At TNR today, Princeton Election Consortium founder Sam Wang suggests the regularly depressing news for Democrats in congressional contests this year may be offset on election night with much better news in the 36 governor’s races being contested this year. He focuses on thirteen races that are very close (plus another, Pennsylvania, where a party-switch is virtually certain), and concludes the odds are currently that Democrats will make a net gain of one.
I’d note as a proviso that by focusing on close races (plus the Keystone!) Wang takes 22 races off the table that are deemed non-competitive. Of those 14 are occupied by Republicans. So a plus-one night for Dems in the competitive races would still leave 28 Republican governors.
But as Wang says, the non-White House party normally wins gubernatorial seats as well as House and Senate seats in midterms, so bucking that tendency would be notable, and probably enough to dispute the idea that this is a “Republican wave” election even if the GOP takes control of the Senate.
But in reality, if a lot of incumbents lose (an outcome that would probably produce a pretty close partisan split of competitive contests on the night), that will be the dominant story more than who gained a governorship or two, and all the more so if a couple of Democrats (e.g., Malloy and Quinn) lose in blue states and a couple of Republicans (say, Deal and Brownback) lose in red states.
If, on the other hand, the close states break heavily Democratic, you’ve got your countervailing story to Republican gains in Congress, and if Democrats hang onto the Senate, it’s a full-blown upset. And obviously enough, if Republicans win most of the close gubernatorial races along with taking the Senate, we’re back into the familiar pattern of a second-term midterm across-the-board win, “wave” or not.
You’d have to figure the talking heads will have their various scenarios together well before going to the makeup room on November 4, and for all I know, some will ignore the state results altogether, relegating them to late night reports and second-day analysis. It’ll be something to watch if the results themselves turn out to be undramatic.