By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) - Competitive governors contests are on the ballot in about a dozen states in Tuesday's U.S. midterm elections, with outcomes that hold far-reaching consequences on issues such as abortion, voting rights and guns.
The high stakes have brought increased money and attention to the state-level races, which typically get overshadowed in midterm elections by the fight for control of Congress.
President Joe Biden and former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, who have campaigned in recent weeks for governor candidates across the country, all spent part of the final weekend before Election Day rallying with their party's nominees in the pivotal state of Pennsylvania.
Democrats are fighting to keep control of the state's governorship - along with those in Wisconsin and Michigan - to maintain the power to veto any legislation by the three states' Republican-controlled legislatures that might curb abortion rights and voting access.
At Saturday's rallies in Pennsylvania, Democrat Josh Shapiro and his Republican rival, Doug Mastriano, each highlighted the impact of their race on the state's future.
"It's your rights, it's your future that's on the line," Shapiro said in Philadelphia.
Mastriano told supporters in Latrobe that "a vote for Josh Shapiro is a vote to destroy Pennsylvania's future."
Republican victories in presidential battleground states including Arizona could have implications for the 2024 White House election. The party's nominees in several such states have embraced Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
In all, 36 of the country's 50 states will elect governors on Tuesday, with the majority safely in either Democratic or Republican hands. Republicans hold 28 governor seats nationally, compared to 22 Democratic governorships.
In Florida, polls show Republican incumbent Ron DeSantis poised to defeat Democratic challenger Charlie Crist ahead of DeSantis' widely expected run for the presidency in 2024.
In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott is expected to win a third term despite a lively campaign by his Democratic opponent, former U.S. congressman Beto O'Rourke. Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, also looks likely to prevail against Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams in a rematch of their 2018 race.
Democrats are expected to flip Republican-held governorships in the states of Maryland and Massachusetts, but they face tough battles in a couple of other Democratic states.
A three-way race in Oregon could result in a Republican winning the state's governorship for the first time in 40 years.
Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan are locked in a close battle for the open seat, and independent candidate Betsy Johnson, a former Democrat, could potentially siphon votes from Kotek.
Biden campaigned on Sunday in New York, where Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul's lead in the polls over Republican challenger Lee Zeldin has shrunk to single digits as Zeldin has hammered away on the crime issue. No Republican has won statewide office in New York in 20 years.
ABORTION RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY
As with congressional races across the country, Democratic candidates for governor have warned of the threats Republicans could pose to abortion rights and elections should they win on Tuesday. Republicans have focused largely on crime and the economy, blaming inflation on Democratic policies.
Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has made abortion a focal point of her re-election campaign in Michigan, where voters also will consider a ballot measure that would safeguard abortion rights in the state's constitution.
Her Republican opponent, Trump-backed conservative commentator Tudor Dixon, supports a near-total ban on abortion but says the topic is not an issue in the governor's race because of the ballot question.
Wisconsin's Democratic incumbent Tony Evers faces a strong challenge from Republican construction magnate Tim Michels, who has promised to enforce a 19th-century abortion ban that Evers is challenging in court.
Michels has raised concerns about how he would handle future elections, telling supporters at a recent campaign event that "Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I'm elected governor."
In Pennsylvania, the governor appoints the secretary of state, who oversees election administration.
Mastriano has echoed Trump's false claims of voter fraud and was present at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to protest the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Shapiro, the state's attorney general who is leading in opinion polls for the open seat, has cast Mastriano as too extreme for Pennsylvania.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, has echoed that sentiment in her race against Republican Kari Lake, a former news anchor, in one of the country's closest gubernatorial races.
Hobbs rose to national prominence in 2020 when she defended Arizona's election results against Trump's false claims of fraud. Trump-backed Lake has repeated his claims and said she would not have certified Biden's victory in Arizona. She has vowed to ban mail-in voting if she wins.
"It's a fraught moment," said Clarence Lusane, who chairs the political science department at Howard University. "If someone like Kari Lake or some of the others actually get some real power, they have made it pretty clear what they're going to attempt to do, and that is tip the scale unfairly."
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Latrobe, Pennsylvania; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Daniel Wallis)