Dems Grab State Balance of Power
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
Democrats posted big gains across the board in Tuesday's election, nearly doubling the number of states where they control both the legislature and the governor's office as well as sweeping to power in the U.S. Congress.
Fifteen state governments are now solidly blue politically, seven more than before the voting. Ten state capitals are fully in Republicans' hands, down from 12. The other 25 states have divided government.
The Democratic surge was not restricted by region, and puts the party in a strong position going into the 2008 presidential election because of the vast new extent of its grip on the levers of politics and policy. In Tuesday's election, the Democrats picked up four governors' seats that had been in GOP hands. The statehouses likewise remained in Democrats' hands:
- Arkansas - State Attorney General Mike Beebe (D) defeated Asa Hutchinson (R) in the contest to succeed term-limited Gov. Mike Huckabee (R).
- Colorado - Former Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter won over his Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, to replace Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who must step down because of term limits.
- Maryland - Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) prevailed over Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr., the only incumbent governor to go down in the midterm elections. It was the first time an incumbent Maryland governor was defeated since 1951, according to The Washington Post.
- Massachusetts - Deval Patrick (D) trounced Republican Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey in the contest to replace Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who chose not to run for a second term and is considering a bid for the White House. Patrick becomes the state's first African-American governor and only the second elected black governor in U.S. history.
Two other important pickups came in Iowa and New Hampshire.
In Iowa, Democrats now control both the legislature and governor's mansion for the first time in 40 years. The party gained five seats in the Iowa House and now has a 54-45 majority, with one seat undecided, according to the National Conference of State Legislature. Democrats moved the state Senate from a 25-25 tie to a 29-21 majority, according to NCSL. The governor's mansion remains in Democratic hands as Secretary of State Democrat Chet Culver defeated U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle (R) to replace outgoing Gov. Tom Vilsack (D).
Even more remarkable was the Democratic tide in New Hampshire, which put the party in control of both the legislative and executive branches for the first time since just after the Civil War.
"There were many gratifying wins [Nov. 7], but the most gratifying of all was seeing New Hampshire (turn) from what was a red state … to a blue state," former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic National Committee, said at a Nov. 8 news conference.
Voters in New Hampshire, home of the nation's kickoff presidential primary, re-elected Democratic Gov. John Lynch in a landslide over state Rep. Jim Coburn (R). Democrats gained more than 80 seats to grab a majority in the 400-member House, where they had been in the minority since at least 1922. Democrats also picked up five seats - giving them 13 of 24 seats — to flip control of the New Hampshire Senate, where they have been in the minority since 1988.
And in Oregon, Democrats won four seats in the House, giving them a 31-27 edge over the GOP and maintained their majority status in the Senate. Oregon incumbent Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) was re-elected over Ron Saxton (R).
Some Democrats are already showing how they would like to exert their new power:
In New Hampshire, several prominent Democrats indicate they want to roll back the state's controversial 2003 parental notification law on abortion, according to Foster's Daily Democrat in Dover. Gov. Lynch likewise opposes the law.
Iowa's new leaders there made hiking the state minimum wage a top priority, the Sioux City Journal reported.
In Michigan, newly re-elected Gov. Jennifer Granholm has indicated she will push to lift restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and to revise or renew an expiring business tax. Granholm defeated Dick DeVos (R), a millionaire businessman and heir to the Amway fortune.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who heads the Democratic Governors Association, told Stateline.org that his party will use their majorities to advance policies that expand health care to the uninsured, improve education, including higher pay for teachers, and make the country more energy sufficient.
Democratic governors throughout the country have been the true innovators in finding an energy policy for this country that reduces our energy dependence from 65 percent to a goal that I think is achievable, to 10 percent," Richardson said.
States with Democratic governors command 295 electoral votes, up from 126 before the election, a factor Richardson said will be a "huge impact for the presidential race in '08." Richardson, who trounced Republican challenger John Dendahl, said he would announce in January whether he would run for president.
Historically, the party that controls the governorships has an advantage in a presidential contest. When Bill Clinton was first elected president in 1992, for example, Democrats held most of the governors' seats (27), and when George W. Bush first took the White House in 2000, Republicans were in charge (31).
The party in charge likewise casts a long shadow over future congressional campaigns. That's because in 44 states, state lawmakers are in charge of redrawing congressional districts and can use their power to help their political party.
