The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Voters choose governors in 36 states; DeSantis re-elected in Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), holding his son Mason at an election night party in Tampa, won a decisive victory Nov. 8. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)
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Republicans and Democrats alike hailed rising political stars in Tuesday’s gubernatorial races, with both sides claiming key victories among the 36 seats up for election across the country.

In Florida, a strong showing from Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) keeps him on track for a presumed presidential run in 2024. DeSantis won a second term over Democrat Charlie Crist, a former Florida governor, by a nearly 20 percentage point margin after seeming in control of the race all year.

Since his narrow victory four years ago, DeSantis has dominated Florida’s politics with an aggressively conservative style that has made him an early rival to former president Donald Trump in the next GOP presidential sweepstakes. DeSantis’s victory was so complete that he seemed poised to carry Miami-Dade County, which no Republican gubernatorial candidate has won in 20 years.

Democratic incumbents managed to avoid upsets in several significant races and appeared poised to hang onto most or all of the 16 governor’s seats they were defending, though results in some races were still incomplete after midnight. For the most part, election-denying challengers anointed by Trump fared poorly in governor’s races.

On top of that, Democrats flipped executive mansions in Maryland and Massachusetts from red to blue.

Democrat Wes Moore became the first African American candidate elected governor of Maryland and only the third Black man elected governor of any state. He defeated Republican Dan Cox, a state lawmaker and conservative Christian advocate of home schooling whom outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan (R) did not support.

And in Massachusetts, state attorney general Maura Healey (D) became the first openly lesbian candidate elected governor of any state. She defeated Republican former state representative Geoff Diehl.

In Pennsylvania, state attorney general Josh Shapiro appeared to have defeated Republican Doug Mastriano, a state senator and military veteran, though delays in tabulating votes in Philadelphia slowed the final tally.

Mastriano ran a far-right campaign in a fairly evenly divided state, openly embracing Christian nationalism and denying the results of the 2020 presidential election. He consistently lagged in polls, while Shapiro ran a widely praised campaign and is seen by Democrats as having a bright future.

In another state with a stark choice for governor — Arizona — Democrat Katie Hobbs maintained a double-digit lead over Republican Kari Lake, with almost half of precincts reporting. The race has been extremely close between Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, and Lake, a former TV news anchor who has fully embraced Trump and his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) secured his position as a party leader by defeating Democrat Beto O’Rourke. Though O’Rourke campaigned heavily in the state’s blue cities and aimed his appeal at voters concerned about Abbott making it harder to get abortions while making it easier to get guns, Abbott had led consistently in polls.

At a voting place in Houston, consultant Barbara Yanez, 38, said she leans conservative and opposed the state’s coronavirus lockdown, but voted for Democrats “because of abortion.”

Pete, 43, a self-employed conservative voter and father of three who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition that he be identified only by his first name because of privacy concerns, said he voted for Republicans, including Abbott, to protect, “the Second Amendment, the life of the unborn, the border and some of the stuff in the school systems” including banning critical race theory and books with sexual content.

In Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams conceded to Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in a race that was a rematch of 2018, when Abrams — a former state lawmaker — came within 1.4 percentage points of Kemp, Georgia’s former secretary of state.

Abrams built a national reputation for her efforts to register voters and get new voters to the polls, winning credit from Democrats for helping Joe Biden eke out a win in Georgia in 2020. But Kemp, too, rose in stature, facing down lies from Trump that the presidential election was “stolen.”

While she was seeking to become the first Black woman elected governor of any state, Abrams seemed to struggle in opinion polls to get the same enthusiasm this year from Democrats — and particularly Black voters.

Election offices across Georgia described short lines and few issues at polling places. Election Day was “wonderfully, stupendously boring,” said Gabriel Sterling, the Georgia secretary of state’s chief operating officer, during an afternoon news conference.

Voting rights groups echoed a similar sentiment, though expressed worry about scattered instances of polling places opening late and the potential intimidation of voters.

“It’s been a relatively smooth day at the polls, but we’ve seen some incidents, including increased police presence at several polling locations and a few last-minute polling place changes,” said Maya Brown-Laws, a spokeswoman for the New Georgia Project, a voting rights group.

Elsewhere, incomplete results in some key races showed incumbents performing well. That included Gov. Laura Kelly (D) in red-leaning Kansas, where she had a slim edge over state Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R) with most votes tallied in a contest considered to be a toss-up.

Schmidt campaigned by repeatedly tying Kelly to Biden and his low approval numbers, but Kelly emphasized an independent streak and touted endorsements from several former Republican officeholders. Earlier this summer, Kansas raised Democratic hopes for the midterms when voters emphatically rejected an antiabortion amendment to the state constitution.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) had a double-digit lead over Republican former governor Paul LePage with nearly three-quarters of the vote counted, while Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) defeated state public school superintendent Joy Hofmeister (D) in what had been a surprisingly close race.

Two far more competitive races were still unclear several hours after polls closed. In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) was leading Trump-backed Republican Tudor Dixon with nearly two-thirds of precincts reporting.

Whitmer, sometimes mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, had seemed strong throughout much of the summer but saw her position erode in the closing weeks of the campaign. Dixon, a former right-wing commentator and political neophyte, has attacked Whitmer on familiar Republican themes of inflation, parental concerns and pandemic-era restrictions.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers (D) was leading Republican Tim Michels, a construction executive who has battled even with Evers in recent polling. The race was considered a toss-up and could go down to the wire.

New York was also a late-breaking concern for Democrats, who spent much of the year confident that Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) was secure in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. Her Republican opponent, Rep. Lee Zeldin, gained ground in the polls by hammering the issue of crime; he trailed in early returns.

Hochul, the former lieutenant governor who rose to the top job in 2021, when Andrew M. Cuomo (D) resigned over sexual harassment allegations, is the first woman to serve as governor of New York and hopes to become the first woman elected to the job. She held a significant lead with more than three-quarters of votes counted.

Matt Brown in Atlanta and Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston contributed to this report.