Republicans won governors’ seats from Democrats in Michigan, Pennsylvania and at least eight other states, using economic discontent to advance their effort to win sway over a majority of U.S. capitols.
With results from 37 contests still being counted, Republican businessman Rick Snyder carried Michigan by promising to turn around the ailing economy, while Pennsylvania chose Tom Corbett, an attorney general who promised to cut government spending. The party’s candidates also picked up Democrat-held seats in Iowa, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming, according to the Associated Press. Former Governor Jerry Brown won back California for the Democrats.
With voters also casting ballots in congressional races, local contests were expected to turn partly on perceptions about President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
“They benefitted from the national Republican tide,’ said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., which conducted surveys on state races. “It’s a trickle down. A lot of these governors tried to nationalize this race.”
The Republicans are seeking to expand their power before the 2012 presidential election. With more governors, they may have more influence in the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional districts and in the policies of states reeling from the recession’s lingering financial strains.
Democrats held a 26-to-23 majority among governors before the election. In Florida, former Republican Governor Charlie Crist became an independent to stage a failed run for Senate.
Governors oversee spending of more than $600 billion a year, giving them power over schools, public works and programs such as Medicaid, which provides health care to the poor.
“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.
The Republicans were succeeding in their bid to pick up governorships in the Midwest, a battleground in presidential contests.
In Michigan, Snyder, former president of computer maker Gateway Inc., defeated Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, picking up the state for Republicans. Campaigning on a pledge to turn around the economy of the state with the second-highest unemployment rate, Snyder said he would stoke job growth by streamlining regulations and reducing business taxes.
Wisconsin elected Republican Scott Walker, who opposed a high-speed rail project there.
Pennsylvania voter Katie Noonan, a 24-year-old Democrat from Yardley, was among those who propelled 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.
Democrats Win, Too
There were some bright spots for Democrats. In New York, Andrew Cuomo, New York’s 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 after an independent candidate divided an anti-incumbent tide.
Former Governor Jerry Brown emerged as the victor in California, currently led by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, according to the Associated Press. Brown ran against former EBay Inc. Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman, who poured at least $141.6 million of her own fortune into the campaign.
The new crop of governors will have to confront deficits that are forcing them to fire workers, cut spending on schools, welfare programs and public works, and raise taxes. The 39 states that made projections foresee a collective $112 billion of deficits for the 2012 fiscal year, a figure that is likely to swell once more estimates are made, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group in Washington.
With Republicans poised to take control of the House of Representatives, local officials can’t count on further 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,” said Mier. “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.”
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