By Tim Reid and Gabriella Borter
PHOENIX/EAST LANSING, Mich. (Reuters) -Competitive governor contests are on the ballot in about a dozen states in Tuesday’s U.S. midterm elections, with outcomes that hold far-reaching consequences on issues such as abortion, voting rights and guns.
The high stakes have brought increased money and attention to the state-level races, which typically get overshadowed in midterm elections by the fight for control of Congress.
Democrats are fighting to keep control of governorships in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan to maintain the power to veto any legislation by the Republican-controlled legislatures that might curb abortion rights and voting access.
Republican victories in presidential battleground states including Arizona could have implications for the 2024 White House election. The party’s nominees in several such states have embraced former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
In Arizona, which has one of the country’s closest gubernatorial races, Trump-backed candidate Kari Lake has repeated his assertions about voter fraud and said she would not have certified President Joe Biden’s victory in that state.
Her opponent is Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who rose to national prominence in 2020 when she defended Arizona’s election results.
Lake backed off the stolen election theme at a campaign event near Phoenix on Monday. She told supporters they needed to vote “like your life depends on it.”
In all, 36 of the country’s 50 states will elect governors on Tuesday, with the majority safely in either Democratic or Republican hands. Republicans hold 28 governor seats nationally, compared to 22 Democratic governorships.
Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has made abortion a focal point of her re-election campaign, as voters also will consider a ballot measure that would safeguard abortion rights in the state’s constitution.
“We need a governor who’s going to fight for our reproductive rights, not give them away,” Whitmer told a rally of mostly students huddled on a campus field at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
Her Republican opponent, Trump-backed conservative commentator Tudor Dixon, supports a near-total ban on abortion but says the topic is not an issue in the governor’s race because of the ballot question.
With Whitmer’s lead in the polls shrinking, she urged her young audience to get their friends to vote, saying, “This election could be decided by a few thousand votes.”
In Florida, polls show Republican incumbent Ron DeSantis poised to defeat Democratic challenger Charlie Crist ahead of DeSantis’ widely expected run for the presidency in 2024.
In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott is expected to win a third term despite a lively campaign by his Democratic opponent, former U.S. congressman Beto O’Rourke. Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, also looks likely to prevail against Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams in a rematch of their 2018 race.
Democrats are expected to flip Republican-held governorships in the states of Maryland and Massachusetts, but they face tough battles in a couple of other Democratic states.
A three-way race in Oregon could result in a Republican winning the state’s governorship for the first time in 40 years.
Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan are locked in a close battle for the open seat, and independent candidate Betsy Johnson, a former Democrat, could potentially siphon votes from Kotek.
Biden campaigned on Sunday in New York, where Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul’s lead in the polls over Republican challenger Lee Zeldin has shrunk to single digits as Zeldin has campaigned on crime and controversial bail reform laws. No Republican has won statewide office in New York in 20 years.
While Democrats have stressed abortion rights and elections, Republicans have focused largely on fears of rising crime and inflation, which it blames on Democratic policies.
Wisconsin’s Democratic incumbent Tony Evers faces a strong challenge from Republican construction magnate Tim Michels, who has promised to enforce a 19th-century abortion ban that Evers is challenging in court.
Michels has raised concerns about how he would handle future elections, telling supporters at a recent campaign event that “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor.”
In Pennsylvania, the governor appoints the secretary of state, who oversees election administration. Biden and former presidents Barack Obama and Trump all spent part of the final weekend before Election Day rallying with their party’s nominees in the pivotal state.
Republican candidate Doug Mastriano has echoed Trump’s false claims of voter fraud and was present at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to protest the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general who is leading in opinion polls for the open seat, has cast Mastriano as too extreme.
(Reporting by Tim Reid in Phoenix and Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, Calif.; Additional reporting by Julia Harte in New York and Jarrett Renshaw in Latrobe, Pennsylvania; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Daniel Wallis and Rosalba O’Brien)
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