After Barack Obama led Democrats to victory in 2008, Republicans drove their recovery with big state-level wins in 2010. With a self-serving billionaire jerk leading Republicans to victory this year, Democrats have an opportunity to turn a mirror trick in 2018. A key part of that drive will be flipping a whole lot of Governors’ seats:
Twenty-seven of the 38 governorships up in 2017 and 2018 are Republican-held, including many seats that will be open after eight years of GOP control. That means widespread opportunities for Democratic gains, as well as a critical chance for new ideas and new blood to emerge as the party seeks to identify its next generation of leaders and dig out from a low point after President-elect Donald Trump’s shocking White House win.
The sweeping gubernatorial map takes in virtually every national battleground state and segment of the electorate. Diversifying states where Democrats have struggled in recent midterms, like Florida, Nevada and New Mexico, will have open races in 2018. Unorthodox Republicans who carried blue states like Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts in 2014 will face reelection challenges, too, while Democrats will also look to replicate recent successes in a handful of red states.
And, critically, Democrats itching to prove they can still win in the Midwest will get the opportunity to test themselves by chasing GOP-held governorships in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin [Scott Bland, Gabriel Debendetti, and Kevin Robillard, “Democrats Look to 2018 Governors Races to Rebuild,” Politico, 2016.11.28].
The Politico article doesn’t mention South Dakota, but if Trumpism goes the way that seems likely (exploding deficits, irrational Tweet-based policy, corporate fascism), they must be ready to ride that wave with a lead surfer aiming for the Governor’s office. And while everybody’s minds will turn immediately to the usual suspects (Herseth Sandlin, Johnson, Huether), we must be ready for the distinct possibility that none of those three will take the plunge and that we must rally around a new leader, a reformer, a firebrand who can explain in blunt language how one-party rule has led South Dakota to stagnation and corruption.
And quiet gubernatorial candidate, be ready to lead the party. Be ready to take on the responsibility not just of enunciating that message of reform but of providing big coattails to all the other Democratic candidates you will need to make a difference in 2018 and beyond.