Even as Donald Trump falls behind in the presidential race, Republicans are seeing some signs of hope in key governor's races.In North Carolina, the past four telephone public polls have put Gov. Pat McCrory (R) within two points of Attorney General Roy Cooper (D), after trailing by as much as the high single-digits for much of September and early October. In Vermont, the very first public poll of the general election this week, from Vermont Public Radio and the Castleton Polling Institute, has popular Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (R) with a one-point edge on former state representative Sue Minter (D), 39 percent to 38 percent. In Montana, another polling drought has ended, and the new Mason-Dixon poll shows GOP businessman Greg Gianforte within two points of Gov. Steve Bullock (D), 47 percent to 45 percent.
To be clear, these are just a handful of polls, and polling in another toss-up state, New Hampshire, is headed in Democrats' favor. But they suggest that Trump's problems — which haven't clearly filtered down to House and Senate races in recent weeks — don't seem to be sinking the GOP's prospects in governor's races either.
(This, it should be noted, isn't terribly surprising, because state races tend to be more immune to the kind of polarization that exists in federal politics. Republicans routinely win some dark-blue Northeastern states, while Democrats still win red states where they'd probably never win a Senate race these days.)
In fact, today we are moving two of the races mentioned above in the GOP's favor in our updated gubernatorial race ratings. Both North Carolina and Vermont are moving from “lean Democratic” to “toss-up.” We're keeping Montana at “lean Democratic” for now, but will keep an eye on it.
We now have four states in the “toss-up” category, and whichever party wins more of them will have gained seats in the 2016 election.
If that's Republicans, they will tie for the most governor's seats they have ever held, at 32. Currently, Republicans hold 31 governor's seats, to 18 for Democrats and one independent.
And the GOP has an opportunity to gain even more. In addition to Montana, Missouri and West Virginia loom as red states in which the GOP could legitimately steal Democratic-held seats. Polling in the latter two states has suggested a Democratic edge, but the GOP continues to insist they're very winnable.
Democrats, meanwhile, don't have anywhere to expand the map besides their two toss-up opportunities in North Carolina and Indiana. The only other GOP seats up this year are in Utah, where Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) leads by 33 points, and North Dakota, where Republican Doug Burgum is a heavy favorite, too.
Much remains to play out, but it's not inconceivable that, in the year of Trump, the GOP could still set a record for Republican governors.
Amber Phillips contributed to this report.