Race to the Right: GOP Sweeps Governor Seats

A breakdown of the most contested races for governor.

October 29, 2010, 10:44 AM

Nov. 4, 2010 -- In a sweep of stunning and historical victories, Republicans took 29 gubernatorial seats after election night -- five seats more than when they started, and a possible precursor to what may lie ahead in the 2012 presidential election.

Although the GOP suffered a major gubernatorial loss in California, eleven governors' seats that previously belonged to Democrats have now gone to the Republicans, including swing states Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The Democrats regained two gubernatorial wins post-election night in air-tight states. The Illinois race was resolved Thursday evening when Pat Quinn, the Democratic mayor who took over for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich, was declared the winner over Republican Bill Brady has not conceded. Despite a heavily fought battle, Quinn pulled ahead and won by about 19,000 votes.

Oregon was called late Wednesday night when Republican and former NBA player Chris Dudley conceded to incumbent Democrat John Kitzhaber, handing him a historic third term.

That didn't phase the overwhelming red wave that roared throughout the country on election night. In a press conference Wednesday, President Obama said the Democratic setback "feels bad" and "it underscores for me that I have to do a better job."

He also acknowledged his party's defeat was a result of voters' "great" frustration with the enormous budget deficit, faulting economy and job loss -- all of which were reoccurring themes in races across the country.

"In the midst of an economic crisis, one of the things I take responsibly for is not pushing harder on those issues," he said, adding that, "We have not made as much progress as we need to make...and voters are not satisfied with the outcomes."

Many of the races remained incredibly tight to the bitter end from the record number of independent voters and candidates pulling away from the two major parties. Rhode Island, especially, stode out as voters elected the state's first independent governor.

The Tea Party movement also scored big gubernatorial wins in South Carolina and Ohio. Republican Nikki Haley, who had been dubbed one of Sarah Palin's "mama grizzles," was announced the winner in the Palmetto state, and in Ohio, Republican candidate John Kasich kicked out incumbent Democrat Gov. Ted Strickland.

Two gubernatorial races remain too close to call: Connecticut and Minnesota.

Connecticut's Secretary of State announced Democrat Dan Malloy has beaten Republican Tom Foley by a meer 3,103 votes on Wednesday, but Foley continues to call for a recount.

According to exit polls, Connecticut is a state where 40 percent of voters surveyed said they were Democrats, compared to just 27 percent Republicans. Once again, independents made a huge impact with voting 58-39 percent for the GOP candidate.

ABC News' Devin Dwyer reported Minnesota also may be headed into a recount -- a state where President Obama and now former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stumped together in the final stretch of the campaign. Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Sen. Mark Dayton holds a very slim 9,000 vote lead over Republican Tom Emmer.

But the current margin of votes is 0.43 percent of the total cast, triggering an automatic recount, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State's office.

In this three-way heated battle, Independent candidate Tom Horner is only carrying 12 percent, but has successfully made enough of a dent to pull voters away from the two major parties.

Even President Obama's home state of Illinois has become a battleground, as GOP state Sen. Bill Brady remains in a dead heat with Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn.

It wouldn't be an election year without a showdown in Florida. An air-tight race between multimillionaire Rick Scott and Democratic candidate Alex Sink, the state's elected chief financial officer, finally came to a close Wednesday morning.

Sink conceded to her opponent at a press conference, calling her chances of winning the race "a mathematical impossibility."

A huge campaign spender, Scott has drawn fire over a Medicare fraud scandal at a hospital corporation he once headed and has spent $60 million of his own money to stay in the race.

Other hotly contested gubernatorial results for Maine and Vermont also didn't come in until Wednesday morning.

Maine, another one of several states this election season where independents made a big difference, Independent candidate Eliot Cutler conceded to Republican Paul LePage. In Vermont, Republican Brian Dubie conceded to Democrat Peter Shumlin.

In a flashback from the past last night, former Gov. Jerry Brown won back the California governorship against the largest self-financed campaign in history: Republican candidate and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman.

Brown, who served as California governor for two terms beginning in 1975 and is currently attorney general, began to gain momentum leading up to the polls in what had been an incredibly tight race.

