WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans on Tuesday captured governorships that had been held by Democrats in Michigan, Tennessee, Kansas and Oklahoma and hoped for many other statehouse gains as voters selected governors in more than two-thirds of the nation.
Yet there were a few bright spots for Democrats in the face of an anti-incumbent groundswell sweeping the country. New York Democrat Andrew Cuomo surged past tea party Republican Carl Paladino to win the governor's seat, the same post his father, Mario, had held two decades ago.
And the Democratic governors of Maryland, New Hampshire and Arkansas turned aside Republican challenges.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley withstood a hard-fought challenge from his predecessor, Republican former Gov. Robert Ehrlich. New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch and Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe also were re-elected.
But most of the news for Democrats was gloomy, as the same wave that engulfed congressional Democrats took its toll on statehouses.
In Michigan, Republican businessman Rick Snyder, who vowed to turn around the state's devastated economy, defeated Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, a Democrat. The current Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, did not seek re-election.
In Oklahoma, U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, a Republican, became the state's first female governor. She defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Jari Askins to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Brad Henry.
In Tennessee, Republican Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam defeated Democratic businessman Mike McWherter to win the state's open governorship. Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen was term-limited and could not run.
And in Kansas, conservative Republican Sen. Sam Brownback defeated Democratic state Sen. Tom Holland to win the governorship. Democrat Kathleen Sibelius was elected in 2002 and again in 2006 before joining President Barack Obama's cabinet as secretary of Health and Human Services. Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson took her place but did not run for a full term.
In a high-profile race into which both parties spent millions, Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has already served 10 years, defeated Democrat Bill White, a former mayor of Houston. Perry, who earlier survived a spirited GOP primary challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, had aligned himself with the Sarah Palin wing of the Republican Party.
South Dakota's Republican lieutenant governor, Dennis Daugaard, defeated Democratic challenger Scott Heidepriem to succeed term-limited Gov. Mike Rounds, keeping the seat in GOP hands. Alabama also remained in the Republican column as state Rep. Robert Bentley defeated Democratic nominee Ron Sparks. Republican Gov. Bob Riley is term-limited.
In Nebraska, Republican Gov. Dave Heineman was easily re-elected over the Democratic candidate, lawyer Mike Meister.
Democrats looked for some other consolation prizes, hoping for a win by Democrat Jerry Brown to get his old job back as governor of California.
But clearly, this Election Day was not one Democrats were savoring, with anti-incumbent fever rampant and unemployment stuck for months at near 10 percent.
Historically, the party holding the White House has lost around five governorships in the first midterm election after a new president takes office. Analysts in both parties expected Democratic casualties to be higher this year. Republicans anticipated a net pickup of at least six and possibly as many as 12. Democrats hoped losses could be held to the smaller number.
Republicans eyed potential gains of governorships now held by Democrats across a wide swath of the industrial Midwest and Great Lakes, from Iowa to Pennsylvania. Besides having some of the nation's highest jobless rates, many of these rust-belt states have traditionally been presidential swing states.
The GOP fought hard to increase its foothold in New England, traditionally Democratic turf but this year very much in play. Republicans sought to claim governorships held by Democrats in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine and to extend GOP reigns in Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut.
Both national parties spent heavily on the race. The Republican Governors Association said it spent $102 million this year, roughly half of it in 10 states it deemed crucial to the 2012 presidential contest: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The Democratic Governors Association spent roughly $50 million.
Some 37 governorships were on the line. Why so many? A coincidental combination of the usual rotation plus races to fill unexpired terms and some states changing their election cycles.
Of these races, 24 were for "open" seats, ones in which no incumbent was running. Some incumbents were term-limited; others decided not to run in such hard economic times.
In Florida, Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist decided to run for the Senate, a contest he lost Tuesday.
Florida's was among the hardest-fought races in the country, with both parties spending millions on the race between Republican businessman Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer. Another closely watched race, and one of the fiercest, was in Ohio, where Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland battled for a second term against Republican Jon Kasich, a former chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Many incumbents who chose to run, as did Strickland, faced stiff competition. Democratic Govs. Chet Culver of Iowa and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts were among this year's endangered Democratic incumbents.
In California, Democrat Brown, currently the attorney general, was in a fierce battle with billionaire Republican Meg Whitman. The former CEO of eBay poured more than $150 million of her own money into the campaign, making it the most expensive nonpresidential race in the nation's history.
There are currently 26 Democratic governors and 24 Republicans.
Governors were directly in the line of fire in high unemployment states, and many had already been casualties of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Unlike the federal government, most states can't borrow to spend or print money.
That resulted in higher taxes and layoffs across the nation. In the budget year that ended in September, 29 states increased taxes by a total of $24 billion, the largest amount in more than 30 years, according to the bipartisan National Governors Association.
That didn't lead to an atmosphere conducive to incumbents seeking re-election; or for members of the party that now controls the White House and both houses of Congress.
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