In wake of Virginia victory, Republicans energized to flip more governorships in 2022

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Coming off of strong performances in two key gubernatorial showdowns earlier this month, and benefiting from a favorable political climate, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) is optimistic about making more pickups in the 2022 elections.

As RGA holds its annual conference Wednesday and Thursday in Phoenix, Arizona, the organization points to what it calls an “historic win in Virginia” and argues that “Americans are beyond frustrated with Biden’s failed leadership and the Democrat governors who refuse to challenge him.”

And an RGA video released hours before the conference kicked off charged that “Democrats have failed the American people.”

Republican governors will discuss policy priorities and the RGA’s electoral strategy at the two-day meeting, with an eye towards the 2022 elections, when 36 states hold contests for governor.

The gathering comes two weeks after Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin edged former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia in a state that Biden carried by 10 points a year ago over former President Trump and where Republicans hadn’t won statewide in a dozen years. Republicans also captured the lieutenant governor and attorney general offices from the Democrats and flipped the state’s House of Delegates. 

The GOP victories in Virginia coupled with GOP gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli’s near upset of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey – along with GOP legislative pickups in the very blue Garden State – are seen as ominous signs for the Democrats as they try to hold their razor-thin House and Senate majorities in the 2022 midterms.

Youngkin, a first-time candidate who hailed from the business wing of the GOP, will appear at the RGA meetings. Also speaking Wednesday night at the conference will be former Vice President Mike Pence, a former Republican governor of Indiana.

While Republicans lost the White House and the Senate majority in the 2020 election cycle, they took a big bite out of the Democrats’ House majority, and they also flipped Montana’s governor’s office from blue to red. Now, in the wake of the impressive GOP performances in the 2021 elections, the RGA is looking for repeat performances in 2022.

“These races proved voters are tired of Democrats’ reckless agenda that has led to record increases in the costs of goods and services and a surge in crime across the country,” RGA communications director Jesse Hunt charged. “Democrats will have a long holiday season worrying about next year after watching two states Joe Biden won by double digits break heavily toward Republicans in 2021.”

Hunt pointed to the “eight Democrat-held states where Biden performed the same or worse compared to Virginia that are up for grabs in 2022.” And he argued that “each state’s Democrat governor has failed to address the major concerns voters have heading into 2022, and there’s not enough money in the world to save them from their own failed leadership.”

The eight states the RGA eyes flipping next year are Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden carried all those states – other than Kansas – in the 2020 presidential election. Democratic incumbent governors are running for reelection in all of those states, other than the key battleground of Pennsylvania, where the party seems to be coalescing around state Attorney General Josh Shapiro in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf.

Jessica Taylor, governor and Senate races editor at the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, noted that “Republican governors are on an upswing.”

But she pointed out that “the challenge for them going forward is that primaries in key states where they hope to go on offense  — Michigan, Nevada, Wisconsin — could have messy, Trump driven primaries, which Youngkin was able to avoid in Virginia. In 2022, gubernatorial candidates won’t have that same luxury.”

“The Youngkin magic may be hard to replicate again in the midterms, but there are states very much within reach for Republicans to flip too that are far more favorable to them than Virginia and New Jersey were,” Taylor emphasized.

Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin speaks during his election night party at a hotel in Chantilly, Virginia, Nov. 3, 2021.
(REUTERS/ Jonathan Ernst)

There are already competitive and potentially combustible GOP gubernatorial primaries in Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

The Democratic Governors Association (DGA), looking ahead to the 2022 faceoffs, is pointing to the sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package that the president signed into law on Monday. 

“The infrastructure bill is historic, and is going to have an immediate impact on people’s lives. This gives Democrats something to sell and run on, and it’s also going to bolster our Democratic incumbents who get to implement the bill. This is going to create a different environment in 2022 from what we had in Virginia,” the DGA told Fox News.

While targeting eight states, Republicans will be playing plenty of defense in the purple state of Arizona and the blue state of Maryland, where Govs. Doug Ducey (who’s the current RGA chair) and Larry Hogan are term-limited incumbents.

In the key battleground of Georgia, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp – who will likely face a rematch with Democrat Stacey Abrams next year – has been fending off verbal attacks all year from Trump. The former president’s itching to find a top-tier primary challenger against Kemp as payback for the governor’s refusal to help Trump overturn his narrow 2020 election loss in Georgia to Biden.

And in Massachusetts, two-term GOP Gov. Charlie Baker, an anti-Trump Republican who’s yet to announce if he’ll run for reelection in 2022, is already facing a primary challenge from the right.

The DGA, pointing to what it said are “real far right candidates leading primaries” in Arizona and Pennsylvania, along with what it called “real primary problems” for Baker and Kemp, predicted that “this is going to expand the map for us.”

But the RGA caught a break in the battleground state of New Hampshire, where GOP Gov. Chris Sununu surprised many people last week by announcing he’d run for reelection as governor rather than launch a Republican challenge against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in what would have been a blockbuster and crucial Senate showdown.

Fox News’ Lee Ross contributed to this report

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