Democrats gain governors’ seats, but GOP holds some states

Republicans maintain control of Florida, Ohio and Iowa, likely to be crucial in the 2020 presidential elections

Washington, D.C.: Republicans fended off strong Democratic challenges on Tuesday to hold on to the governorships of Florida, Ohio and Iowa, maintaining their control of three states likely to be crucial in the 2020 presidential elections.


But Democrats seized governorships in three states now controlled by Republicans: Illinois, Michigan and, in a surprising outcome in a Republican stronghold, Kansas.

The results expanded the number of states with Democratic chief executives — an important consideration as Legislatures begin the process of drawing congressional district lines. But they fell short of what many party leaders were hoping for and reflected a night of mixed tidings for the party out of power.

The victory in Florida by Ron DeSantis, a Republican supporter of Trump, turned back the historic effort by Andrew Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor, who was seeking to become the first African-American governor of his state.

Republicans took another important battleground state with a victory in Ohio by Mike DeWine, the attorney general, who defeated Richard Cordray, a Democrat and former federal regulator. And in Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican, defeated Fred Hubbell, a Democrat and wealthy businessman, in a toss-up contest that had hinged on local issues including the state’s health care system and its economy.

But the loss in Kansas by Kris Kobach, a deeply conservative secretary of state and also a staunch ally of Trump, marked a setback for the party in one of the most conservative regions in the country. He was beaten by Laura Kelly, a Democratic member of the Kansas Senate.

Democrats also captured Republican-held gubernatorial seats in Illinois and Michigan. J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, defeated Bruce Rauner, who has been governor of Illinois since 2015, and Gretchen Whitmer, a former member of the Michigan state legislature, defeated Bill Schuette, the Republican attorney general who also ran with the support of Trump.

In Colorado, Jared Polis, a Democratic member of Congress, became the first openly gay man elected governor, defeating Walker Stapleton, a Republican and the state treasurer. Christine Hallquist of Vermont failed in her bid to become the first transgender governor in the nation, as Governor Phil Scott, a Republican, handily turned back her challenge and captured a second term as the state’s chief executive.

And in California, Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor, easily won election over John Cox, a Republican businessman, inheriting the mantle of Gov. Jerry Brown as the leader of arguably the most Democratic state in the country.

Newsom loped to an easy victory, riding the overwhelmingly Democratic edge in the state but also the strong opposition to Trump. The president endorsed Cox in the primary.

The results came on a night when Republicans were trying to keep control of governor’s seats in crucial rust-belt states that Trump won in 2016, including Wisconsin, which was too close to call late in the evening.

The contests for governor were, to a considerable extent, overshadowed by the battle for control of Congress during this contentious election season. But along with the battle to control state legislatures they could prove significant in setting the nation’s political landscape for the next decade.

This new class of governors will take office as states prepare for the highly partisan process of drawing congressional and legislative districts. Republicans seized power in states across the nation in 2010, in the first midterm election of the presidency of Barack Obama, which put them in a position to use the redistricting process to cement their majority in Congress.

The battle between Gillum and DeSantis was one of the most closely watched, in part because the racial overtones that marked the campaign. DeSantis, who is white, squeaked out a victory after spending weeks addressing questions about his past political associations with racists and xenophobes.

Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor, whose administration was under federal investigation for corruption, was repeatedly accused by DeSantis of financial impropriety.

Trump was an early supporter of DeSantis, who defended the president on television and modelled his candidacy after the president’s. And Trump returned the favour, heading to Florida to campaign on his behalf.

Heading into Tuesday’s election, Republicans controlled 33 governor seats, compared with 16 held by Democrats. (One is an independent.) There were 26 Republican-held seats on the ballot Tuesday and nine Democratic seats.

As of early Wednesday, with votes still being counted in some states, Democrats had flipped the governorships in six states — Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Maine and, somewhat surprisingly, Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who had moved Wisconsin to the right over the past eight years, was narrowly defeated by Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent. And five incumbent Democrats successfully defended their seats.

One of the most closely watched races in the nation was unresolved early in the morning. In a highly contentious and racially charged contest in Georgia, Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state, held a slight lead over Stacey Abrams, who was trying to become the first African-American woman elected governor in any state. Addressing supporters, Abrams said she wanted all ballots counted and suggested the campaign may go to a runoff.

But the Republican victory in Florida marked a disappointing setback for Democrats, who were hoping to take control of a state that has been crucial in presidential politics for more than a decade. This was the latest in a series of statewide contests in Florida that has been decided by a thin margin.

In Kansas, Kobach is best known for his hard-line views on immigration and voting rights, and his candidacy was considered problematic by both national and state party leaders, who worried that he was too extreme to win a general election. Nevertheless, he was a close ally of Trump, and the president endorsed him in the days before the primary last summer.

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