing and other get-out-the-vote efforts.
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The state party leaders who didn’t support Trump initially have “figured out they have to help him,” says Todd Fowler, who heads the local party in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves on the state party’s executive committee. “Tennessee likes what he’s doing.”
In Pennsylvania, where Trump’s 2016 win was razor-thin, his support is mostly concentrated in rural and working-class areas. Polls show Trump’s pick for governor, Scott Wagner, running well behind incumbent Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.
Trump is drawing people to congressional campaigns in Pennsylvania, but they are coming “very tentatively,” says Eugene Sorrentino, 76, a retired power company technician and member of the local Republican committee in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Sorrentino recently staffed a welcome tent set up by the party at a county fair and “all I heard was requests for Trump paraphernalia,” he said. The congressional races “weren’t on their agenda,” he added.


In Trump’s strongholds, his ability to help candidates goes beyond a bounce in the polls. Nearly all the Trump-backed campaigns contacted by Reuters reported a surge of volunteer activism – a “Trump bump” – after the president’s endorsement.
In Western Pennsylvania, a corner where Trump is enormously popular, U.S. Representative Mike Kelly says his campaign relies heavily on MAGA volunteers. Kelly’s district, redrawn this year, includes counties where Trump won by as much as 20 points in 2016, according to, a nonpartisan group.
Trump provides “that shot of adrenaline you need from time to time,” Kelly told Reuters as he prepared to join the president for an Oct. 10 rally in Erie.
Trump backs Florida's Republican candidates ahead of midterms
One engine for turning out Trump’s base in his stronghold regions is America First Action, a “Super PAC” allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections.
The group has spent more than $26 million on phone messaging and advertising in five battleground Senate races – Arizona, Montana, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota – and across 11 congressional districts in Texas, Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, West Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Nevada and North Carolina.
It is run by Trump loyalists and relies on big donations from Republican Party stalwarts, including casino magnates Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn and mining engineer and businessman Robert Murray.
In an Oct. 1 memo, White House political director Bill Stepian advised congressional campaigns that the best way to capture MAGA support is to align “closely, clearly and boldly” with Trump. The president, he wrote, is “ready, willing and able to put the power and force of his coalition to work for the candidates with whom he stands, and who stand with him.”
At the national level, Republican Party officials have fallen in line and embraced the president, routinely echoing Trump’s nationalist campaign themes. But for candidates in areas where the president doesn’t dominate the electorate, embracing Trump has mixed success.
In Florida, where Trump prevailed by one point in 2016, he endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate and die-hard supporter Ron DeSantis before the party primary. But now, in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor in 20 years, DeSantis is polling slightly behind in the general election contest against Andrew Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee.
Some Republican candidates in areas with moderate voters who view Trump less favourably have steered clear of the president, a Reuters analysis found last month.


MAGA supporters have become a force in many state party offices, including some states outside the president’s established southern and western strongholds.
In Ohio, a swing state where Trump won by eight points in 2016, the state Republican Party selected Jane Timken, a Trump friend and loyalist, to take over as chairwoman in the wake of the election.
In Nevada, where Democrat Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential vote, the state Republican Party has launched weekly events, such as MAGA Mondays and Trump Tuesdays, to attract the president’s supporters.
Rochelle Swanson, 30, a MAGA activist in Reno who began posting pro-Trump articles and interviewing local Republican candidates on social media, was asked by a party official in July to help with voter outreach. She now aligns her social media and canvassing with the party’s messaging, she says, and “there is good unity happening.”
Yet even as MAGA supporters have become woven into the fabric of the Republican Party, many acknowledge it will be a challenge to preserve their coalition and continue shaping U.S. politics once Trump leaves office. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll earlier this month, more than a quarter of Trump voters said they did not know who would carry Trump’s vision if he leaves politics.
“I don’t think anybody could take Trump’s spot,” said Jimmy Messina, a MAGA activist in upstate New York who runs a political advertising media company. “I don’t see it.”
Over the past decade, Republicans have made historic gains on the state level. Heading into the election, they control two-thirds of the governors' mansions. But this year the GOP is playing defense.
In the two years since President Trump's election, Democrats have found their energy. Party turnout during the primaries was high, and looking forward to the general election, Democrats could pick up more than a dozen gubernatorial seats and have the chance to become the majority.
And there is more than state policy on the line. With the 2020 census, new congressional districts will be drawn and in most states, whichever party is in control can decide where the lines go.
Also, some Democrats could make history as "firsts." In Georgia, the state could elect Stacey Abrams who would be the country's first female African-American governor. Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum could be Florida's first African-American governor. And in Colorado, Jared Polis could be the first openly gay governor elected in the country.
Here, we tapped our network of political reporters and editors across the country to bring you an analysis of every gubernatorial race in 2018.


