In the 2022 midterm elections, governors who opposed prolonged pandemic lockdowns and quickly allowed their states to reopen had an easier time winning reelection than they had in the 2018 elections.
In Tuesday’s midterm elections, governors Brian Kemp of Georgia, Ron DeSantis of Florida, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, and Jared Polis of Colorado all easily secured their reelection bids, triumphing by an average of 18.1 percentage points.
The anti-lockdown governors’ wide victories contrasted sharply with their closer wins in 2018, when the same five candidates prevailed by an average margin of 3.7 percentage points.
Among them, DeSantis stood out with a victory margin of 19.4 percent in his reelection in 2022 compared to 0.4 percentage points in winning his first election for governor four years ago.
Florida was one of the states that stayed open for most of the COVID-19 pandemic. DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order on April 1, 2020, locking down the Sunshine State for 30 days.
Florida’s lockdown order was notably less strict than some of the stay-at-home measures imposed in other states that allowed recreational activities, but what constituted an “essential business” was broadly defined.
“Our economy kept going,” DeSantis said in an interview with The Epoch Times in April 2021. “It was much different than what you saw in some of those lockdown states.”
While Florida is either performing better or relatively the same as the strict lockdown states in terms of COVID mortalities, the state’s economy is booming compared to the crippled economies in California and New York.
In South Dakota, Republican Governor Kristi Noem sprung to national prominence during her first term as the state’s first female governor, and her 27 percentage point victory margin—very much larger than 2018’s 3.4 percentage points—seemed to prove the popularity of her hands-off approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noem stood firm in rejecting issuing a stay-at-home order throughout the pandemic. South Dakota was the only state that never ordered any businesses or churches to close, never imposed a lockdown or a mask mandate, and refrained from classifying businesses into essential and nonessential categories.
“COVID didn’t crush the economy. Government crushed the economy,” Noem said at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida in February 2021.
In Georgia, Kemp also cruised to an easy victory in the midterm elections. Kemp defeated Stacey Abrams, the Democrat nominee in Georgia, by a margin of 7.6 percentage points. Compared to his triumph over the same opponent in 2018, who he beat by just 1.4 percentage points, the gap was far larger.
Kemp led measures to reopen Georgia after the COVID-19 pandemic brought everyday life to a halt in March 2020. He was one of the first in the country to allow small businesses to reopen. Georgia school children came back to school sooner than in most states.
Kemp has pounded his pandemic leadership on the campaign trail. He halted the state’s gas tax collection during the pandemic and issued state income tax rebates.
Throughout the pandemic, Kemp also rejected calls to force Georgia schools to impose statewide mask requirements, preferring to let local officials decide.
“This will ensure that parents have the final say when it comes to the health and well-being of their child,” Kemp said at the time. “It is a common-sense measure that puts the parents in charge—not the government.”
In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis walked an unusual path among his Democrats peers with the shortest stay-at-home orders of just one month starting from March 26, 2020.
Polis also adopted a more lenient policy on school closures than his Democrat counterparts. The governor ordered closing the state’s schools for the rest of the academic year in April 2020 while enabling districts to decide for themselves whether to begin the next school year with in-person instruction or not.
In December 2021, he declared that the COVID-19 emergency was “over.” The governor also said he would leave masking mandates up to individual counties and municipalities.
His work during the pandemic was applauded by Colorado voters who reelected him by 18.1 percentage points. In his 2018 race for governor, Polis won by a margin of 10.6 percentage points, therefore the result this year was 7.5 percentage points better.
Iowa GOP Governor Kim Reynolds also became famous for keeping children in school during the COVID-19 pandemic while going against mask mandates and ensuring the state’s citizens were able to live freely.
After half of the year’s school closure in 2020, she signed legislation requiring schools open to in-person instruction in January 2021.
In May 2021, Reynolds signed a bill to ban mask mandates in the state’s public schools, as well as in cities and counties.
“The state of Iowa is putting parents back in control of their child’s education and taking greater steps to protect the rights of all Iowans to make their own health care decisions,” Reynolds said at the time.
“I am proud to be a governor of a state that values personal responsibility and individual liberties.”
Her approach earned her popularity that helped Reynolds to win reelection by 18.6 percentage points. Her victory was 15.8 percentage points, surpassing her narrow gap of 2.8 percentage points in 2018.
Ivan Pentchoukov, Mimi Nguyen Ly, Jack Phillips, and Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.
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