Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich was
the projected winner just minutes after polls closed Tuesday, and Democrat Tom Wolf was the expected winner in Pennsylvania over incumbent GOP Gov. Tom Corbett – the first results of 36 gubernatorial contests across the country that not only will help shape policy debates but may even set the stage for the 2016 presidential election.
Kasich's win could put him in a comfortable spot to launch what many feel may be a possible 2016 run at the White House.
"A big win would certainly be beneficial to a presidential campaign, John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss School for Applied Politics at the University of Akron, told the Columbus Dispatch.
has projected Wolf the winner in Pennsylvania, where anti-incumbent fervor may have come into play.
"There's a strong anti-incumbent mood," said John Green, professor of political science at the University of Akron and director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.
"Although the economy is definitely better than it was a year ago, it's not up to anybody's expectations, and governors are in a real hot spot," Green said. "They're the ones who have to cut programs or raise taxes."
But a bitter race in Florida between incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott and former GOP governor-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist continued right up until the time polls closed.
The Crist for Governor campaign filed an emergency motion with the Circuit Court for the 17th Judicial Circuit to extend voting hours in Democrat-heavy Broward County until 9 p.m., citing, according to the Miami Herald,
"individual and systemic breakdowns that made it difficult for voters to cast regular ballots."
the motion was denied, although voters in line would be allowed to vote despite the 7 p.m. deadline.
Crist is hoping for a large turnout in urban Democratic strongholds of South Florida, while Scott is banking on rural conservative voters in north and central areas of the state. Early returns showed the pair running neck-and-neck.
The Florida gubernatorial race has been both fractious and expensive, highlighting issues from the minimum wage to a small floor fan that upended a debate between the candidates. Both have had poor favorability ratings among votes, ABC News
Nathan Gonzalez, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, described the Florida race as "two unpopular politicians running against each other in a very large and expensive state."
Elsewhere, more than a dozen gubernatorial elections were considered too close to call, and several incumbents were struggling to defend their fiscal policies and keep their jobs, experts said.
Hot-button issues included taxes, gun control, abortion restrictions and healthcare costs in races around the nation.
For many voters, however, the economy is the central issue. An uneven recovery could prove the undoing of several incumbents, including the governors of Kansas and Pennsylvania, who are being held accountable for their states' fiscal woes.
"We've had a very difficult economy for years, and anyone in office is going to be held partly accountable, especially governors," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "They're not called 'little presidents' for nothing."
Party control of governorships is seen as critical in the 2016 White House contest, when candidates use governors to help build state-by-state support toward a possible nomination.
Potential 2016 presidential hopeful Scott Walker was among the incumbents seeking re-election on Tuesday in Wisconsin.
The Republican became a champion of conservatives when he led the state's efforts to cut back the powers of public-sector unions.
Recent polls had him running neck-and-neck with Democrat Mary Burke, a former business executive.
Voter Greg Tellijohn, 63, a small business owner, said he was decidedly opposed to re-electing Walker.
"Get rid of him. He's not for the people. He's not for healthcare. He turned down money for rapid transit. He doesn't compromise," Tellijohn said.
Another voter, John Schumacher, 62, said he recently moved to Wisconsin and had made sure he was registered so he could cast a ballot for Walker.
"I like the fact that he's not afraid to go against public opinion," Schumacher said. "He's not scared about what people are thinking or feeling."
Going into Tuesday, Republicans held 29 governorships compared with the Democrats' 21.
Fourteen governors' races were seen as toss-ups, and at least 10 incumbent governors were battling to save their jobs, experts projected.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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