Race to the Right: GOP Sweeps Governor Seats

A breakdown of the most contested races for governor.

ByABC News
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.