2018 gubernatorial races could provide 2020 snapshots

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There are 36 states and U.S. territories holding gubernatorial elections this year and these races could be the biggest referendum of all on President Donald Trump’s presidency.

All eyes will be on key 2020 states to look for predictions regarding the next White House race, particularly what insights can be gained for which ever party takes power. And, even further down the road, the inhabitants of some of those gubernatorial mansions could play a big role during the redistricting process in 2022.

Some big races are on the map: California, the biggest state in America in terms of GDP; Florida, which will be a key state in the 2020 presidential race; Michigan with its love of outsiders in 2016 – Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary and Trump won it in the general election; and Colorado, a key barometer of happenings in the West.

Here are some of the key gubernatorial races to watch.

In Sunshine State, gubernatorial hopefuls look for historic wins



Ron DeSantis


Current U.S. Representative, has Trump’s endorsement

Age: 39 (September 14, 1978)

Adam Putnam


Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, former U.S. Representative

Age: 43 (July 31, 1974)

Gwen Graham


Former U.S. Representative; daughter of Bob Graham, a former U.S. Senator and governor of Florida

Age: 55 (January 31, 1963)

Andrew Gillum


Mayor of Tallahassee

Age: 38 (July 26, 1979)


PHOTO: In this Oct. 24, 2016 file photo, people vote at a polling station on the first day of early voting in Miami-Dade County for the general election in Miami.Lynne Sladky/AP Photo
In this Oct. 24, 2016 file photo, people vote at a polling station on the first day of early voting in Miami-Dade County for the general election in Miami.

No state is likely as historically consequential in presidential elections as Florida — e.g., 2000 Bush vs. Gore — and we’ll likely be seeing the Sunshine State’s impact once again come 2018.

With Gov. Rick Scott unable to run again due to term limits, Florida voters from both major parties will have completely open primaries. Both parties can raise funds, but this year’s election might come down to who’s vouching for a candidate.

Republican front-runner, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, has already received the name recognition and financial boost any Trump loyalist could wish for with the president’s tweet celebrating his merits two weeks before DeSantis even announced he was running. But DeSantis is not short of challengers with former U.S. Rep. and current Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam running on the campaign slogan “Florida First.”

Sound familiar?

Florida’s Democrats are hoping to use the election as a referendum on Trump and highlight issues that have affected their state like devastating hurricanes and economic development. Electing the first Democrat Floridian governor since 1994 wouldn't hurt the national party either.

Among the Democratic candidates are two mayors: Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. Then there’s the current Democratic front-runner, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham. She happens to be the daughter of Bob Graham, former Florida governor and senator.

However, with a late June filing deadline, the field of candidates could grow.

Key dates

Filing deadline: June 22 Primary: Aug. 28

A crowded field spells a referendum on the president in the Colorado gubernatorial race



Jared Polis


Current U.S. Representative

Age: 42 (May 12, 1975)

Donna Lynne


Current Lieutenant Governor

Age: 64 (October 27, 1953)

Steve Barlock


Former co-chairman of President Donald Trump's campaign in Colorado

Age: N/A

Walker Stapleton


Colorado State Treasurer

Age: 43 (April 15, 1974)

Noel Ginsburg



Age: 58 (March 27, 1959)

Cynthia Coffman


Attorney General of Colorado

Age: 57

Doug Robinson


Denver investment banker

Age: 56 (October 29, 1961)

Cary Kennedy


Former Colorado State Treasurer and Deputy Mayor of Denver

Age: 49 (June 20, 1968)

Victor Mitchell


Former State Representative, real estate lender

Age: 52 (December 12, 1965)

Mike Johnston


Former State Senator

Age: 43 (November 17, 1974)

Erik Underwood


Former U.S. Senate candidate, tech-media entrepreneur

Age: 38 (June 30th, 1979)


PHOTO: Voters line up at the Smoky Hill Library to vote in the Presidential election Nov. 8, 2016.Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images, FILE
Voters line up at the Smoky Hill Library to vote in the Presidential election Nov. 8, 2016.

Colorado stayed Democratic in supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016, but remains as purple as a state can be.

Home to gun-owning liberals and marijuana-friendly conservative firebrands, the western state has put forward a large and eclectic group of candidates jumping into the fray for governor.

The Democratic field features an openly gay multimillionaire U.S. congressman from Boulder, Jared Polis, who promotes his experience, lofty energy goals and holds a distinct fundraising advantage.

Cary Kennedy, a former state treasurer and deputy mayor of Denver, has achieved strong fundraising results and key endorsements including a women’s group and education leaders.

The current lieutenant governor, Donna Lynne, is also aiming to become the first female governor of Colorado and is touting her experience.

A young former Republican U.S. Senate candidate, Erik Underwood, says Donald Trump was the last straw in his swing to blue. Two other top Democratic candidates include former state senator Mike Johnston, and a successful manufacturer and philanthropist, Noel Ginsburg.

More than 10 years have passed since a Republican served Colorado as chief executive. As a state with purple veins, Republicans are aiming to seize the swing voters in search of change.

One candidate is eager to tie his bid to the president. Steve Barlock, the state co-chairman of the Trump campaign, is the anti-illegal immigration, nationalist side of the GOP primary. He announced his candidacy on Independence Day, dawns American-flag shirts and frequently cheers to "drain the swamp."

The Republican ticket also features state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and former state representative Victor Mitchell.

Relatives of the Bush and Romney families, Walker Stapleton and Doug Robinson respectively, have boasted moderate conservative stances, further revealing a deep split within the Republican party; a split so tangible, that former congressman Tom Tancredo, widely considered a front-runner for the Republicans, suddenly dropped out in January citing the party's divide.


