GOP Scores Big in State Elections

 

Republicans defied political odds and a feckless Democratic challenge Tuesday to score big upsets in the Georgia and Maryland governors' races, helping them retain control of a majority of governorships.

In Georgia, Republican State Sen. George "Sonny" Perdue stunned incumbent Democrat Roy Barnes. Perdue's victory was the first GOP win in a Georgia governors' race in 146 years. In Maryland, Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend even though the Democrats enjoy a lopsided registration edge in the Free State.

If there was any downside for the GOP, it was that the party gave up three Midwestern states -- Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan -- that had been in Republican hands for years.

  • In Wisconsin, Democratic Attorney General Jim Doyle won, defeating Republican incumbent Scott McCallum. McCallum, the former lieutenant governor, was running for election in his own right after inheriting the office when longtime Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson joined the Bush administration.
  • In Illinois, Democratic U.S. Representative Rod Blagojevich defeated Republican Attorney Jim Ryan in a race to succeed outgoing Republican Gov. George Ryan.
  • And in Michigan, Democratic Attorney General Jennifer Granholm defeated Republican Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumos. That race was to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. John Engler.  

The GOP also made significant gains in state legislatures, taking over five statehouses -- Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Missouri and Wisconsin -- that had been split between the parties or controlled by the Democrats. Wyoming, which had been controlled by the Republicans, swung over to the Democratic column.

As the results trickled in, it appeared the Republicans would end up with control over at least 21 legislatures. The outcome in Oregon remains in doubt because votes were still being counted from the large number of absentee voters.

Before the election, The Republicans held 17, the Democrats had 18, and control was split in 14. One legislature Nebraska -- is unicameral and nominally non-partisan though actually Republican-dominated.

With five governors' races still officially undecided (Alabama, Arizona, Oklahoma, Oregon and Vermont), it appeared the Democrats would pick up only three seats overall, giving them a total of 24 governorships to the Republicans' 26. Going into the election, the Republicans had 27 seats to the Democrats 21, and two states - Maine and Minnesota -- had independent governors..

The Republicans also made history by retaking control of the U.S. Senate and expanding their majority in the U.S. House. The party that controls the White House normally loses seats in the mid-term election, with the only exceptions being the 1934 election when Franklin D. Roosevelt was serving his first term and the 1998 election when Bill Clinton was serving his second term. In both of those cases, the Democrats increased their seats in the House.

The outcome of Tuesday's elections was a huge victory for President Bush, whose popularity and hard campaigning apparently made the difference for the GOP in some of the closer races. With both the House and Senate now in Republican hands, Bush is expected to have a much easier time pushing his agenda through Congress, including the Homeland Security Bill, which has been tied up in the Senate.

One state where Bush was credited with helping the GOP candidate win the governorship was the hotly contested matchup in Maryland between Ehrlich and Townsend. He called Ehrlich to congratulate him after Townsend conceded defeat.

"Welcome to history. This is an incredible night," a jubilant Ehrlich told a crowd of Maryland supporters. "I just got a call from W," he said, referring to President Bush. "

Republican upsets in gubernatorial contests didn't stop there. In South Carolina, former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford wrested control of the governor's office from incumbent Democrat Jim Hodges.

Other key races for the Republicans were in Florida, Massachusetts and Texas, where they held on to governorships that had looked vulnerable.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, younger brother of President Bush, was re-elected to a second term. He beat wealthy Tampa lawyer Bill McBride by a comfortable margin, denying the Democrats the revenge they'd sought for Al Gore's loss to George W. Bush in the Florida recount fiasco.

In Texas, incumbent GOP Gov. Rick Perry won handily over his Democratic opponent, businessman and banker Tony Sanchez, who was hoping to become the Lone Star State's first Hispanic governor.

And in Massachusetts, businessman Mitt Romney won over state treasurer Shannon O'Brien to keep that governorship in GOP hands.

Republicans swept to control of the Texas legislature for the first time since 1870. They did the same in South Carolina. The Democrats grabbed total control of the Illinois legislature for the first time since 1977.

While those hard-fought victories gave the GOP reason for celebration, the Democrats were partying over key wins in Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where the Republicans had held the governorships for years.

  • In Illinois, little-known Congressman Blagojevich beat out Attorney General Ryan to put the state's top office back in Democratic hands for the first time in 25 years. The Democrats also won enough seats in the Illinois House and Senate races to give them control of both the legislative and executive branches of state government.
  • In Pennsylvania, former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell put the state's highest office back in Democratic hands by defeating Republican Attorney General Mike Fisher.
  • In Wisconsin, Democratic Attorney General Doyle ousted incumbent Gov. McCallum, while in Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm became the first woman to be elected governor by steamrolling over GOP Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus.

Women candidates also did well in other states. In Kansas, Democratic insurance commissioner Kathleen Sebelius, the daughter of a governor, became the second woman to be elected to the state's top office. She defeated Republican state treasurer Tim Shallenburger. Republican Linda Lingle won the Hawaii governorship and Democratic Attorney General Janet Napolitano was leading in the Arizona governor's race.

Women had held five governorships going into this election year. Next year they may have at least six, the most ever, because Montana and Delaware have women governors who were not up for re-election.

There were 36 gubernatorial races this year, with Republicans having to defend 23 seats and the Democrats 11. Two independent seats were also up for grabs. Minnesota fell into Republican hands with a victory by Tim Pawlenty, who will replace Independent incumbent Jesse Ventura, while Maine went to the Democrats with a win by John Baldacci. Baldacci will succeed Independent Angus King.

Going into the election Republicans controlled 27 governorships to the Democrats 21. A pickup of four would have given the Democrats a majority.

In addition to choosing elected officials, voters in 40 states decided the fate of more than 200 referendums, dealing with everything from protecting pregnant pigs to legalizing marijuana and increasing taxes.

On one of the most closely watched referendums, voters in Northern Virginia and the Tidewater region rejected sales tax increase proposals pushed by Gov. Mark Warner to help fund new roads and mass transit. But Virginia voters also approved a bond issue to raise more money for schools. Voters in Florida gave the go-ahead to an initiative opposed by Gov. Bush that would force the state to reduce class sizes by spending billions on new schools.

In Nevada, voters rejected an effort to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, while in Arizona a proposal to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes only was voted down.

 

 
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