Republicans Win Most Governorships, Sweep Midwest

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said, “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.” Photographer: Jonathan Fickies/Bloomberg

Republicans won governorships from Democrats in Michigan, Pennsylvania and at least nine other states, capitalizing on economic discontent to take a majority of U.S. statehouses.

The party won Midwestern presidential battlegrounds held by Democrats, including Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio, with promises to reduce spending and stoke the economy. With results still pending in three states, Republicans emerged from the 37 races yesterday to hold at least 29 offices, regaining the dominance they lost four years ago.

The 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 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.”

Democrats held 26 governorships heading into the election. The Republican victories expand the party’s power before the presidential election in two years and will increase its influence over the redrawing of congressional districts and in the policies of states reeling from the recession’s lingering financial strains.

Erecting Obstacles

Republicans said gaining control of states including New Mexico, Florida 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.”

Government deficits, taxes and the economy dominated the gubernatorial issues. Republican Rick Snyder, former president of computer-maker Gateway Inc., carried Michigan after promising to turn around the ailing economy.

Pennsylvania chose Republican Tom Corbett, an attorney general who promised to cut spending. In Florida, former health-care executive Rick Scott beat Democrat Alex Sink with a plan to create 700,000 jobs. The Republican spent more than $78 million on the race.

Ohio Win

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.

The elections also gave Republicans control of 25 Legislatures, including Ohio, North Carolina and Minnesota, boosting their power in statehouses by the most since 1928, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Fifteen to 25 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are more likely to be Republicans after redistricting as a result of the victories, said Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

Democrat Bright Spots

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 money into the campaign. Democrat Dan Malloy took Connecticut from the Republicans.

In New York, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic attorney general, defeated 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 almost 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.

Crossing the Aisle

“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,” she said in an interview.

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 today. Races in Oregon and Minnesota were also undecided.

Republicans picked up governorships held by Democrats in Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming. Democrats also carried Hawaii, where Neil Abercrombie, who left his House seat to run, will succeed Republican Linda Lingle.

Confronting Deficits

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 the federal government, said Christopher Mier, a managing director for Loop Capital Markets, a Chicago- based investment bank.

“The easy cuts have already been made,” Mier said before 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.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE