The NCSL Blog


By Dylan Lynch

Although many people are eyeing the outcome of the 6,069 state legislative seats listed on the ballots, 2018 will mark a big year for state executives as well.

StateVote logoThis November, 36 states will vote for a governor and, in 17 states, it will be a new governor. In those 17 states, the incumbent governor is either term-limited or is not seeking reelection.

According to the Cook Political Report, which rates states on a spectrum of solid, likely, leaning or toss-up, the 17 open states are ranked as follows:

  • Seven states are toss-ups (Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Nevada and Ohio)
  • Four states lean D (Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and New Mexico)
  • Three states are likely R (Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee)
  • Two states are solid R (Idaho and Wyoming)
  • One state is solid D (California)

Of the remaining 19 states where an incumbent is running, six states seats are currently held by Democrats (Cook includes Independent governor of Alaska Bill Walker here) and 13 are held by Republicans. Again, the Cook Political Report breaks the likelihood of these states changing (or not) party control as follows:


Democrat Held States


Republican Held States

Solid D

Hawaii and New York

Solid R

Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Texas and Vermont

Likely D


Likely R

Arizona, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Maryland

Lean D

Oregon and Rhode Island

Lean R





Iowa and Wisconsin

Lean R


Lean D



But considering we are the National Conference of State Legislatures, we thought we’d look at how many current gubernatorial candidates were former legislators. According to the National Governor’s Association, 73 major party candidates have made it through the state primary process and are on the ballot. Of those candidates, 27 have served as a legislator, ranging from two to 22 years of service. Overall, this batch of 27 candidates has accumulated almost 212 years of legislative experience.

In terms of individual states, the two candidates in Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Bill Schuette (R), have 28 years of combined legislative service. Surprisingly, those two only overlapped in the legislature during the 2001 and 2002 sessions. Michigan is followed closely by Hawaii, with 24 years of combined service.

In South Carolina the “total” is 22 years—but that all comes from just one candidate, James E. Smith Jr. (D). Ohio nominee Mike DeWine’s (R) two years of service in the Ohio Senate from 1981-1982 makes him the “first” elected candidate of the batch. On the other side of the coin, Oregon’s Knute Buehler (R), whose first election to the state House was in 2015, makes him the newest member with legislative experience.

Why is NCSL tracking the governors races at all? The legislative races taking place this year will, of course, dictate partisan control of legislatures (with the exception of nonpartisan Nebraska) in each state.

When it comes to determining state control, governors are the third leg of the proverbial stool, alongside the Houses and Senates. Heading into the 2018 election, NCSL will be closely watching these races and their effect on states.

Dylan Lynch is a policy associate with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

Email Dylan

Posted in: StateVote
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |

Subscribe to the NCSL Blog

Click on the RSS feed at left to add the NCSL Blog to your favorite RSS reader. 

About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.