GOP captures governorships in at least 10 states

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans on Tuesday captured from Democrats governorships in at least 10 states, including some prime presidential battlegrounds, and hoped for even more statehouse gains.

The same tide sweeping Republicans into office in Congress was leaving its mark on governors’ mansions as well, especially in the nation’s industrial heartland.

Lost in the GOP onslaught: governorships now held by Democrats in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Tennessee, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Wyoming.

In Ohio, a state viewed by both parties as crucial to the 2012 presidential election, former Rep. John Kasich defeated Gov. Ted Strickland. Republican Susana Martinez won the New Mexico governorship — she is the first Latina chief executive of a state — and will succeed Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson.

But there were a few bright spots for Democrats. In California, Democrat Jerry Brown coasted past former eBay CEO Meg Whitman to reclaim the governorship he held three decades ago. He will replace moderate Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for what was shaping up to be perhaps the only Democratic gain of the night of a Republican seat.

Democrats also held onto governorships in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, Arkansas and Colorado.

The gubernatorial races were especially important this year. There are a record number of them on the ballot — more than two-thirds of the states. Governors will play important roles in 2012 presidential politics, especially in swing states, and governors next year will participate in redistricting of congressional and legislative seat to reflect the 2010 census.

New York Democrat Andrew Cuomo surged past tea party Republican Carl Paladino to win the governor’s seat, the same post his father, Mario, had held two decades ago.

In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick won a second term, defeating Republican Charles Baker and two other candidates. Patrick and Obama share Chicago roots and Harvard Law degrees, and national Republicans tried hard to topple him.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley withstood a hard-fought challenge from his predecessor, former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich. And New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch and Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, both Democrats, were also re-elected.

Denver’s Democratic mayor, John Hickenlooper, was elected Colorado governor despite a challenge from both Republican challenger Dan Maes and immigration hard-liner Tom Tancredo, a former Republican House member. Hickenlooper replaces Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who did not run for re-election.

As Democratic gubernatorial and congressional casualties were piling up, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, head of the Republican Governors Association and a possible 2012 presidential contender, compared the GOP victories to 1994, when Republicans seized control of both House and Senate.

“The stakes in this election were so much higher,” Barbour told a gathering of Republicans.

In Democratic-leaning Pennsylvania, Republican Tom Corbett defeated Democrat Dan Onorato to replace Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who was term limited.

In Michigan, Republican businessman Rick Snyder, who vowed to turn around the state’s devastated economy, defeated Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, a Democrat. The current Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, did not seek re-election.

And in Wisconsin, a Democratic-leaning state, conservative Republican Scott Walker rode tax-cut promises to victory over Democrat Tom Barrett. Two-term Democratic incumbent Gov. Jim Doyle decided not to seek a third term.

In Oklahoma, U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, a Republican, became the state’s first female governor. She defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Jari Askins to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Brad Henry.

Former four-term Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, was re-elected after a 12-year break. He defeated first-term Democratic Gov. Chet Culver.

In Tennessee, Republican Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam defeated Democratic businessman Mike McWherter to win the state’s open governorship. Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen was term-limited and could not run.

In Kansas, conservative Republican Sen. Sam Brownback defeated Democratic state Sen. Tom Holland to win the governorship. Democrat Kathleen Sebelius was elected in 2002 and again in 2006 before joining Obama’s cabinet as secretary of Health and Human Services. Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson took her place but did not run for a full term.

In Wyoming, former U.S. attorney Matt Mead, the Republican nominee, defeated former state Democratic chair Leslie Petersen. And Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert won another two years in office

A tea party-backed South Carolina Republican, state Rep. Nikki Haley, was elected to replace term-limited Gov. Mark Sanford. Haley won over state Sen. Vincent Sheheen.

In a high-profile race into which both parties spent millions, Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has already served 10 years, defeated Democrat Bill White, a former mayor of Houston. Perry, who earlier survived a spirited GOP primary challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, had aligned himself with the Sarah Palin wing of the Republican Party.

South Dakota’s Republican lieutenant governor, Dennis Daugaard, defeated Democratic challenger Scott Heidepriem to succeed term-limited Gov. Mike Rounds, keeping the seat in GOP hands. Alabama also remained in the Republican column as state Rep. Robert Bentley defeated Democratic nominee Ron Sparks. Republican Gov. Bob Riley is term-limited.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who drew national attention when she signed a state law cracking down on illegal immigration, was re-elected, defeating Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard.

In Nebraska, Republican Gov. Dave Heineman was easily re-elected over the Democratic candidate, lawyer Mike Meister. Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter defeated Democrat Keith Allred to win another term.

In Georgia, Republican Rep. Nathan Deal defeated Democrat Roy Barnes, who served as governor from 1999 to 2003.

Despite its scattered victories, this Election Day was not one Democrats were savoring, with anti-incumbent fever rampant and unemployment stuck for months at near 10 percent.

Historically, the party holding the White House has lost around five governorships in the first midterm election after a new president takes office. Analysts in both parties expected Democratic casualties to be higher this year. Republicans anticipated a net pickup of at least six and possibly as many as 12. Democrats hoped losses could be held to the smaller number.

Republicans eyed potential gains of governorships now held by Democrats across a wide swath of the industrial Midwest and Great Lakes, from Iowa to Pennsylvania. Besides having some of the nation’s highest jobless rates, many of these rust-belt states have traditionally been presidential swing states.

The GOP fought hard to increase its foothold in New England, traditionally Democratic turf but this year very much in play.

In Rhode Island, former Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a one-time Republican turned independent, won the governorship over Democrat Frank Caprio and Republican John Robitaille. Caprio, the state’s general treasurer, saw his standing in polls dip late last month after he suggested Obama could “really shove it” because the president declined to endorse him. Obama withheld his backing as a courtesy to Chafee, who had crossed party lines in 2008 to back Obama’s candidacy.

Both national parties spent heavily on this year’s racesr. The Republican Governors Association said it spent $102 million this year, roughly half of it in 10 states it deemed crucial to the 2012 presidential contest: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The Democratic Governors Association spent roughly $50 million.

Some 37 governorships were on the line. Why so many? A coincidental combination of the usual rotation plus races to fill unexpired terms and some states changing their election cycles.

Of these races, 24 were for “open” seats, ones in which no incumbent was running. Some incumbents were term-limited; others decided not to run in such hard economic times.

In Florida, Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist decided to run for the Senate, a contest he lost Tuesday.

Florida’s was among the hardest-fought races in the country, with both parties spending millions on the race between Republican businessman Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink, the state’s chief financial officer.

Many incumbents who chose to run faced stiff competition. Strickland and Culver were the only governors among the 11 on ballots who lost re-election.

In California, Democrat Brown, currently the attorney general, engaged in a fierce battle with billionaire Republican Meg Whitman. The former CEO of eBay poured more than $150 million of her own money into the campaign, making it the most expensive nonpresidential race in the nation’s history.

There are currently 26 Democratic governors and 24 Republicans.

Governors were directly in the line of fire in high unemployment states, and many had already been casualties of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Unlike the federal government, most states can’t borrow to spend or print money.

That resulted in higher taxes and layoffs across the nation. In the budget year that ended in September, 29 states increased taxes by a total of $24 billion, the largest amount in more than 30 years, according to the bipartisan National Governors Association.

That didn’t lead to an atmosphere conducive to incumbents seeking re-election; or for members of the party that now controls the White House and both houses of Congress.

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