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GOP governors confident about dominating Democrats in 2022, but some will first face challenges from within

Republican Governors
Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, left, speaks to reporters while Gov.-elect Glen Youngkin, of Virginia, Govs. Greg Abbott, of Texas, and Kim Reynolds and Pete Ricketts, of Nebraska, listen at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Phoenix on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Jonathan J. Cooper / AP

Fresh off a big win in Virginia and better-than-expected performance in New Jersey, Republican governors are confident about their 2022 midterm prospects against Democrats, but they'll have an added wrinkle before next year's general election: challenges within their own party. 

"We intend to protect our incumbents and keep our red states red, but we've also shown that we can win in any state in the country," Republican Governors Association chair Doug Ducey told reporters. "I think we saw the roadmap in the commonwealth of Virginia."

As head of the RGA, Ducey will have to navigate a slew of races in top battleground states, including the race to replace him in Arizona, while trying to expand the map of Republican-controlled governor's mansions. When the calendar flips to 2022, his organization will be sitting on more cash than it has in any other midterm election cycle.

While Republicans feel good about their prospects against Democrats next year, and the cash has been flowing, the RGA has a new challenge to navigate in 2022: several GOP incumbents are facing primary opponents.

"We've never been in a situation where our incumbent governors have faced primaries. Even through the height of the Tea Party primaries when the House and Senate guys were being primaried, governors never really had that experience because you only run for reelection one time," RGA executive director Dave Rexrode said. "We're going to, where appropriate and where necessary, be financially supporting our incumbent governors in primaries. That's something we're new to." 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has primary challengers to his right, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is facing former Representative Jim Renacci and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp will be trying to fend off against former Georgia state representative Vernon Jones, who used to be a Democrat but switched parties.

But Kemp's bigger challenge may come from former Senator David Perdue, who is also reportedly considering running against Kemp. Perdue broke a nine-month Twitter silence on Wednesday to take a shot at Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan and told a talk radio show in Georgia that he and his wife "have been praying about our state."

"I'm concerned about the state of our state," Perdue said. "We have a divided party in Georgia right now. Forget about me. It's divided. And a lot of people feel like the people in power haven't fought for them and caved in to a lot of things back in 2020 that didn't have to be done."

Ducey was quick to point out that the Perdue challenge is still "hypothetical," but said if it does materialize, "the RGA is in the business, of course, of supporting our incumbents and ultimately electing Republican governors."

He said the RGA will make decisions "race by race" in terms of how to use its resources, including how it supports incumbents. 

"We don't fund losers. We don't fund landslides," Ducey said. "We go into competitive races, we get that nominee over the finish line. It's always been our posture that we protect incumbents."

Ducey said Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will be among the top targets for Republicans to flip next year. Republicans are eyeing more than 10 Democratic-held seats, including bluer states such as Connecticut and Minnesota, for potential pickups, depending on the national mood.

Democrats have 16 seats to defend next year, a mixture of incumbents and open seats, and believe they'll remain in Democratic hands. They say their incumbents will have strong records to run on when it comes to education, infrastructure and voting rights.

"The DGA is ready for the fight — we have not lost an incumbent since 2014 while the RGA has lost McCrory, Walker, Bevin and others," Democratic Governors Association communications director David Turner said in a statement. "Democratic Governors have stood in the breach for the last three years, and their records resonate with the issues voters care about."

GOP governors at the RGA's annual conference praised Virginia governor-elect Glenn Youngkin for his win earlier this month and said his victory demonstrated that candidates need to focus on state-based issues in 2022 and can win in a variety of states.

"Glenn Youngkin won in Virginia because he did something that is very fundamental in politics: he showed voters a contrast between the Republican running for governor versus the leftist, progressive agenda of his opponent," Abbott said.

Panels of Republican governors previewed the issues that they'll attack Democrats on, including the southern border, rising energy prices, vaccine requirements for businesses, COVID response, education and the cost of living. 

Youngkin said he won by "looking forward and not looking backward." The governor-elect said candidates will have to decide based on their own race whether it's best to keep Mr. Trump at arm's length. He noted that his campaign "built a coalition in Virginia of all voters" and said that "President Trump was helpful to me." 

His advice to Republicans is to keep hammering away at issues like education.  

"Through this entire campaign season, the polls kept telling us that education was the seventh, eighth or ninth most important issue," Youngkin said. "Let me tell you, it is the top issue right now and Republicans across the country can own this topic."

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