The only bump in what was otherwise a calm campaign came a few weeks ago when one of his staffers call Whitman a "whore" over pension reform. Brown quickly apologized, but never identified the staffer.

Outgoing Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tweeted: "Just called to congratulate @JerryBrown2010. Looking forward to Maria & me getting together w/ him & Anne to talk abt a smooth transition."

This election season has shattered precedents in several arenas, not least of which was the size of Whitman's war chest.

The biggest spender of them all, Whitman poured more than $141 million of her own money into her campaign. It broke the record for the most expensive self-financed campaign ever, and she reportedly said she was willing to go up to $160 million if it could get her the win.

Another precedent broken, Rhode Island voters turned away from the two major party candidates to elect Sen. Lincoln Chafee, the state's first independent governor, after Democrat Frank Caprio lashed out at President Obama for not endorsing him.

The race swung Chafee's way when Caprio said Obama could "shove it" for endorsing the Independent candidate over him. Since then, Caprio fell to third place in a field that also included Republican John Robitaille.

Chafee pulled in 36 percent of the vote, with Robitaille drawing 34 percent. Ken Brock of the Moderate Party, another Independent candidate, also helped pull voters away from the major parties by taking roughly 8 percent.

In South Carolina, Tea Party favorite Nikki Haley rode the conservative wave to the governor's office, defeating Democrat state Sen. Vincent Sheheen.

Haley, a former state representative, not only gives the Tea Party movement its first governor, she will become the first female governor of South Carolina and the first female Indian-American governor in U.S. history.

In the first open gubernatorial election in South Carolina since 1994, Haley was a Tea Party favorite and dubbed one of Sarah Palin's "mama grizzles." Born Nimrata Randhawa in Bamberg, S.C., to parents who emigrated from India, Haley had been fighting an uphill battle with Sheheen for weeks.

Preliminary exit poll results found that among the 41 percent of South Carolina voters who support the Tea Party, Haley won by a thumping 85-12 percent over Sheheen.

Palin's support didn't help save Tom Tancredo in Colorado. Despite Palin's 11th hour endorsement, ABC News projected that Democrat John Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver, would win the governor's race.

Tancredo is a Republican, but he ran as the American Constitution Party candidate after failing to win the GOP nomination.

ABC News projects the Massachusetts governor's seat will go to incumbent Democrat Gov. Deval Patrick, a close friend of Obama's who came to the state to stump for him.

Patrick narrowly beat out Republican Charles Baker in a race that was so tight that Obama worked hard to drum up support for the black candidate in a relatively white state.

What fueled this heated battle was the unprecedented number of independent voters. According to the Washington Post, a whopping 52 percent of Massachusetts' 4.2 million registered voters surveyed said they were undecided heading into the polls.

Three other incumbent Democrats -- Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland, Gov. John Lynch of New Hampshire and Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas -- also held on to their seats on a night that saw Republicans make gains across the country.

Lynch, who will be serving his fourth term, and Beebe both faced three-way races but kept a consistent lead in the polls, unlike most Democrats -- even other incumbents -- across the country.

ABC News projects that Democrat Andrew Cuomo will defeat Tea Party favorite Carl Paladino for the New York gubernatorial seat, in what has been a bitter campaign of mudslinging from both sides.

"I am blessed," said Cuomo in his victory speech, who acknowledged that voters were "angry with an economic situation they did not cause."

He also took a slab at his opponent's rough campaign, saying, "the campaign is over and the politics are over."

In what was once a close race, Cuomo, the current attorney general, slowly crept up in the polls to take a double-digit lead over Paladino, who was plagued by controversy in the final weeks of his campaign.

In his concession speech, Paladino said of the campaign, "When I say brutal I mean brutal ... it ain't pretty, and it sure ain't fair."

The Republican candidate was dogged by reports of racy emails he sent out containing inappropriate images and racial slurs. Paladino also made headlines when he threatened a New York Post reporter.

Cuomo will succeed the "accidental" Gov. David Patterson who did not seek re-election after Gov. Eliot Spitzer left office in 2008.

Hawaii also saw a strong Democratic win when exit polls projected U.S. Rep Neil Abercrombie beat out Republican Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona.