ConnecticutAt the heart of this election is Connecticut's money problem. The very unpopular current governor is leaving behind a $2 billion budget deficit for the next fiscal year, and voters in Connecticut are ready for a change. Republican candidate Bob Stefanowski, a former business executive, has emphasized cutting taxes to increase economic growth. He says he will phase out the state income tax and immediately cut state spending. Democrat Ned Lamont, the leader in the polls, is also a businessman and has proposed tax breaks of his own, but he also proposed highway tolls on trucks and taxes on sports betting and recreational marijuana. Lamont made national headlines in 2006 when he defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Senate primary, but he ultimately lost to Lieberman in the general election. Also in the mix is Oz Griebel, a former Republican running with no political affiliation, who petitioned his way onto the ballot. He recently retired as the head of Hartford's business alliance, is positioning himself as a moderate and running a distant third. — Tucker IvesConnecticut Public Radio
FloridaFlorida's race is one of the nation's most watched. The stakes are high for Republicans, as Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democrat, tries to "flip Florida blue" after 20 years of Republicans holding power in state government. Gillum's opponent is former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, who is backed by President Trump. Late-in-the-race polls show Gillum holding as little as a 1-point lead. The candidates stand as polar opposites ideologically. DeSantis wants to cut the corporate income tax, while Gillum hopes to raise it 2 percent to boost education funding. Gillum wants to expand Medicare. DeSantis says he doesn't support "government takeover of health care." The Democratic candidate, who has been ahead in most public polls since his surprise win in the Democratic primary, has drawn crowds in historically red strongholds in rural parts of the state. A Democratic victory would be doubly historic as Gillum would become Florida's first black governor. Gillum may have a hurdle to overcome after a Tampa Bay Times report published text messages showing he received tickets to a Broadway show from an FBI agent in 2016. At the time, Tallahassee government was the subject of a probe by the agency. Gillum maintains he got the ticket from his brother. — Ryan DaileyWFSU
Georgia gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, and Brian Kemp, a Republican, debate at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Midtown.
Pool/Getty Images
GeorgiaA battle over "literally the soul of our state" is how Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp has described the race in Georgia. Sure, that's hyperbole, but it's hard to overstate the significance of this election. Kemp's opponent, Stacey Abrams, is a former Democratic leader in the GOP-controlled state Legislature. Abrams has called herself an "unapologetic progressive." She would become the first female African-American governor in the country, about 50 years after Georgia's white leaders argued in Congress against the Voting Rights Act. Voting is the most contentious issue in the race between Kemp and Abrams. They've fought over it for years. Claims have intensified recently that Kemp is trying to suppress the votes of people of color. The Republican, who oversees the state's elections, calls it a manufactured crisis meant to energize Democrats. Late in the race, Former President Jimmy Carter urged Kemp to resign from his position overseeing the state's elections. A Kemp win would mark a major shift in Georgia politics away from the rule of a moderate GOP averse to cultural fights that threaten the state's business-friendly reputation. Kemp has called himself a "politically incorrect conservative." In one primary ad Kemp pointed a shotgun in the direction of a teenage actor; in another, he spoke about using his truck to "round up criminal illegal aliens." — Johnny KauffmanWABE
IowaRepublican Gov. Kim Reynolds has never run for governor. She assumed the role when former Gov. Terry Branstad became ambassador to China, and now she faces a tough race against Democrat Fred Hubbell, a retired businessman who has never held public office. Most polls show the race a toss-up. Democrats have lost a lot of ground in Iowa in the past decade and this race for governor is seen as the last chance for the party to keep the state purple. Republicans took full control of the Iowa statehouse in 2016 and ushered in a lot of conservative priorities such as abortion restrictions and gutting collective bargaining for public sector workers. Reynolds, who is embracing the president, is working to paint Hubbell as out of touch. She touts the state's low unemployment rate and $127 million budget surplus as her successes. Hubbell is working to frame Reynolds as mismanaging Medicaid and the state's budget. — Clay MastersIowa Public Radio
KansasIn Kansas, it's complicated. The latest polls in the governor's race show Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach — a firebrand conservative in the mold of Trump — in a dead heat with Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly. Kelly would most likely have a slight lead without independent Greg Orman in the race, the numbers show. And despite polling just barely above single digits, Orman is refusing to abandon his campaign for governor. Meanwhile, several big-name Republicans are urging moderate GOP voters to cross party lines for Kelly. Former Gov. Bill Graves says he hopes his first-ever endorsement of a Democrat "encourages people to stop and think about what they're planning to do with their vote." Other Republicans backing Kelly include former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum and former Gov. Mike Hayden. Trump is stumping for Kobach and at a recent rally in Topeka called him a "tireless champion for border security." The president told a cheering throng of supporters, "He'll fight for you every single day." — Jim McLean, Kansas News Service/KCUR
