Republicans won the North Carolina governor’s office from Democrats to take control of 30 U.S. statehouses, the most in more than a decade.
The party also held off re-election challenges in Utah and North Dakota, and retained the corner office in Indiana, where Republican Mitch Daniels stepped down because of term limits. Democrats previously controlled the governor’s offices in eight of the 11 states voting for their chief executives today.
The Republican victories build on gains made two years ago, when the party’s candidates rode a wave of economic discontent to capture 11 governor’s offices from Democrats and reclaim a majority it lost in 2006. Its winners this year pledged to cut taxes and spur economic growth. There were 29 Republicans in governors’ seats heading into yesterday’s election, compared with 20 held by Democrats and one filled by an independent.
“The story is Republicans did well elsewhere, so it wasn’t a wholesale repudiation of the party,” even with a loss by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor with the Cook Political Report in Washington. “It provides them with plenty of bragging rights.”
The four Republican victories mean the party will hold at least 30 governor’s seats next year, the most since 2000. In two states, Montana and Washington, no winner had been called. Republicans won open races, where no incumbent was running, in Indiana and North Carolina, while Democrats kept New Hampshire.
The Granite State elected Democrat Maggie Hassan to replace Governor John Lynch, a Democrat who chose to step down at the end of his latest two-year term.
Hassan defeated Ovide Lamontagne, who called himself the “Tea Party favorite” and touted his opposition to a state income-tax on wages. Hassan’s win makes her just the second woman ever elected to lead New Hampshire. By next year, she’ll be the nation’s only Democratic woman governor.
Republicans won in North Carolina for the first time since 1988 as Pat McCrory defeated Democrat Walter Dalton. McCrory, a seven-term mayor of Charlotte, the state’s largest city, will become just the third Republican to hold the office in the past 100 years.
“I call this the buyer’s remorse race, because McCrory ran in 2008, and he narrowly lost to Beverly Perdue, who was so unpopular she couldn’t even run for re-election,” Duffy said. North Carolina voters may be thinking, “‘We should have voted for that guy in the first place,’” she said.
Governors haven’t been blamed for perceived faults with the nation’s government, Brad Coker, a Washington-based managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., said before the polls opened.
“There’s a lot of frustration with Washington, but you drill down to the state races and you just don’t see it,” Coker said. “People really aren’t blaming their governors for anything that’s going on in terms of the economy or the issues that matter to them.”
In the Midwest, Republican U.S. Representative Mike Pence was elected to succeed Daniels as Indiana governor. Pence, who won six terms in Congress, defeated Democratic challenger John Gregg, a former speaker of the state House. Daniels plans to become president of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
It was a good day for incumbents from both parties. Utah Republican Governor Gary Herbert held off Democrat Peter Cooke, a retired major general in the U.S. Army Reserve and small- business owner. North Dakota’s Governor Jack Dalrymple, also a Republican, successfully defended his seat against a challenge from Democrat Ryan Taylor, his party’s leader in the state Senate, where they are in the minority.
Incumbent Democrats Jay Nixon in Missouri, Jack Markell in Delaware and Governor Peter Shumlin in Vermont defeated challengers. Nixon fended off Republican Dave Spence. Markell beat Republican Jeff Cragg, a mail-receiving business owner. Shumlin won a second term by besting Republican Randy Brock, a former executive vice president for risk oversight at Fidelity Investments.
The new governors will enter statehouses after their peers and predecessors cut spending to close almost $600 billion in cumulative budget gaps since fiscal 2009, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Washington-based nonprofit organization focuses on issues affecting lower-income Americans.
About 5.08 million people worked for U.S. states in October, down 2.3 percent from an August 2008 peak of almost 5.21 million, according to U.S. Labor Department figures. Governors nationwide cut jobs to cope with revenue declines from a recession from December 2007 to June 2009, the longest since the 1930s.
“Most states have to balance their budgets, so you’re not dealing with deficits in a lot of cases,” Mason-Dixon’s Coker said. “People understand it’s the economy and that problem comes out of Washington much more than it comes out of the state capital.”
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