Maine will hold one of the most unusual elections ever. A sitting governor will face the governor who she succeeded.

That is a rare event across the country and in U.S. history, though it has happened previously in Maine. But, beyond its rarity, it potentially has national significance.

The country is deeply divided between the conservative Republican Party reshaped by former president Trump and the Democratic Party with its big tent covering partisans from left to right.

While much attention is focused on congressional elections, where the outcome may be a verdict on the Biden presidency, a better reading of the national political balance may be in races for governor, including Maine’s.

The election of a governor allows voters to choose who leads a government that has a direct effect on them. That differs from a federal election in which the winner will at best be a part of the Washington system that struggles to create policy. And, unlike votes for federal offices, each voter has exactly the same influence in the governor’s election.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a moderate-right Democrat, faces former governor Paul LePage who has styled himself as a Trump Republican. Although they have never before faced one another in an election, they battled when Mills served as Attorney-General during LePage’s time in office.


Mills has the advantage in being the incumbent in a state where voters often give governors a second term. But as presidential elections have shown, the state is closely divided along partisan lines. LePage’s ties to Trump would make an upset win by him into national news. If the state swings, much may be read into the result as a sign of Trump’s continuing influence.

Several other states, though none with a two-governor race, may also send a signal on the direction the country is headed. If they should all move in the same direction, it would be a powerful signal.

The political signs are that Georgia is becoming a swing state. Amazingly for the Deep South, it now has two Democratic U.S. senators. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is a Trump Republican hated by Trump, because he did not throw the 2020 presidential election to him. Georgia voters seem ready to move beyond Trump, but not necessarily beyond conservatism.

Kemp will face Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom he narrowly defeated four years ago. She was a key architect of the 2020 Democratic wins in Georgia and is a national level political figure. She offers a clear choice on issues, but perhaps more importantly, she is among the most skillful politicians in her party and can get out her vote.

Abrams may benefit from a political shift that could send a broader message. There has been an influx of people from outside the South into the Atlanta area. Just as Maine could become more Democratic thanks to new arrivals, the Atlanta region is becoming more Democratic. Georgia’s results could reveal the coming crumbling of the Solid South.

Texas and Wisconsin could provide readings about the national split, and the effect of Republican efforts to make voting more difficult for traditional Democratic voters may be a major factor. If the GOP is successful, it could reveal they can hold onto control in many states even when in the minority, though it is not an issue in Maine.


In Texas, GOP Gov. Greg Abbott is an absolute Trump loyalist and an active promoter of voter suppression. He faces Beto O’Rourke, a former member of Congress who ran well against Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. O’Rourke may have a tough time winning, but even a close finish could put Texas into the toss-up category for the 2024 presidential election.

Wisconsin may be the state making the greatest efforts to keep people from voting, and there are even questions about its vote counting. The Democratic governor will face a Trump Republican. As much as the partisan test, the election will show if voter suppression has taken hold, which could affect the 2024 presidential race in a key state.

The Nevada race shapes up as a test for the Trump forces. His candidate faces a moderate Democratic incumbent. If Trump Republicans want to show they are gaining, this is perhaps their best chance. A Democratic reversal here would send the similar message to a Mills’ loss in Maine.

Elections for the U.S. House and Senate could determine if Biden will be able to accomplish much in the next two years. This is likely critical for the Democratic platform, because the 2024 elections could be for an open seat for president.

But on the broader question of the national political balance and how it will tilt in the future, it’s the governors’ races that may provide the answer.

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