In gubernatorial races, one region offers Dems a unique opportunity

A farmer plants corn in a field near De Soto, Iowa on May 5, 2014.
A farmer plants corn in a field near De Soto, Iowa on May 5, 2014.

The race for Congress is dominating the political conversation, and for good reason, but it'd be a mistake to overlook the importance of this year's gubernatorial races. This report over the weekend from the Des Moines Register is emblematic of a larger truth: this is shaping up to a rough year for Republicans in the Midwest.

Democratic businessman Fred Hubbell edges out Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in a race for the governor's office that still falls within the margin of error just more than six weeks before Election Day, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows.Forty-three percent of likely voters say they support Hubbell, and 41 percent say they support Reynolds. Seven percent say they support Libertarian Jake Porter, and 9 percent are undecided.

Given the narrow margin, and the fact that there are still six weeks remaining before Election Day, Hubbell's narrow lead over Reynolds is hardly evidence of guaranteed success. But the poll results are a reminder that Iowa -- a state Donald Trump won by nearly 10 points two years ago -- may not be as "red" as some Republicans like to think.

What's more, the picture for Democrats looks even more encouraging when put in a regional context (I generally define the Midwest as including Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio):

* Minnesota: The latest statewide polling found Tim Walz (D) well ahead of Jeff Johnson (R), and the Republican Governors Association is reportedly scaling back its investments in the state.

* Illinois: Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) is widely seen as an underdog against J.B. Pritzker (D) in the fall.

* Wisconsin: Incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) trails Tony Evers (D) in the latest statewide polling.

* Michigan: Gretchen Whitmer (D) is widely seen as the favorite this year, and Bill Schuette (R) can't even get an endorsement from current Gov. Rick Snyder (R). The Republican Governors Association is reportedly scaling back its investments in Michigan, too.

* Ohio: Though there hasn't been much polling in Ohio of late, Politico reported a few days ago that Richard Cordray (D) is running "even" with Mike DeWine (R) in the Buckeye State.

Taken together, there are six Midwestern gubernatorial races this year, and in five of the six, there's a Republican incumbent governor. (Donald Trump won four of these six states.) As things currently stand, however, it's not unrealistic to think Dems will win all six -- results that would have a dramatic impact in a variety of areas, including post-2020 redistricting.

There are, not surprisingly, plenty of reasons for Republican challenges in the region, including the impact of the GOP president's trade tariffs. But whatever's behind the direction of the political winds, they're at Democrats' backs.

This was a region that was integral to Trump's success in 2016, and it's getting increasingly easy to believe the Midwest will be equally as important to a Democratic resurgence in 2018.