MaineAfter eight tumultuous years, Republican Gov. Paul LePage is term-limited and leaving office. He became nationally known for his incendiary statements and use of executive power that transformed Maine's placid political landscape. His longtime nemesis, Democratic state Attorney General Janet Mills, wants to take his place and make history as the state's first woman elected governor. Behind her, she has a lot offinancial backing. Also after the job is Republican Shawn Moody, the owner of a chain of auto body repair shops. Moody has vowed to continue LePage's conservative policy agenda. And Mills has tried to use that to her advantage, saying that LePage was unpopular for exactly the kind of decisions that Moody says he would continue making. Mills' path is also complicated by the independent Terry Hayes; Alan Caron recently dropped out of the race. Some Democrats fear Hayes could pull just enough center-left votes to diminish Mills' chances. — Steve Mistler, Maine Public Radio
NevadaNevada's tight election is, in some respects, a vote to determine the future of the state's identity. In recent years, Nevada has seen significant shifts in demographics with a growing immigrant and Latino population and a diversifying economy becoming less reliant on tourism and gaming. Steve Sisolak, Clark County commissioner, is hoping to capitalize on that shift to become the state's first Democratic governor in 20 years. Sisolak's opponent is Adam Laxalt, Nevada's Republican attorney general who, over the course of the campaign, has portrayed the Democratic agenda as an attempt to convert the state into "East California." It's a message that resonates with many of the state's older, white residents — especially those living in rural areas where industries like ranching and mining are still king. Nonpartisan candidate Ryan Bundy, whose family led two armed standoffs against the federal government in 2014 and 2016, could also add an interesting wrinkle to this year's election. Some consider the Bundys folk heroes in Nevada's rural counties, key for Laxalt's win. — Paul Boger, KUNR
OhioAlthough Ohio is a presidential swing state, the GOP controls all statewide offices and holds a majority in the General Assembly. Democrats hope to regain power after voters swept them out of office eight years ago. Their man is Democrat Richard Cordray, who is up against Republican Mike DeWine, a former U.S. senator currently serving as the state attorney general. Cordray, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has campaigned on health care, criticizing DeWine for joining an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. DeWine has attacked Cordray for supporting a proposed amendment to the state constitution on the ballot that would lower penalties for drug possession. It would also allow many prison inmates to reduce their sentences by taking part in education or work programs. Both candidates have said they would expand state support for early childhood education and would back Medicaid expansion in Ohio, although DeWine has proposed adding work requirements to the program. — Nick Castele, WCPN ideastream
OklahomaFollowing a two-week-long teacher walkout in April, education is the issue dominating the race in Oklahoma. Republican Kevin Stitt, the CEO of a mortgage company, is vying to become a first-time politician and has made his name as a disruptor, running in the vein of Trump. The Democrat is former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who says he is returning to politics in an effort to restore Oklahoma after years of Republican leadership. Edmondson wants to roll back taxes to previous levels to fund education. Stitt says he wants Oklahoma to be No. 1 in the country for education but has been sparse on funding details, which has frustrated some educators. The race is setting up the education voting bloc against the agricultural voting bloc. As attorney general, Edmondson sued poultry companies for polluting Oklahoma's water and later led the campaign against the failed "right to farm" state constitutional amendment in 2016. Polls show Stitt with a narrow lead over Edmondson. Chris Powell is the Libertarian candidate running a distant third. — Rachel Hubbard, KOSU
OregonIt's been more than three decades since Oregon elected a Republican governor, but Knute Buehler could be within striking distance. The Republican state lawmaker and orthopedic surgeon has leveraged a moderate voting record to mount a formidable challenge to Democratic incumbent Gov. Kate Brown. Buehler is hoping to win over undecided voters — and even some Democrats — by pronouncing his belief in climate change, his pro-abortion-rights stance and his support for modest gun control policies. At the same time, he has been hammering Brown for failing to address a housing crisis, failing schools and a troubled public pension system. Brown can hang her hat on the success of many progressive policies, including an increased minimum wage, climate change legislation and laws extending reproductive health care access to undocumented women. She has accused Buehler of misstating a conservative voting record to woo voters. The race has become the most expensive in Oregon history, with candidates raising upwards of $12 million apiece. Most notable: the $2.5 million Buehler received from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, by far the Oregon billionaire's largest donation to a state politician. Polls suggest Brown holds a slight edge, with a large number of voters still undecided. — Dirk VanderHartOregon Public Broadcasting
South DakotaEither way, the winner of the race in South Dakota will make state history. If Republican Kristi Noem wins, she will be the first female governor of South Dakota. If Billie Sutton wins, he will be the first Democrat to win a governor's race in the state in four decades. Sutton, a state senator, grew up in rural South Dakota and was a top saddle bronc rider in the world. His life changed in 2007 when his horse flipped over in the starting chute, paralyzing Sutton from the waist down. Three years later, Sutton was elected to the state Senate. He is a pro-gun, anti-abortion-rights moderate Democrat. Noem, a Republican member of the U.S. House, took over her South Dakota family farm operation after her father died in a farming accident. That experience, she says, ultimately got her involved in politics with a focus on reforming government and the tax code. Noem was instrumental in repealing the estate tax during recent federal tax cuts. While no independent polling exists at this point, most signs point to a tight race. — Lee StrubingerSouth Dakota Public Broadcasting
WisconsinWisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker is trying to defy the odds in 2018, seeking a third term at a time when the political winds may be shifting against his party. In a close race, Walker faces Democrat Tony Evers, Wisconsin's state superintendent of public instruction, who has been elected three times to that nonpartisan statewide office. Education is a big issue in this election. Evers has attacked Walker for the deep cuts he made to public schools when he first took office. In turn, Walker has bragged about the big increase in school aid he signed just last year, a budget Evers himself praised. Evers has focused his campaign on health care, criticizing Walker for approving Wisconsin's participation in a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Walker has closed by focusing on Evers' willingness to raise a variety of taxes, including Wisconsin's gas tax. He has also warned that Evers would undo Walker's conservative accomplishments, like his landmark law that restricted union bargaining rights. Polling suggests Evers has an edge with independents in this race, but Wisconsin's Republican Party has a proven record of getting its voters to turn out. — Shawn JohnsonWisconsin Public Radio


Incumbent Democratic Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo waves to supporters alongside her son, Thompson, at her primary night victory party, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018.
Elise Amendola/AP
Rhode IslandHow does a governor overcome low approval ratings to emerge as a favorite for re-election? For Democratic Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, the answer includes good timing, a big campaign account and Rhode Islanders' dislike for Trump. A series of polls show Raimondo as the favorite in the race, but she has been a polarizing figure since spearheading a controversial pension overhaul as state treasurer in 2011. Rhode Island's unemployment rate has fallen to 3.9 percent from 6.6 percent since Raimondo took office in 2015, though, and she takes credit for helping to improve the state's economy through attracting new businesses and for workforce training. The 2018 race is a rematch of 2014 when Raimondo became the state's first female governor by beating Republican Allan Fung, the mayor of Cranston, by fewer than 5 points. Fung is running again and has accused Raimondo of mismanaging the state. But Raimondo, a prodigious fundraiser, has spent more than $5 million on her campaign. Then there's former GOP lawmaker Joe Trillo, a Trump enthusiast, who is running as an independent, helping Raimondo by drawing conservative voters. — Ian Donnis, The Public's Radio
ColoradoIn Colorado, it's been an expensive race for governor. Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis made millions in e-commerce and backs single-payer health care, set a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, supports greater distances between oil and gas drilling operations and homes and schools, and wants the state to fund preschool and full-day kindergarten. And, if he wins, Polis would be the first openly gay governor ever elected in the U.S. He's up against Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, who has been elected twice to statewide office and is staking out mainstream Republican positions. Stapleton has criticized Polis for making promises that he believes are too extreme for a purple state like Colorado. Stapleton is comfortable with Colorado's current regulations on oil and gas drilling and pledges to put existing state and federal money into transportation funding, a top priority for him. He has, at times, distanced himself from Trump, despite supporting the recent federal tax changes. Recent polls show Polis leading Stapleton by a comfortable margin. — Bente Birkeland, Colorado Public Radio
MichiganMichigan's "blue wall" for presidential elections crumbled in 2016 when the state went for Trump. For statewide elections, though, Michigan hasn't been reliably blue for years. Currently, the state is a Republican trifecta, meaning the party holds the governor's office and both chambers of the statehouse. But in a year when a record number of women are running for office, polls have consistently put Democrat Gretchen Whitmer ahead of Republican Bill Schuette, the state's attorney general. Schuette hitched his star to Trump long ago, but the president has not been popular in Michigan and Schuette hasn't clung as tightly to him in the general election as he did in the primary. While he hasn't been invited to debates, Bill Gelineau will also be on the ballot as the Libertarian candidate. This is the first year in Michigan's history that Libertarians were able to hold a primary in the race. — Cheyna Roth, Michigan Radio
New MexicoNew Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez was a rising star in the Republican Party as the nation's first Latina governor when she took office eight years ago. Now term-limited, the former prosecutor has been a polarizing figure, at odds with the Legislature and even her own party. Two congressional representatives are vying to take her place this year. Republican Rep. Steve Pearce made his money in the oil business. He says the recent state surpluses from rising oil prices should go to one-time infrastructure projects, not recurring expenses. Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who led state health agencies under three previous governors, says the state also needs more social workers, as New Mexico languishes near the bottom in child well-being. She also supports an increase in the state minimum wage and more gun control laws, both of which Pearce opposes. Looming over all of this are the state's pension liabilities and high Medicaid enrollment, which prompted Moody's Investors Service to downgrade the state's bond rating this year. — Megan Kamerick, KUNM