Going into the midterm elections, Republicans had a 28-to-22 advantage in governors. That number has now flipped.
Democrats now have a majority of the governor for the first time since 1994 and the party controls 23 state legislatures, more than they have held since 1994. Republicans now control both chambers in 16 state legislatures and nine statehouses will be split between the parties, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Democrats also picked up governorships in Ohio and New York, where Republican incumbents did not run again. While Democrats gained seats in the Ohio legislature, they were not enough to wrest either chamber from the GOP. The chambers remain split in New York.
In Ohio, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland (D) toppled Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell, who as Ohio's secretary of state and chairman of President Bush's re-election campaign was considered a key figure in helping the president win Ohio in 2004.
Strickland may have been bolstered by scandals that have plagued key Republicans in the state, including outgoing Gov. Bob Taft (R), who pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges that he violated state ethics laws, becoming the first governor in the state's history convicted of a crime.
Blackwell was one of two black gubernatorial candidates who lost in this election. Former Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann lost to Democratic incumbent Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell.
In New York, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer won over Republican John Faso. Spitzer will be the first Democrat in the governor's mansion after 12 years of Gov. George Pataki (R), who opted not to run to mull a presidential bid in 2008.
>Republicans picked up victories in four gubernatorial open-seats, of which three are in states in which the GOP had already controlled the governor and statehouses.
Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist became the first Republican since Reconstruction to succeed another Republican for the governorship, beating five-term U.S. Rep. Jim Davis (D) to fill the shoes of term-limited Gov. Jeb Bush.
Idaho U.S. Rep Butch Otter (R) held tight to win the Idaho governor's race over his Democratic opponent, newspaper publisher Jerry Brady.
Alaska Republican Sarah Palin made history, becoming the state's first female governor with a victory over former Gov. Tony Knowles (D). Palin replaces Republican incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski, whom she beat in the GOP primary.
And in Nevada, Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons held on to defeat Democratic challenger Dina Titus to replace term-limited Gov. Kenny Guinn (R). The race tightened late in recent weeks after allegations surfaced that Gibbons assaulted and propositioned a cocktail waitress after a night of drinking or that he acted improperly in helping a friend get a military contract. Gibbons denied wrongdoing.
The Nevada statehouse remained split, with Republicans holding on to the majority in the Senate and Democrats in the House.
Republicans were at a numerical disadvantage going into the midterm elections. The GOP had 22 governor's posts to defend, while Democrats had 14. In addition, nine of the 10 open gubernatorial seats, in which no incumbent was running, are currently in GOP hands.
Other Democratic governors who kept their seats:
- Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano over Len Munsil.(R)
- Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich over Illinois Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka (R)
- Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius over state Sen. Jim Barnett (R)
- Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry over U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook (R)
- Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen over Jim Bryson (R)
- Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal over Ray Hunkins (R)
For the Republicans, the following retained their seats:
- Alabama Gov. Bob Riley over Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley (D)
- California Gov.Arnold Schwarzenegger over State Treasurer Phil Angelides (D)
- Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell over John DeStefano (D)
- Georgia Gov. George "Sonny" Perdue over Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor (D)
- Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle over Randy Iwase (D)
- Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman over David Hahn (D)
- Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri (R) over Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty (D)
- South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds over Jack Billion (D)
- Texas Gov. Rick Perry over former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell (D) and three other challengers
- Vermon t Gov. James Douglas (R) over Scudder Parker
Record-low approval of Washington didn't play a factor in three of the eight races that had current U.S. congressmen as candidates.
Idaho U.S. Rep. Otter (R), Nevada U.S. Rep. Gibbons (R) and Ohio U.S. Rep. Strickland (D) all were elected as governors.
The '06 election also was historic for the highest number of women governors elected at six, raising the number of women governors to nine and matching the record high set in 1994.
Voters Nov. 7 cast their ballots for 36 governors and 6,119 state lawmakers in 46 states. Also up for grabs were spots for 30 attorneys general and 27 secretaries of state, posts that often serve as launching pads governorships. And in a handful of states, voters took up important but fractious social issues such as abortion, stem cell research and affirmative action that could trigger national repercussions. See other Stateline.org stories for the latest updates on statehouse races and ballot measures.