GOP Grabs 30 Governor Seats, Highest for Either Party in Over a Decade

PHOTO: Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory, center, greets supporters during a campaign stop at a polling place in Charlotte, N.C., Nov. 6, 2012.
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North Carolina elected its first Republican governor in more than two decades, securing 30 gubernatorial seats for the GOP.

Republican Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor who had been leading in the polls in the final days leading up to the election, defeated Democratic candidate Walter Dalton, the state's lieutenant governor, with 55 percent to 43 percent of the vote, according to ABC News projections.

It was a major milestone for the Republican party. Not only was it the first time North Carolina had elected a Republican governor since 1988, it also gave the GOP 30 statehouse seats, the highest number for either party in 12 years. The Democrats now have 19 governor seats. One state, Rhode Island, has an independent governor.

Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst for Cook Political Report, a non-partisan election analyst group, said the significance of Republicans winning the majority of statehouse seats is that it gives them "bragging rights," especially after President Obama clinched his re-election.

"If Romney loses [today], one of their talking points will be governors," Duffy said. "If you have two-thirds of the nation's governors on the same policy and that share similarities, then you have something that has a combined larger effect... [Republicans] would argue they have all these governors implementing the same kinds of policy, that's only good for Republicans."

North Carolina's governor's race was a big target for the Republican party. Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, who narrowly beat McCrory in 2008, served one term but was not seeking re-election.

The Republican Governors Association spent nearly $6 million in advertising buys to support McCrory and link Dalton to Perdue after a grand jury indicted one of Perdue's top aides for allegedly scheming to pay a staff member off the books in violation of state election laws.

Duffy said state Democrats made a mistake putting up Dalton against McCrory.

"Beverly Perdue was so unpopular she couldn't run for a second term," Duffy said. "It's easy to tag [Dalton] with everything she did, so Democrats kind of gave up on that one two or three weeks ago."

ABC News projected that the GOP also celebrated a gubernatorial win in Indiana when Republican Mike Pence defeated Democrat John Gregg. The Indiana governor's race was expected to be a lock for Pence, a six-term congressman, in a state that is traditionally deep red. But Gregg, a former Indiana House speaker, held him off for a few hours after the polls closed. Gregg had gained some last minute traction after painting Pence as an extremist, similar to Indiana's Tea Party-backed Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who created a controversy last month by saying pregnancy resulting from rape is something "God intended to happen."

Current Republican Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is term-limited and not eligible for re-election.

The Democrats scored a big gubernatorial win tonight in New Hampshire, one of three statehouse races that were considered toss-ups in the final days leading up to the election.

Democratic candidate Maggie Hassan, a former state Senate majority leader who had kept a slight lead in a tight race over the past few days, beat Republican challenger Ovide Lamontagne, despite the Republican Governors Association dumping a reportedly $6 million advertising buy into Lamontagne's campaign over the weekend.

Current New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat who has been in office for eight years, is retiring after his term.

It was an important win in the Democrats' column because New Hampshire, despite its meager four electoral votes, is considered a key battleground state in the presidential election. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney made last-minute campaign stops there before Election Day, and ABC News projected that the Granite state will go to Obama.

There were other open statehouse races that were too close to call heading into Election Day.

The battle for retiring Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire's seat has been fierce between GOP candidate Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee. They have reportedly raised over $9 million each for a gubernatorial seat a Republican hasn't taken in over 30 years. Duffy said the race is close because voters in that state are ready for a change.

"There are issues some Democratic governors have promised to solve and they haven't. Education, that's a big one, and the economy is not doing all that well," she said. "[But] McKenna is going to have to really overcome a strong performance by Obama if he's really going to win there."

In Montana, Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock faced off against former Republican Rep. Rick Hill with narrow poll margins between them. Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who has been in office since 2005, is not eligible for re-election because of term limits.

Six incumbent governors faced re-election, four Democrats and two Republicans. Democrats grabbed the first two gubernatorial wins of the night with incumbent victories in Vermont and Delaware, two states that ABC News projected went to Obama.

In those states, both of which were expected to remain blue, Democratic incumbents Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware and Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont were elected to second terms.

Democratic incumbents Jay Nixon of Missouri and Earl Ray Tomblin of West Viriginia faced stiff Republican challenges, but both kept their seats.

Nixon became the first governor of his state to be elected for a second term in 16 years. Tomblin defeated GOP candidate Bill Maloney for a second time. He narrowly beat Maloney in a special election just last year after then-governor Joe Manchin won a seat to the Senate.

The two Republican incumbents, North Dakota's Jack Dalrymple and Utah's Gary Herbert, both cruised to a second term.

  But despite these contests, Duffy said the real gubernatorial races to watch are the ones yet to come in the next election cycle, especially Virginia, a key swing state that elected a Republican governor in 2010 for the first time in over a decade, and New Jersey, where Democrats will have to find a challenger to go against Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Christie has enjoyed a steady approval rating in the 50s for the past few weeks.

  "There are going to be a number of open seats and both parties have some problematic governors," Duffy said. "Midterms aren't influenced by the presidential election, they stand on their own, and there are just so many more of them."

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