AlaskaThe election in Alaska recently became more competitive when incumbent Gov. Bill Walker, the nation's only independent governor, dropped out of the race just weeks before Election Day. Walker withdrew after his running mate, the lieutenant governor, resigned following what Walker described as an "inappropriate overture" toward an unnamed woman. Walker has thrown his support behind Democrat Mark Begich, a former U.S. senator — a move that has already narrowed the race between Begich and Mike Dunleavy, the Republican candidate. Dunleavy is one of Alaska's most conservative lawmakers. He left the state Senate majority caucus over his concerns about cuts to the annual payments from Alaska's oil wealth made to every man, woman and child in the state. Begich, meanwhile, is the only Alaska Democrat to serve in Congress since 1981. He has received endorsements from advocates for organized labor, the environment and women's rights. Libertarian and hotel concierge Billy Toien is also running. — Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO/Alaska Public Media
New HampshireGovernors in New Hampshire face election every two, not four, years. Typically, incumbents win second terms, though, and that's the way it is looking for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has a comfortable lead over Democratic challenger Molly Kelly, a former state senator who is not well-known. The state's economy is strong and Sununu has a knack for self-promotion, but the race isn't a lock. Sununu had GOP majorities in the statehouse but couldn't always pass priority legislation during his first term. The governor suffered high-profile defeats on issues including right-to-work and school choice. But Sununu did preside over tax cuts and is casting the election as a referendum on the state's business climate, which he says he has improved. Kelly, meanwhile, has tried to tie Sununu to Trump on issues ranging from climate change to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She has also played up their contrasting biographies: Sununu is the son of a governor and brother of a former U.S. senator; Kelly worked her way through college as a single mother. She has focused on a single issue: paid family leave. — Josh Rogers, New Hampshire Public Radio


California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a "Families Belong Together" march in Los Angeles on June 30. Newsom is leading the polls in his campaign for governor.
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Families Belong
CaliforniaCalifornia might be leading the "resistance" against Trump, but you might not always know it from watching term-limited Gov. Jerry Brown, who hasn't always taken a hard line on the president. But California's next governor could be far more confrontational. Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, perhaps best known nationally for performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples as mayor of San Francisco years before it became legal, has big leads both in polls and in fundraising. And he has made no bones about his plans to "defend the values of this state." He said, "I will not be timid. I will not be shy in that respect. I'll push back aggressively." His Republican opponent, San Diego businessman John Cox, isn't talking about Trump. Rather, he is focusing on California's housing crisis and its high poverty rate, while backing a ballot measure to repeal last year's gas tax increase to fund transportation projects. Democrats "have been making this state unaffordable and unlivable," he argues, "and I think most people in this state have had enough of it." — Ben AdlerCapital Public Radio
HawaiiThe first point to understand about Hawaii state politics is that it is dominated by the Democratic Party. In August, incumbent David Ige won more than 51 percent of the vote and fended off a challenge from U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who took more than 44 percent. Pollsters and pundits expect the general election to be far less competitive than the primary. Ige has the support of the 14,000-member Hawaii State Teachers Association, and though he is not an especially gifted speaker, he has done well in campaigning, defeating an incumbent governor in his first primary and Hanabusa in his second. Ige's challenger is Andria Tupola, a two-term Republican state House minority leader. Tupola is a relative unknown outside of her own district in rural Oahu, but she is a charismatic Generation X/millennial who is knowledgeable about state issues, family-oriented, a former music teacher and daughter of a state judge. Unfortunately for Tupola, Hawaii is a lopsided Democratic state with no GOP state senators and only four House members. She may fare better than many GOP gubernatorial contenders, but not enough to overcome the more than 4-to-1 Democratic Party majority. — Wayne Yoshioka, Hawaii Public Radio
IllinoisIllinois is witnessing a clash of financial titans and political novices. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is among the least popular incumbents in the country, and he has consistently trailed Democrat J.B. Pritzker in the polls. Both men have vast personal fortunes — Rauner from a career in private equity; Pritzker, as an heir to the Hyatt hotel empire. Like other blue states, Illinois has been willing to flirt with moderate Republican governors, but after running as a can-do fixer, Rauner tried to push anti-union policies through a Democratic Legislature and a two-year budget stalemate followed. Then Rauner alienated conservatives by signing bills expanding abortion access and immigrant protections. Pritzker, who has never held office before, is completely self-financing his campaign to the tune of $171.5 million. His main policy proposal calls for replacing the state's flat tax with a graduated tax. But he has spent much of his time fending off miniscandals over removing toilets from a mansion to lower his property taxes; his comments caught on leaked FBI wiretaps; and a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by 10 of his own campaign staffers. Regardless of who wins, one thing is certain: Illinois will continue its experiment of having megarich neophytes run state government. — Brian MackeyWUIS
