Amid tight US presidential election, half of US governor races a close call too

Voters wait in line at the polls to cast their ballot in the national election at Cannon Pavilion on November 8, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (AFP)

At least half of the dozen US governorships being decided on Tuesday remain too close to call, though political experts agree both Republicans and Democrats could gain seats in states they would seem unlikely to win.

The razor-thin margins mirror a tightening of opinion polls in the US presidential race and a number of US Senate contests in the final days of an unpredictable election year.

Several of the gubernatorial match-ups “can be moved by the slightest breeze,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at The Cook Political Report, which provides non-partisan election analysis. “Both parties right now won’t even take a guess at what they’re going to pick up.”

She said the outcome of the vote is not expected to dramatically alter the 31-18 advantage Republicans have over Democrats in the states’ executive offices. Alaska has an independent governor.

In this year’s marquee race, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory, a Republican, is fighting for a second four-year term against Democratic challenger Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general.

McCrory has been dogged by the economic backlash against a law he signed in March that restricts bathroom rights for transgender people and limits non-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians.

However, his re-election bid appears to have benefited from his administration’s response to record flooding in North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew last month.

“I’m not writing McCrory off,” Duffy said in a phone interview.

Most of the other toss-up races are Democratic-held open seats, and they could lead to some surprises.

Republicans may have their best chance at picking up a seat in Vermont, which is expected to vote overwhelmingly for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. Republican lieutenant governor Phil Scott appears to have the edge over Democrat Sue Minter, a former state transportation secretary.

And in West Virginia, where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump could get his biggest win, billionaire Democratic businessman Jim Justice has lead in polls over Republican state Senate President Bill Cole.

“There’s going to be a lot of ticket-splitting in those races,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “It’s just a question of how much ticket-splitting there is.”

Republicans are battling to defend the governorship in Indiana, which became an open race after Trump tapped governor Mike Pence as his running mate.

That contest and the open seat in Missouri also remain tight, and Kondik said the Republican gubernatorial candidates could be helped if Trump gained a late boost in support.

“Just like 2014, there really are hard calls that could go one way or another,” Kondik said.

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