March 20: Candidate filing deadline

June 26: Primary Election

Nov.6: General Election

Michigan gubernatorial race a key Rust Belt pickup chance for Democrats



Brian Calley


Lieutenant Governor of Michigan

Age: 40 (March 25, 1977)

Patrick Colbeck


Michigan State Senator

Age: 52 (October 7, 1965)

Bill Schuette


Attorney General of Michigan, former U.S. House Representative

Age: 64 (October 8, 1953)

Jim Hines



Age: 63 (June 14, 1955)

Bill Cobbs


Former Xerox Corporation executive

Age: 65 (November 11, 1953)

Abdul El-Sayed


Physician, former Detroit health director

Age: 33 (October 31, 1984)

Shri Thanedar


Author and Entrepreneur

Age: 62 (February 22, 1955)

Gretchen Whitmer


Former Ingham County Prosecutor, Michigan State Senate Minority Leader

Age: 46 (August 23, 1971)


PHOTO: People line up to cast their ballots at a polling station, Nov. 8, 2016 in Flint, Mich.Nova Safo/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
People line up to cast their ballots at a polling station, Nov. 8, 2016 in Flint, Mich.

In 2016, Michigan embraced the populist outsiders. Bernie Sanders scored an unlikely upset in the state during the Democratic primaries and Donald Trump flipped the key Rust Belt state red at the presidential level for the first time since 1988.

In 2018 those same national dynamics are set to collide with some distinctly local ones. Republicans have held the governor’s mansion in Michigan for the last eight years, and the party knows that the legacy of two-term incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder is on the line this year.

The state’s unemployment rate has steadily declined since it was devastated during the 2008 financial crisis, but episodes like the Flint water crisis have fueled the economic and social anxiety that continues to linger through the first year of the Trump presidency. Jobs, taxes, immigration and infrastructure promise to be front and center in the race to succeed Snyder, and the primaries on both sides of the aisle have already begun to take shape in the race to succeed Snyder.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, already elected statewide twice as the state’s top cop and endorsed by Trump last September, has jumped out to an early lead on the Republican side, but is still facing competition from Lieutenant Gov. Brian Calley, another winner of two statewide elections under Snyder, and State Sen. Patrick Colbeck.

Democrats have begun to coalesce around former Michigan State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who has nabbed a few key early endorsements and has generated impressive initial fundraising numbers. Whitmer’s main primary challengers, former Detroit health director Dr. Abdul El-Sayed and businessman Shri Thandear, are hoping to capitalize on the state and party’s thirst for a populist outsider, and are attempting to paint her as a party insider that lacks progressive credentials.


April 24, 2018: Candidate filing deadline August 7, 2018: Primary Election November 6, 2018: General Election

Former big city mayors vie for California governor


Gavin Newsom Democrat Current Lt. Governor of California, Former San Francisco Mayor Age: 50, 10/10/67

Antonio Villaraigosa Democrat Former Mayor Of Los Angeles (2005-2013) Age: 65, 1/23/53

John Chiang Democrat Current California State Treasurer Age: 55, 7/31/62

Delaine Eastin Democrat Former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Age: 70, 8/20/47

Travis Allen Republican Current California State Assembly Member Age: 44, 9/14/73

John Cox Republican Businessman Age: 62, 7/15/55


California will have a new chief executive by the end of the year, and with one in eight Americans hailing from the Golden State, it’s no surprise California is often a trendsetter for national politics. The state’s current term-limited governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, has been a fixture in state politics since the 1970s. With business booming and the budget woes of the Great Recession in the rearview mirror, new blood in Sacramento could define how the state operates for a generation to come.

The race is shaping up to feature six serious candidates: four Democrats, and two Republicans. California’s unique primary system calls for the two highest vote-getters from the primary, regardless of party, to advance to the general election. Given the state’s liberal politics, it is likely the general election will see a race between two Democrats.

It’s a battle of the former mayors for the Democrats — San Francisco vs. Los Angeles.

An early leader in polls is former San Francisco mayor, and the state’s current lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom. Newsom announced his 2018 campaign for governor in early 2015, and ran against Gov. Brown for a short time early in the 2010 election cycle. Newsom will face off against former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who left office in 2013 after serving two terms. The Democratic field is rounded out by John Chiang, the current Treasurer of California, and Delaine Eastin, an educator who served in California’s state assembly and as one of the state’s top education officials.

Republican efforts to retake the Governor’s Mansion are led by Travis Allen, a state assemblyman who is running on a platform of reducing California’s notoriously high state taxes.

The Orange County Republican is known around the state for his efforts to repeal a recently enacted 12-cent increase in California’s already high gas taxes. Multiple recent polls show the repeal effort popular with a majority of California voters. Also running for the GOP is John Cox, a venture capitalist who is funding his campaign with more than $1 million in his own money. Cox is known for fighting corruption, proposing a state ballot initiative in 2016 that would require elected officials to wear logos of their top 10 donors on their suits, much like race car drivers.


Candidate filing deadline: March 9, 2018 Primary Election: June 5th, 2018 (top two candidates advance regardless of party) General Election: November 6th, 2018

18 For 18’ is ABC News’ powerhouse political coverage of the 2018 midterm elections. Coverage kicks off Sunday on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” featuring a report on the 2018 midterms and the special House of Representatives election taking place next month in Pennsylvania. Coverage continues on “Nightline” on Monday. To stay up to date, visit ABCNews.com and the ABC News app, and follow our midterm elections alerts.