Republican wave extends to governors' mansions in bright blue states

Maryland, Massachusetts, and Illinois are among the Democratic-leaning states who elected Republican governors Tuesday night. Meanwhile, the tea party backlash that had been predicted in Wisconsin and Kansas failed to emerge.

Steven Senne/AP
Massachusetts voters elected Republican Charlie Baker, shown in Swampscott on Monday, the next governor of the Bay State.
Steve Ruark/AP
Maryland voters turned to Larry Hogan to fill a post left open by the departure of Martin O’Malley (D), in the state's gubernatorial race.

Before the election, the governor’s race in Maryland wasn’t getting much attention nationally, but on Tuesday this heavily Democratic state was swept up in a wave that also gave Republicans fresh control of governorships in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Arkansas.

Republicans also held onto seats in hotly contested states including Wisconsin Florida, Michigan, Kansas, and Maine.

The result: In an election where the GOP also recaptured control of the US Senate, the party now will hold at least 31 of 50 governor’s posts across the country, up from 29 heading into Election Day.

And the presidential aspirations of one Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, remain intact after a tough campaign where key issues included job creation, abortion, and labor unions.

The momentum for Republicans wasn’t total. Pennsylvania’s unpopular Gov. Tom Corbett fell to Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, and at press time it looked like incumbent Sean Parnell (R) would lose narrowly to independent Bill Walker. Democratic incumbents also were holding narrow leads in Colorado and Connecticut.

Still, the Republican trend was strong in all regions of the country, fueled by a nationwide mood of anxiety about the economy and national security that worked against President Obama’s party. It’s typical in the midterm races that come in between presidential elections, for the party controlling the White House to see its power eroded.

This year, the expected "Obama effect" simply proved stronger than expected.

Key highlights of the Republican tide:

• In Wisconsin and Kansas, there was no rejection of incumbents associated with tea-party conservatism. Governor Walker won handily even though Wisconsin is a state carried twice, and easily, by President Obama. Walker earned national fame by combating public sector labor unions and stripping away many of their bargaining rights. In Kansas, Sam Brownback was reelected, despite concerns that his tax cuts had eaten too deep a hole in the state’s revenues.

• Florida incumbent Rick Scott edged out Democrat Charlie Crist (a former Republican governor of the state, before he switched parties) in the nation’s most expensive governor’s race – and one of the most negative in tone.

• Maryland voters turned to Larry Hogan to fill a post left open by the departure of Martin O’Malley (D). Mr. Hogan, a real estate businessman, beat Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) by emphasizing his desire to lighten high tax burdens that Governor O’Malley had increased.

• In Illinois, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner pumped more than $20 million of his own money into a race that ousted Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. Mr. Rauner will take the reins of a state with budget shortfalls, pension gaps, high taxes, and a heavily Democratic legislature he’ll have to tussle with. Also in the Midwest, Ohio Gov. John Kasich won easy reelection, signaling continued “swing” status for a state that opted twice for Obama in presidential votes.

• Massachusetts elected Charlie Baker, a former health insurance executive, to replace outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick (D). The state has a heavily Democratic legislature, but has periodically turned to Republicans (such as Mitt Romney) as governor.

•  Maine Gov. Paul LePage managed to hang on in a three-way race. But elsewhere in New England, Republican hopes of taking Rhode Island were dashed by the victory of Gina Raimondo in an open-seat race.

• Arkansas voters turned to Asa Hutchinson, a former US congressman, making the South solidly Republican in state chief executives. A resounding victory by Greg Abbott will keep Texas in Republican hands as Rick Perry leaves office. A weak economy didn’t stop Nathan Deal from winning reelection in Georgia. And South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, the first Indian-American woman governor, won a second term as well.

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