MinnesotaIn a time of political division, the candidates in Minnesota say they like each other and have run relatively civil campaigns. They have clear differences on a variety of issues, though, from abortion to gun control and taxes. The Democratic candidate is Tim Walz, who has represented southern Minnesota in Congress for the past 12 years. He is facing Republican Jeff Johnson, a county commissioner and former state legislator who was the party's candidate four years ago. Polls have shown Walz with a lead. Trump came close to winning Minnesota in 2016; had he succeeded, he would have been the first Republican president since 1972 to win the Gopher State. Johnson has embraced the president, although his button-down style is miles away from Trump's bombast. Still, the Trump base helped Johnson knock off better-known and better-funded former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the Republican primary. Republicans are hoping Trump will help them turn Minnesota red. The next governor, after all, will have veto power over a 2020 redistricting plan. — Mike Mulcahy, MPR News
New YorkIn New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to match his father's record and win a third term in office. He is facing Republican Marc Molinaro, a former small-town mayor and state assemblyman who has been the county executive in exurban Dutchess County since 2012. Cuomo has tried to make his campaign a referendum on Trump and congressional Republicans — particularly their approach on taxes, health care, immigration and reproductive and LGBT rights. He has been relatively silent about what he would do for the next four years. Instead, he has run on a liberal record that includes legalizing same-sex marriage, restricting the sale of assault rifles and capping the growth of Medicaid and property taxes. Molinaro wants to lower taxes by relieving local areas of what he says are unfunded mandates from the state capitol. He has also lambasted Cuomo for the bribery convictions of two of his top aides. But despite his pledge to make Albany less corrupt, Molinaro isn't widely known, and Cuomo has wildly outspent him. In the latest disclosures, Cuomo had around $6.8 million to Molinaro's $900,000 cash in hand. Lagging 23 points in the most recent survey, Molinaro frequently wears a lapel pin featuring the cartoon character Underdog. — Fred MogulWNYC
PennsylvaniaAt first blush, the candidates in Pennsylvania might appear similar. Incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf and his Republican challenger, former state Sen. Scott Wagner, are both independently wealthy business owners from York County, about two hours from Philadelphia. But Wolf is a professorial type known for his mild temperament and aloof presence in legislative battles. One of his first acts as governor was putting a moratorium on the death penalty, and in leaner budget years, he has run afoul of the GOP-controlled state House and Senate in his quest to raise taxes. One of the most common descriptors of Wagner, meanwhile, is "Trumpian." The owner of a waste-hauling company, his time in Harrisburg was marked by calls to slash spending and winnow the state budget to essentials. He recently made headlines when he said he would stomp on Wolf's face while wearing golf spikes (for which he has since apologized). Education spending has been a key point in the race — with Wolf touting spending increases, and Wagner accusing Wolf of not committing to rural schools. — Katie Meyer, WITF


Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and his Democratic challenger, Christine Hallquist, face off in a debate on Sept. 14 at the Tunbridge World's Fair in Tunbridge, Vt.
Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images
VermontVermont, the home of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, has one of the bluest electorates in the country. But in 2016, voters here sent a Republican to the governor's office. And Gov. Phil Scott hopes the socially liberal, fiscally conservative platform that propelled him to victory two years ago will earn him a second term on Nov. 6. Standing in Scott's way is Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist, the first transgender major-party gubernatorial nominee in U.S. history. Hallquist is trying to energize her Democratic base with the same issues that have worked so well for Sanders: tuition-free public college, a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, all of which Scott opposes. But Scott's support for new gun laws earlier this year, as well as his forceful resistance to the Trump agenda, have earned him significant support among traditionally Democratic voters. A public poll taken earlier this month revealed that 26 percent of Democrats say they plan to vote for Scott. Hallquist, meanwhile, wins only 3 percent of Republicans. And with independents also leaning strongly for Scott, Hallquist faces a steep climb to victory on Election Day. — Peter Hirschfeld, Vermont Public Radio
AlabamaAlabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey is running for her office for the first time. Former Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, dubbed the "Love Gov," was involved in a sex scandal. On the brink of impeachment, Bentley was forced to resign, catapulting Ivey into the governor's seat. Since her appointment last year, Ivey has spent much of her term touting her steady presence in a state mired in turmoil. Like many Republicans in the Deep South, Ivey has touted her alliance with Trump. She did break with Trump over his proposed tariffs on the automotive industry. Ivey has kept a famously low profile, denying numerous media requests for interviews and refusing calls to debate challengers, including her Democratic opponent, Walt Maddox. In recent months, Maddox has seized on that. Maddox is the mayor of Tuscaloosa, a city ravaged by a tornado in 2011, and says his successful efforts to rebuild qualify him to be governor. He says he is focused on expanding Medicaid and creating a lottery, but that hasn't been enough for Maddox to stand out in voters' minds. Recently, he has begun lashing out at Ivey, calling into question her health and whether she covered up a 2015 hospitalization in Colorado. — Gigi Douban, WBHM
