- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Republicans made big gains in governors’ races across the nation Tuesday, picking up several seats, including a stunning upset in Maryland and an embarrassing defeat for President Obama in his home state of Illinois.

Two other races with Democratic incumbents were too close to call.

In Maryland, Republican Larry Hogan shocked Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown. With all the precincts reporting after midnight, Mr. Hogan easily topped Mr. Brown 54 percent to 45 percent.

A businessman who served in the Cabinet of Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Mr. Hogan will become only the second Republican governor of Maryland since 1969. He founded a commercial real estate brokerage firm and the grass-roots organization Change Maryland.

Mr. Brown, who would have been the state’s first black governor, had received some high-profile campaign help from President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton. Mr. Hogan portrayed the Democrat as another tax-and-spend liberal who would continue Gov. Martin O’Malley’s spree of hiking various taxes and state fees.

The result was also a major setback for Mr. O’Malley’s hopes for a run for the presidency in 2016.

In blue state Massachusetts, Republican Charlie Baker defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in the race to replace retiring Democratic Gov. Deval L. Patrick, another good friend of Mr. Obama.

Republicans also picked up a governor’s seat in Illinois, Mr. Obama’s home turf, where Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn lost to Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner. It was the first time since 1892 that the governor of a president’s home state had lost a re-election bid.

Mr. Rauner spent about $30 million of his own money on the race. Mr. Quinn was hampered by a patronage scandal at the state Department of Transportation and a federal probe into alleged political motives behind the use of $54.5 million in anticrime funds.

Former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, a gun rights advocate who helped build the case for the impeachment of Mr. Clinton, easily won election as governor of Arkansas.

Mr. Hutchinson, a former U.S. attorney who also led the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, defeated Democratic former Rep. Mike Ross in the race to fill the open seat of the term-limited Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. He served as one of the House Republicans’ managers during the impeachment trial of Mr. Clinton in 1998.

Mr. Hutchinson also served as leader of a task force assembled by the National Rifle Association to review school security standards in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut in 2012. He presented the National School Shield plan in April 2013.

The results from 36 governors’ races around the nation looked mostly good for the GOP, with all but one of the Republicans who won during the GOP wave in 2010 successfully defending their seats. In one of the most closely watched races, Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida narrowly defeated former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat.

With 99.3 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Scott led Mr. Crist by about 80,000 votes out of more than 5 million cast. Mr. Crist didn’t concede and asked for a recount.

Mr. Scott spent nearly $13 million of his own money on the campaign in the last month, as the race shattered a Florida record, with more than $100 million spent by both candidates. The biggest checks for Florida Democrats came from AFSCME ($1.3 million) and investor George Soros ($1 million).

Mr. Crist received last-minute help from President Obama, who recorded a radio ad for the Democrat that played on a Miami station with a predominantly black audience.

“If you want a governor who will fight for you, not just the wealthy and the powerful, go vote for Charlie Crist,” Mr. Obama said. “Don’t let anyone or anything keep you from voting.”

In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker won a second term — and a third consecutive election — while fending off heated opposition from public employee unions. He defeated Democratic challenger Mary Burke, a Madison school board member and former state official, leading by about 10 percentage points, with more than 50 percent of precincts reporting.

Mr. Walker had built winning coalitions previously with independents and blue-collar workers, a factor that he hopes will lead to the presidency in two years. Mr. Walker was elected to a four-year term in 2010 and then survived a recall vote in 2012 after enacting changes in the collective bargaining process for public employee unions.

Mr. Walker argued he deserved a second term after working with the GOP-controlled legislature to wipe out a $3.6 billion budget shortfall and cut taxes by $2 billion, and presiding over the addition of more than 110,000 private sector jobs.

Ms. Burke told voters Wisconsin could have done better, blasting Mr. Walker for falling far short of his promise to add 250,000 new private sector jobs during his first term. She noted that next year’s budget in Wisconsin includes a $1.8 billion shortfall.

Republicans also picked up a governor’s seat in Illinois, Mr. Obama’s home turf, where Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn lost to Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner. It was the first time since 1892 that the governor of a president’s home state lost a re-election bid.

Mr. Rauner spent about $30 million of his own money on the race. Mr. Quinn was hampered by a patronage scandal at the state Department of Transportation and a federal probe into alleged political motives behind the use of $54.5 million in anticrime funds.

Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio cruised to a second term in the key battleground state, largely on a record of economic growth and shrinking unemployment. He defeated Democrat Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive.

Republican Governors Association Chairman Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, said Mr. Kasich’s “commanding victory in this election means four more years of jobs, growth and prosperity are in store for the Buckeye State.”

Another Republican who was swept into office in 2010, Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, easily won re-election over Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen. Ms. Haley is the state’s first female governor.

In Michigan, GOP Gov. Rick Snyder defeated Democratic challenger Mark Schauer to win a second term. With 61 percent of Michigan’s precincts reporting, Mr. Snyder led by 52 percent to 46 percent.

In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam also won re-election handily. And in Alabama, Republican Gov. Robert Bentley defeated Democrat Parker Griffith.

Mr. Hutchinson, a former U.S. attorney who also led the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, defeated Democratic former Rep. Mike Ross in the race to fill the open seat of the term-limited Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. He served as one of the House Republicans’ managers during the impeachment trial of Mr. Clinton in 1998.

Mr. Hutchinson also served as leader of a task force assembled by the National Rifle Association to review school security standards in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut in 2012. He presented the National School Shield plan in April 2013.

In Texas, Republican Greg Abbott will be the next governor, beating Democrat Wendy Davis, who rode to her party’s nomination in opposition to an anti-abortion bill.

Mr. Abbott, the state attorney general, will replace Gov. Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history.

Ms. Davis was once viewed as Democrats’ best hope to win the governorship. She gained prominence among Democrats in the state and around the country after her filibuster on the floor of the Texas Senate in opposition to an anti-abortion bill.

But Ms. Davis failed to gain much traction in her campaign against Mr. Abbott, who led in the polls throughout the race.

In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Mary Fallin won a second four-year term in office, defeating Democratic state Rep. Joe Dorman and two independents.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad easily won an unprecedented sixth term, positioning himself in about a year to claim the undisputed title of longest-serving governor in American history.

The Democrats had a few bright spots on a difficult night. The GOP lost a governor’s seat Tuesday when Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania lost his re-election bid to Democrat Tom Wolf, who never has held elected office.

Since Pennsylvania began allowing two-term governors in the late 1960s, no governor had ever lost a bid for re-election. Mr. Wolf, a businessman from York, defeated Mr. Corbett in part by accusing him of making steep cuts in education funding.

Mr. Corbett, a former state attorney general, raised the ire of teachers unions by failing to maintain a high rate of education spending after federal stimulus money dried up. School districts around the state laid off thousands of teachers.

Mr. Obama campaigned for Mr. Wolf in Philadelphia in the closing days of the race. With Democratic Senate candidates shunning the unpopular president, Mr. Obama devoted most of his campaign time working for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in states that he won four years ago.

In Minnesota, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton won re-election. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California also won another term easily.

And in New Hampshire, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan won re-election by holding off Republican Walt Havenstein, a retired Marine colonel.

Some other high-profile governor’s races were too close to call as early results were tabulated.

Republican Charlie Baker was also nursing a slight lead over Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, and Democratic incumbent Gov. Dannel Malloy was still battling Republican challenger Thomas C. Foley.

As the nation entered Election Day, there were 21 Democratic governors and 29 Republicans.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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