Battlegrounds and bellwethers: These are the high-stakes governor races to watch in 2024

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While many Americans are closely watching the 2024 presidential race, voters in almost a dozen states will also have the chance this year to pick who occupies their governor’s mansion.

As Democrats and Republicans fight for control of the House, Senate and White House, 2024’s 11 gubernatorial elections could also become a battleground in an era of deepening polarization. Governor races in key swing states will show which direction voters are leaning – to the right, or to the left.

A majority of the governor contests in 2024 also feature fresh candidates, with just two incumbents announcing their reelection bids so far.

Here’s what you need to know about the country's upcoming gubernatorial races.

Prep for the polls: See who is running for president and compare where they stand on key issues in our Voter Guide

Which states have governor races in 2024?

Voters in eleven states will a cast a ballot for governor this year:

  • Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, both Republicans, are the rare incumbents running for reelection.

  • In New Hampshire, North Dakota and Washington, the states’ current governors have each announced their decision not to seek another term.

  • The governors of Delaware, Indiana, Missouri and North Carolina had no choice but to step aside this fall, each facing term limits in their respective states.

  • Vermont and West Virginia will also feature a race for governor on their November ballots.

North Carolina: The nation's top gubernatorial battleground

North Carolina’s governor race is set to be the year’s most contentious contest as Democrats try to stave off a Republican trifecta in the state. GOP lawmakers already control both chambers of North Carolina's legislature.

With Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper unable to run again after two consecutive terms, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has emerged as the party frontrunner for governor.

On the Republican side, North Carolina Lieutenant Gov. Mark Robinson leads the GOP pack ahead of the state’s March 5 primary.

The Tar Heel State's election is expected to garner national attention − and dollars − from Super Tuesday through November.

That's because the race will also serve as an arena for some of the country’s major debates, including abortion. Robinson has signaled support for more stringent restrictions, telling a crowd in February, “The next goal is to get it down to six (weeks) and then just keep moving from there.”

North Carolina law currently allows the procedure up to 12 weeks, a change Cooper tried to stop last year before GOP lawmakers overrode his veto.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu is vocally encouraging Republicans to move on from former President Donald Trump.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu is vocally encouraging Republicans to move on from former President Donald Trump.

Democrats eye New Hampshire and Vermont

New England holds a potential boon for Democrats this fall, as deep-blue Vermont and fiercely independent New Hampshire could both hold competitive gubernatorial races.

President Joe Biden carried both states in 2020, yet the states’ voters have also turned out in record numbers for their favored Republican governors.

One of the country’s most popular state leaders, New Hampshire’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, announced in July he would not run for a fifth term. His exit leaves a door cracked for Democrats, who have struggled to put up any candidate who could compete with Sununu.

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In neighboring Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott, another Republican with high approval ratings, has yet to announce his decision about running again. Should Scott put his name back on the ballot, he faces a good shot at reelection.

But if the four-term governor follows in Sununu’s steps, Democrats could have another possible pick-up in 2024 thanks to Vermont's swaths of Democratic voters.

Republican candidate Doug Burgum speaks at a town hall in Exeter, New Hampshire, hosted by USA TODAY.
Republican candidate Doug Burgum speaks at a town hall in Exeter, New Hampshire, hosted by USA TODAY.

North Dakota will replace Doug Burgum

North Dakota voters will pick their governor from an incumbent-less batch this fall, after two-term Republican Gov. Doug Burgum announced earlier this year that he would not run for reelection.

His decision came after the former software engineer and billionaire suspended his 2024 campaign for president.

Burgum left the White House race polling at less than one percent among GOP candidates. He later endorsed GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

North Dakota’s Republican Lieutenant Gov. Tammy Miller and U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., have so far joined the race to succeed Burgum. The state’s primary is June 11, with the deadline to file and enter still weeks away.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2024 governor races to watch: What to know about NC, New England