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Republicans make gains in governorships

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Washington Post staff writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 10:11 AM

The Republican Party's new control of a majority of the nation's governorships boosts its ability to marshal resources for the 2012 presidential election and influence the hyper-partisan task of drawing congressional district boundaries starting next year.

The party's candidates were in line to win in 10 or more states where the gubernatorial seats had been held by Democrats, depending on the outcome in several contests that didn't have clear winners early Wednesday. Republicans went into the election controlling 24 governorships.

Democrats, experiencing heavy losses throughout the country, headed to their most stinging defeats in the bellwether states of Ohio and Florida, where they had hoped they could wrest victories.

In Ohio, former representative John R. Kasich, a Republican, beat Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, one of the few gubernatorial candidates to embrace President Obama.

And in Florida, Republican Rick Scott, a health-care executive, was ahead of Democrat Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer, in late returns.

Democrats had a bright spot in California, however, where former governor and current Attorney General Jerry Brown won despite his GOP rival, former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, spending more than $140 million of her own money on her campaign.

Other races where Democrats could make up some ground, including Vermont and Minnesota, were too close to call last night.

In Rhode Island, former GOP senator Lincoln D. Chafee, running as an independent, won a multi-candidate race that recently received national attention after Obama refused to endorse the Democrat, state treasurer Frank Caprio. Caprio told the president to "shove it."

Locally, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) won a second term in a hard-fought contest against former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) in the heavily Democratic state. [See story, A1.]

The same adverse political climate that confronted Democrats in House and Senate races made it difficult for them to compete in state contests. Republicans did well in important Midwestern states, winning in Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. And they easily picked up conservative states with Democratic governors such as Oklahoma, Tennessee and Kansas, where Sen. Sam Brownback won the governor's seat.

Next year, governors - many of whom will be new, thanks to the abundance of races - will confront daunting fiscal challenges. The recession and modest nature of the economy recovery have left gaping holes in many state budgets.

The outcome of the gubernatorial elections could have effects stretching out a decade as states begin redistricting following the 2010 Census. It could also have an impact on the 2012 presidential race: Whoever sits in the governor's mansion can provide considerable clout on behalf of presidential candidates.

"Republican control of the majority of 2012 swing states is a major roadblock to the president's reelection and a repudiation of his policies," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said late Tuesday. "These states are the bellwethers of the nation, and they've sent a firm message to Washington that America wants smaller government and more freedom."

Redistricting next year could be particularly important in Texas, which might gain four seats in Congress because of population growth. There, Gov. Rick Perry (R) successfully fought back a challenge from former Houston mayor Bill White (D).

Ohio is far more likely to favor GOP candidates after Kasich's victory as well as Republicans winning that state's legislature.

Each cycle brings a set of rising stars - whose light can just as easily dim. Four years ago, hard-charging Attorney General Eliot Spitzer won New York's governorship and was touted as the potential future of the Democratic Party.

He resigned during a prostitution scandal, but the state remained in Democratic hands Tuesday as Andrew Cuomo, son of a former governor, defeated the Republican candidate, developer Carl Paladino, who has ties to the tea party movement.

Democrats also held on to their seat in Massachusetts, where Deval L. Patrick, the first African American governor of the state, deflected a challenge from Republican Charlie Baker, a former health-care executive, in a hotly contested race.

Winning a governorship often is a first step to a White House campaign, and this year could produce a few hopefuls. Barbour might run after his term ends next year. Kasich's win in Ohio makes him a potential contender down the road. On the Democratic side, Cuomo and O'Malley might eye higher office.

"The up-and-comers will be those who successfully return their states to solid fiscal footing with the least amount of pain for voters," said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report.

In Florida, the nation's foreclosure capital, Sink and Scott battled over each other's stewardship. Sink raised questions about Scott's role as chief executive of health-care company Columbia/HCA, which paid a massive fine for defrauding Medicare under his watch. Scott, who spent $60 million of his own money on the race, questioned Sink's oversight of state finances.

In Ohio, Strickland narrowed a large lead Kasich commanded for much of the race. Strickland attacked the former congressman for his support of free-trade agreements and his time as an employee of failed investment bank Lehman Brothers. But Kasich, popular in the state, attacked Strickland over the moribund Ohio economy and his support for Obama's stimulus plan.

In New Mexico, Democrats lost the governorship to Republican prosecutor Susana Martinez, who will become the first Hispanic female governor, replacing Bill Richardson, the first Hispanic governor. Richardson's deputy, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, was the Democratic candidate.

Republican state Rep. Nikki Haley, a tea party favorite endorsed in the GOP primary by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, defeated Democrat Vincent Sheheen in South Carolina.

In heavily Democratic Illinois, Pat Quinn, the successor to convicted governor Rod Blagojevich, struggled to overcome the state's ailing economy and defeat a challenge by state Sen. Bill Brady.

In Nevada, the son of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D), Rory Reid, lost in his bid for the state's governorship.

Republican candidates won in Pennsylvania and Georgia, and Democrats won in New Hampshire and Colorado. Other states with competitive gubernatorial races included Connecticut and Oregon.

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