ArizonaArizona's race looked like it was going to be a battle over the future of education in the state, but Democrat David Garcia is falling further behind after a crush of spending from incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and his allies. Garcia is an education professor at Arizona State University who narrowly lost a statewide race for superintendent of public instruction in 2014. He has tried to make the race a referendum on Ducey's education record, which includes a teacher walkout in the spring and a controversial new law expanding a program that gives public money to parents who put their children in private schools — something Ducey pushed. A repeal of that law is on the ballot. But Ducey is trumpeting a strong state economy, as well as his solution to the teacher walkout: a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020. (It's been pointed out, though, that the legislation does not require that every teacher get a 20 percent raise.) Ducey has received endorsements from the editorial boards of major newspapers in Phoenix and Tucson. — Bret Jaspers, KJZZ
ArkansasArkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is one of the country's most popular governors, with a 58 percent approval rating, according to one recent poll. And it's popularity that has given Hutchinson an advantage over his challenger, Democrat Jared Henderson, in the governor's bid for re-election. That is despite Hutchinson's most unpopular policies — the state's first-in-the-nation work requirement for some Medicaid recipients and a proposed income tax cut for the state's highest earners. Hutchinson, a former U.S. representative and DEA administrator, has enjoyed a relatively quiet first term, overseeing efforts to streamline state government and push for computer science education in high schools. Henderson, a Harvard grad and former Teach For America director, has made high-quality public education and access to affordable health care hallmarks of his campaign. Though Henderson's progressive approach has excited some, he has struggled to poll over 25 percent in the race against Hutchinson. Libertarian Mark West, a pastor and office manager from rural northeast Arkansas, has also struggled to find widespread support in the face of Hutchinson's consistently high approval ratings. — Daniel Breen, KUAR
IdahoFor the first time in 12 years, Idaho's governor won't be C.L. "Butch" Otter. His lieutenant governor, Brad Little, may be next. Little is a pragmatic Republican who has, for the most part, waged an un-Trump-like campaign over the past two years. On the other side is former state Rep. Paulette Jordan, who has electrified Idaho Democratic Party voters. If elected, she would be the state's first female governor and the first Native American governor in the U.S., as well as the first Democrat to lead blood-red Idaho since 1990. Her progressive agenda would almost certainly face a combative Legislature that is overwhelmingly Republican-controlled. Jordan wants to spend more money on education, invest in renewable energy and establish a state-controlled bank to cut down on borrowing costs. Little, the Republican, prioritizes higher teacher pay and tax cuts and wants to improve early childhood literacy rates. Jordan's campaign has, at times, been tumultuous with high staff turnover and questions about her link to a federal PAC. Experts say it will be an uphill battle for Jordan, despite possible record turnout for a midterm election in Idaho's most populous county. — James Dawson, Boise State Public Radio
MassachusettsMassachusetts voters — 55 percent of whom are unenrolled in either party — can be notorious ticket-splitters and have a long history of supporting liberals like Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy to fight on national issues in the Senate while picking moderate Republicans to work alongside the Democratic-dominated Legislature back home. The Bay State's sleepy gubernatorial race was energized to an extent recently when incumbent Gov. Charlie Baker waffled during his second debate with Democratic nominee Jay Gonzalez over whether he would support fellow Republican Geoff Diehl's challenge to Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Gonzalez, once a top aide to former Gov. Deval Patrick, has tried to link Baker to the deeply unpopular policies of Trump and the national GOP. He's had little success, as Baker runs on his bipartisan reputation and a war chest that outpaces Gonzalez's 10 to 1. Polls suggest this pattern will repeat itself, as Baker has led Gonzalez by over 30 points all year, roughly the same margin as Warren's lead in the Senate race. — Mike Deehan, WGBH
MarylandIn these polarized political times, Maryland is something of an outlier: a blue state with a very popular Republican governor who seems headed toward a second term. Larry Hogan has done it by distancing himself from Trump and working with the Democratic state Legislature. He has a high approval rating, even among the Democrats, who have a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage in the state. If he wins in November, he will be the first Republican governor in more than a half-century to serve a second term in the state. But Democratic challenger Ben Jealous is himself trying to make history as the state's first African-American governor, and he is doing so with a solidly progressive agenda: Medicare for all, debt-free college, a $15 minimum wage and legal recreational marijuana. Every poll shows him trailing Hogan, but Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, says a relentless focus on turning out unlikely voters will pave the path to the governor's mansion in Annapolis. If that works, Maryland could become a testing ground for big progressive policies. If it doesn't, it may suggest something else interesting: evidence that moderate Republicanism can still succeed in a blue state. — Martin AustermuhleWAMU