It hasn't been an easy ride for the Democrats in the gubernatorial elections as several other states are coming up red. There has been resurgence in former governors looking to win back their stately mansions this year.

Republican former Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa won his job back at the governor's mansion when he beat incumbent Democrat Gov. Chet Culver, according to exit polls. Brandstad held the seat from 1983 to 1999, making him the longest-serving governor in Iowa history.

Alaska and Idaho remained in the Republican fold, as incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell overtook Democrat Ethan Berkowitz in Alaska, and In Idaho, C.L. "Butch" Otter won re-election over Democrat Keith Allred. Palin, an Idaho native, endorsed Otter on a conservative website, saying he is a voice for "commonsense conservatism."

Another Republican incumbent who was able to hang on to her governorship was Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Despite what she called "brain freezes" during a debate against her challenger, Democrat Terry Goddard, Brewer pulled through with a double-digit lead, based on exit polls.

Georgia experienced the opposite effect when ABC News projected former Republican Rep. Nathan Deal to beat out Democrat Roy Barnes, who had served as governor from 1999 to 2003.

History-making governor races of a different kind are being won in New Mexico and Oklahoma, where two women faced off for the governor's seat in both states. It's the first time either state has elected a woman to its top office.

New Mexico switched to red and elected Republican Susana Martinez over Democrat Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. Martinez, who is also the first female Hispanic governor in U.S. history, had held a 10-point lead in the polls for the last week of campaigning.

In Oklahoma, ABC News is projecting that Republican candidate Rep. Mary Fallin will defeat Democratic Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, based on exit polls.

Having a female opponent didn't stop Fallin from taking a few jabs at her challenger over women's issues towards the end of the campaign.

"I think my experience is one of the things that sets me apart as a candidate for governor," Fallin said at a debate in October. "First of all, being a mother, having children, raising a family."

Askins, a former judge who has never been married or had children, later defended herself on "Good Morning America," saying neither marriage nor parenting experience should be a prerequisite for being governor.

Based on exit polls, four other blue states have made the switch to red in the governor's seat: Kansas, Michigan, Wyoming and Tennessee.

In Pennsylvania, Republican candidate Tom Corbett is expected to win over Democrat Dan Onorato, and in Michigan, Republican businessman Rick Synder is expected to beat out Democratic candidate and Lansing mayor Virg Bernero, respectively.

Republican Sam Brownback, a retired senator, stepped out of the political shadows and took the governship in Kansas. The one-time presidential hopeful beat out Democrat state Sen. Tom Holland.

In Texas, incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry will extend his already decade-long tenure -- the longest in the state's history -- as ABC News projected him to be the winner over Democrat Bill White. Throughout his faltering campaign, White's donors dumped tons of cash into the challenger's war chest but to no avail.

Republicans are creeping into the Midwest and West, claiming gubernatorial seats in Nevada, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota.

It's no surprise that there's Reid family drama in Nevada, even in the gubernatorial race. Republican candidate Brian Sandoval is expected to defeat Democratic candidate, Rory Reid, the son of newly re-elected Sen. Harry Reid, based on exit poll results. Sandoval will become Nevada's first Hispanic governor.

Preliminary exit polls show well-financed Republican Matt Mead, with family roots deep within Wyoming politics, expected to win over Democrat Leslie Petersen in what has been a heated campaign.

ABC News also projects Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam will claim victory in Tennessee over Democrat Mike McWherter, in what continues historically to be a strong red state. As expected, the former Knoxville mayor beat his opponent by double digits.

It was a similar story in Alabama and Utah, where ABC News projects Republican candidate, two-term state legislator Dr. Robert Bentley to beat out Democrat Ron Sparks, and incumbent Republican Gov. Gary Herbert held onto his seat against Democrat Peter Corroon, a former Salt Lake City mayor.

Republicans took 28 governorships after the 2004 elections, but only 22 spots after 2008, with runoff elections in New Jersey and Virginia in 2009 bringing the total to 24. Now it seems that GOP momentum will be carried through in 2010, a year when a record 37 governor seats were on the line.

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