The two governorships up for election in the year following a presidential election are the first statewide electoral indicators of mood following a presidential election. If they draw media coverage beyond their regions, it is often for this reason. The 2017 races drew particular attention this time around because they were the first top-of-the-ballot statewide elections following the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January 2017. With no U.S. Senate candidates on the ballot in 2017, the races for governor became major measures of voter sentiment toward the president.
Neither state had an incumbent running for office. Virginia’s governors are prohibited from serving consecutive terms, and New Jersey’s governors are limited to two consecutive terms, which meant that Gov. Chris Christie (R) could not run in 2017.