NebraskaIt's looking like Republican Pete Ricketts will have no problem snagging a second term as Nebraska's governor. He handily won his party's nomination with 81 percent of the vote in the primary. Now, he is up against Bob Krist, a Democratic state senator from Omaha. Krist spent about eight years in the state Legislature as a registered Republican and says he originally planned to run as an independent. But by February, he decided to enter the fray as a Democrat, proceeding to spar with Ricketts on medical marijuana, the death penalty and one of voters' most important issues, property taxes. Farmers, ranchers and homeowners have pleaded for property tax relief, and both Ricketts and Krist have promised that it is their top priority. How either would lower property taxes remains to be seen, though. Ricketts has floated changing the way farmland is valued, while Krist has proposed reducing property taxes used to fund education by increasing state aid. It's unlikely he will have the chance to see it through, though, with most analysts predicting an easy win for Ricketts come Election Day. — Rebecca EllisNPR
President Trump speaks at a June 25 campaign rally for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster at Airport High School in West Columbia, S.C.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images
South CarolinaWhen South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley traded her office for a role in the Trump administration, her lieutenant governor, Henry McMaster, stepped in. Now he has to win the governor's mansion for himself, facing off against state Rep. James Smith, a little-known attorney and combat veteran. Throughout the race, McMaster has been laser-focused on job creation, touting a thriving economy and the state's falling unemployment rate. Meanwhile, Smith has painted himself as would-be "education governor," focused on stagnating teacher pay and rising college tuition. But it's unlikely that Smith can pull off a win with the platform. The state hasn't seen a Democratic governor in more than 15 years and South Carolina voted for Trump in 2016. McMaster was one of the first officials in the state to endorse the president, and in return, Trump has supported the incumbent governor, praising him for being "with me from the beginning." Though the race is looking like a shoo-in for McMaster, money continues to pour in for both candidates. With total contributions at over $20 million, the race has become the most expensive in South Carolina history. — Rebecca Ellis, NPR
TennesseeIn a red state like Tennessee, Democrats running for office outside major cities like Nashville and Memphis have a hard time securing votes from moderates and undecideds. Neither one of the candidates in Tennessee has statewide political experience. Democrat Karl Dean served as mayor of Nashville from 2007 to 2015. During his tenure, Nashville went through a development boom. Dean also oversaw rebuilding following a massive flood in 2010 and led a successful effort to keep the Nashville Predators, the professional ice hockey team, in town. Dean supports nonprofit charter schools in urban areas but has opposed the use of school vouchers across Tennessee. His opponent is Republican Bill Lee, who was unknown to many Tennesseans before this election. A longtime donor to the GOP, Lee has said his experience as the owner of a big building-services firm gives him the experience needed to run the state. He has said the state needs to focus on vocational programs so that jobs across the state can be filled. Both candidates had run a cordial campaign up until recent days, when Dean started to attack Lee's stances on education vouchers and arming teachers. Latest polls consistently show Lee significantly ahead of Dean. — Sergio Martínez-BeltránNashville Public Radio
TexasA blue wave may affect races around the country, and even a few in Texas, but so far polls have shown this contest is immune. Incumbent Republican Greg Abbott is seeking his second term in office against Democrat Lupe Valdez. Abbott won election by 20 points in 2014 and polls show him with a similar lead now. Abbott's popularity allowed him to amass around $29 million cash on hand by this summer burying his Democratic opponent. His lead in the polls and fundraising has allowed him to start spending some of that cash on down-ballot candidates. Valdez, a former Dallas County sheriff, was trumpeted by party faithful when she announced. Along with her law enforcement background, she is also Hispanic and gay, making many think she would be the perfect candidate to connect with parts of the Democratic base. But she stumbled out of the gate, not winning the primary endorsement of the Dallas Morning News, and has never been able to capitalize on the fundraising and national attention brought to Texas by U.S. Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke. Libertarian Mark Tippetts is also on the ballot. — Ben Philpott, KUT
WyomingIn Wyoming, the issues in the gubernatorial election have been revenue, health care and education funding. The Democratic candidate for governor, Mary Throne, says Wyoming is too reliant on taxing the energy industry and argues that across-the-board taxes would even out the boom-bust cycle the state faces when energy prices go up and down. Mark Gordon, the Republican candidate, disagrees. He says government-spending reductions are needed before any taxes should be considered. Because of declining revenues, the Legislature has been reducing spending for education. Wyoming pays more money per student than most states and the GOP has argued that test scores don't justify the spending. Polls have shown that the public opposes cutting education dollars. Gordon is likely to win the election in this red state, despite the fact that some members of the GOP worry he leans left on some issues. Constitution Party candidate Rex Rammel has tried to stir up the conservative base, but after a primary where vote-splitting helped Gordon win, the majority of Republicans in the state are likely to stick with Gordon. — Bob Beck, Wyoming Public Radio