Factbox: Five U.S. gubernatorial races to watch

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) speaks with reporters prior to a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington

(Reuters) – Only a handful of the U.S. gubernatorial elections this year are expected to be competitive, according to current polling, with either Democratic and Republican candidates enjoying commanding leads in most states. Voters will go to the polls to elect governors in 11 states and two territories.

Here is a look at five of the most prominent races and what they say about the partisan divide in state-level politics as the November U.S. election approaches.

MONTANA

Republican Greg Gianforte faces Democrat Mike Cooney in the race for Montana governor, which presently appears to be the closest of the upcoming gubernatorial races. Current Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat, was unable to run for reelection due to term limits. He managed to remain fairly popular throughout his time in office, even though U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, won the state by a wide margin in the 2016 election.

Cooney, Bullock’s lieutenant governor, is a career public servant who has painted himself as Bullock’s successor. Gianforte is a U.S. congressman and businessman who has aligned himself with Trump and is perhaps best known for body slamming a reporter in 2017. A poll from mid-August showed the candidates within one point of each other.

NORTH CAROLINA

Incumbent Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is facing a challenge from Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest in North Carolina’s gubernatorial election. (North Carolina elects governors and their lieutenants independently of each other rather than as part of a single ticket.) Cooper, who narrowly won election in 2016 and has clashed with the state legislature, is leading his opponent by a wide margin, according to August polling data.

Democrats are hopeful that that Cooper’s lead is an indication that North Carolina, a crucial swing state, will turn blue in the general election.

MISSOURI

Democrat Nicole Galloway is running against incumbent Mike Parson in Missouri’s race. Parson became governor in 2018 after the resignation of Governor Eric Greitens, and Galloway, currently the Missouri state auditor, has focused her campaign on his weak response to the coronavirus pandemic. That may not be enough to flip deep-red Missouri, which Trump won by more than 18 points. Recent poll results have varied but generally show Parson leading by five points or more.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Polls show incumbent Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, leading Democratic challenger Dan Feltes by more than 20 points. Feltes, a former legal aid attorney and current state senator, has sought to align Sununu with Trump in his campaign messaging. Trump narrowly lost New Hampshire in 2016, but Biden leads him by a wider margin in polls for the 2020 election. On the gubernatorial level, however, Sununu is well-liked and presently looks poised to win reelection.

VERMONT

Republican Governor Phil Scott and Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, a Vermont Progressive Party member who is the Democratic nominee, are vying for Vermont governor in a race that does not at this stage appear to be close. Polls show Scott with a double-digit lead over his opponent. Scott, a moderate Republican, has criticized Donald Trump, and said this summer that he would not vote for him in the general election. He is popular in Vermont and has managed the pandemic well in the eyes of state voters, polls show.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer; Editing by Alistair Bell)