SANTA FE, N.M. — A polarizing president electrifies the opposition party going into his first midterm election, raising the party’s hopes it can reclaim governorships, ram through major policy changes at the state level, and redraw legislative lines in its favor.
It’s an outcome both parties have seen before, most recently in 2010, when out-of-power Republicans rode the Tea Party-led wave against the Obama administration to smashing victories across the country.
This year, governors in both parties acknowledged at the National Governors Association conference here, it is Democrats who appear poised to make major gains as Republicans brace for a backlash against President Trump.
“It does feel very much like 2010 reversed to me right now,” said Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee, head of the association.
Governors gathered here for their annual conference to plot how best to exploit or mitigate a president who is as divisive as he is ubiquitous.
In interviews, Republican and Democratic governors said opposition to Trump had galvanized liberal and many moderate voters, leading to a sizable intensity gap between the two parties. Trump has been seeking to close that political deficit for his party, leveraging the fierce loyalty of the Republican base, while Democrats are working to keep their base focused on channeling their anger.
Governors said the president’s policies on issues like trade had created an opening for Democrats in Republican-leaning farm belt states like Iowa and Kansas, where farmers are facing retaliatory tariffs.
Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who won the governorship on the strength of the 2010 Obama backlash, bluntly acknowledged he and other Republicans could be facing “a blue wave.”
The president’s conduct and the fight for control of Congress have overshadowed the 36 governor’s races this year. But the state elections could prove even more consequential in reshaping policy and altering the long-term balance of power.