Dozen governors’ races give Republicans shot at more gains
Republicans and Democrats each retained governorships Tuesday in hard-fought battles in Indiana and West Virginia as voters picked chief executives in a dozen states.
The governors’ contests were part of a battle for statehouse supremacy that included nearly 6,000 state legislative elections. Heading into Tuesday, Republicans controlled more than two-thirds of the nation’s legislative chambers, as well as 31 of the 50 governors’ offices.
Indiana Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb defeated Democrat John Gregg to keep Republican control of the office being vacated by GOP vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence. In West Virginia, billionaire businessman Jim Justice won election to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
In a key legislative battle, Republicans won control of the Kentucky House - the lone remaining Democratic-held chamber in the South - while defeating Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo.
The states in play Tuesday include:
In the nation’s highest-profile race, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory faces a strong challenge from Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper.
The race has become a referendum on North Carolina’s rightward shift under McCrory, highlighted by a law that limits anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and directs transgender people to use public restrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates. Cooper has vowed to try to repeal the law as governor.
Recent flooding from Hurricane Matthew has also played into the race, as McCrory has been at the public forefront of response and recovery efforts.
Former Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens, a first-time candidate, is locked in a close contest against Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster.
Greitens has capitalized on his military service and his work as founder of the veterans’ charity known as The Mission Continues. He casts himself as an outsider going up against a career politician. Koster, a former Republican state senator, has picked up key endorsements from the National Rifle Association and major agricultural groups.
Including primary candidates, Missouri governors’ campaigns have raised more than $72 million, easily doubling the previous record. The winner will succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
Holcomb’s election will continue a 12-year run of Republican governors in Indiana. Holcomb, a former state Republican Party chairman, had been appointed to the state’s No. 2 spot by Pence and later was nominated as his replacement when Pence dropped his re-election bid in July.
Gregg had tried to cast Holcomb as a “rubber stamp” for Pence, pointing out Holcomb’s support for a religious-objections law Pence signed. Opponents said the law, which was later revised, sanctioned discrimination against same-sex couples by allowing businesses to refuse to serve them.
The governor’s office is open because Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan is trying to oust Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
The race to replace her features two members of the governor’s Executive Council - Democrat Colin Van Ostern and Republican Chris Sununu, the son of former Gov. John H. Sununu and the brother of former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu.
Democrats have controlled the governor’s office for 18 of the past 20 years.
Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott faces Democrat Sue Minter in what Republicans view as their best pickup opportunity. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin is not seeking another two-year term.
Scott is the only Republican statewide officeholder in a liberal-leaning state but has tacked toward the left by embracing abortion rights and gay marriage. Minter is a former transportation secretary for Shumlin.
Justice’s victory will continue a 16-year stint of Democratic governors in a state that has otherwise been tilting toward Republicans. Justice cast himself as a political outsider adept at creating jobs.
Republican candidate Bill Cole, the state Senate president, had hoped to ride Trump’s coattails. But Cole’s pledge to revive the coal industry was offset by Justice, himself a coal billionaire.
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock faces a challenge from Republican Greg Gianforte, a businessman who struck it rich when he sold his cloud-based software firm to Oracle five years ago.
Gianforte has poured millions of his own money into the race, airing more TV ads than all other statewide executive candidates in the nation, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity of data from the tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
Bullock has been heavily aided by the Democratic Governors Association.
In Delaware, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Carney Jr. was elected to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Jack Markell. And in North Dakota, Republican businessman Doug Burgum won election to replace Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who did not seek re-election. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert won re-election in Utah, and Democratic Govs. Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington also were expected to turn back challengers.