Republicans won governors’ seats from Democrats in Michigan, Pennsylvania and at least eight other states, capitalizing on economic discontent to win a majority of U.S. capitols.
Promising to reduce spending and stoke the economy, Republicans yesterday took Midwestern presidential battlegrounds held by Democrats, including Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio. With results from some of the 37 races still undetermined, Republicans emerged with at least 27 to regain the dominance they lost four years ago.
The state candidates were aided by voters who delivered a rebuke to the policies of President Barack Obama in congressional elections that gave Republicans control of the U.S. House and weakened the Democrats’ hold on the Senate.
“They benefited from the national Republican tide,” said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., a Washington company that conducted surveys on state races. “It’s a trickle down. A lot of these governors tried to nationalize this race.”
The victories expand Republican power before the presidential election two years from now. The added governorships increase Republican influence in redrawing of congressional districts and in the policies of states reeling from the recession’s lingering financial strains.
Democrats held 26 governorships heading into the election. Republicans said gaining control of states, including New Mexico and Pennsylvania, that are expected to play a pivotal role in the 2012 election will impede Obama’s path to another term.
“Republican control of the majority of 2012 swing states is a major roadblock to the President’s re-election and a repudiation of his policies,” said Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association. “These states are the bellwethers of the nation.”
Concern about government deficits, taxes and the economy dominated the gubernatorial contests. Rick Snyder, former president of computermaker Gateway Inc., carried Michigan after promising to turn around the ailing economy, while Pennsylvania chose Tom Corbett, an attorney general who promised to cut spending.
Ohio’s John Kasich, a former congressman and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. banker, defeated incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland after promising a more business-friendly environment to spur job growth. Scott Walker, who took Wisconsin for the Republicans, spoke against the construction of a high-speed railroad project that he called a boondoggle.
Governors oversee more than $600 billion in annual spending, giving them power over schools, public works and programs such as Medicaid, the health care system for the poor. This year, the battles attracted added interest because states are set to redraw districts for the U.S. House, giving those in power a chance to draft favorable boundaries.
Republicans also headed toward historic gains in local legislatures, which play a dominant role in redistricting, by winning control over chambers in Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“The two major parties are keenly aware that they have to go all-out on these state elections this year because redistricting will have a major impact on the control of the House going forward,” said Tim Storey, who follows redistricting for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
There were some bright spots for Democrats. Former Governor Jerry Brown won in California, now led by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. Brown defeated Meg Whitman, who was EBay Inc.’s chief executive officer and who poured at least $141.6 million of her own fortune into the campaign.
In New York, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic attorney general, won the race for governor by defeating Republican Carl Paladino, a Tea Party-backed neophyte whose campaign faltered after well- publicized gaffes. Massachusetts incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick was re-elected.
Democrats were punished elsewhere for the slow-growing economy that has left nearly 15 million unemployed across the U.S. Pennsylvania voter Katie Noonan, a 24-year-old Democrat from Yardley, was among those who backed Republican Corbett after two terms under current Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat.
“Democrats had a lot of great opportunities to get things accomplished and they really haven’t,” she said in an interview. “I’m like a lot of voters: The economy at the national and state level was the most important thing for me. That’s why I crossed the aisle.”
While the recession has ended, the economy isn’t growing quickly enough to replace jobs lost during the longest economic slide since the Great Depression. September unemployment was 9.6 percent, according to the Labor Department.
The vote in Illinois, where Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn is seeking re-election, was too close to call early today. Florida’s race may be forced into a recount if the margin of victory isn’t wide enough, as could the contest in Minnesota.
Republicans picked up governorships held by Democrats in Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming. In addition to California, Democrats carried Hawaii, where Neil Abercrombie, who left his House seat to run, will succeed Republican Linda Lingle.
The new crop of governors will confront deficits that are forcing states to raise taxes, fire workers and cut spending on schools, welfare and public work. Thirty-nine states project a collective $112 billion of deficits for the 2012 fiscal year, a figure that is likely to swell, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group in Washington.
With Republicans, many of whom promised austerity, in control of the House of Representatives, local officials can’t count on help from Washington, said Christopher Mier, a managing director for Loop Capital Markets, the Chicago-based investment bank.
“The easy cuts have already been made,” Mier said ahead of the vote. “And it becomes progressively more politically problematic to discuss any kind of tax raise, for most states at least. So it’s a more difficult problem now in a way than it was two years ago.”
--With assistance from Terrence Dopp in Trenton, Henry Goldman in New York and Dunstan McNichol in Trenton. Editors: Stephen Merelman, Pete Young.
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