Joe Biden, Ted Strickland
Amy E. Voigt  /  AP
Vice President Joe Biden, left, listens as Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, right, speaks during a rally in Toledo, Ohio, on Sunday.
updated 11/1/2010 10:08:11 AM ET 2010-11-01T14:08:11

Republicans are anticipating major gains in governorships across the nation's industrial heartland and in several vital presidential swing states.

With a record 37 seats on the line Tuesday, the same antiestablishment wave expected to engulf congressional Democrats is roaring toward Democratic-held statehouses as well.

The damage may not be as devastating as the party of President Barack Obama had once feared. Democrats have a good shot at claiming governor's mansions now occupied by Republicans in California, Hawaii, Vermont and Minnesota and holding onto ones in New York, Maryland, Colorado, New Hampshire and Arkansas.

Still, Democrats braced for the loss of no fewer than five governorships — and likely far more. Republicans hoped for a net pickup of up to 12.

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Gubernatorial wins crucial this year
Governorships are especially important this year. Those elected Tuesday will help shape national politics and policy beyond the next presidential election.

Governors will not only be behind-the-scenes players in 2012 presidential races, but they have a critical say in implementing the new health care law, and will actively participate next year in redrawing congressional and legislative districts based on the 2010 census.

On the eve of midterms, races remained extremely tight or at least highly competitive in California, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Connecticut, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.

In the California race to succeed Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, polls suggested former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown was pulling ahead of Republican Meg Whitman in his three-decade-later comeback bid. Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay, plowed more than $150 million of her own money into the race, making it one of the most expensive self-financed campaigns in history and keeping her in the game.

Both parties saw Florida and Ohio — states that decided the 2000 and 2004 presidential races, respectively — as top jewels of this year's contests. And both were going right down to the wire.

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    2. Full Senate results
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    4. Full Gubernatorial results

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, was waging a tough re-election bid against former Republican congressman John Kasich. Earlier polls showed Kasich ahead but later ones suggested a dead heat.

A Republican in the governor's chair in Ohio could complicate Obama's re-election bid, a dynamic not lost on the president, who visited Ohio 12 times over the past year.

In Florida, wealthy businessman Rick Scott was in a cliffhanger with Democrat Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer. She had a slight lead in some polls, but both parties saw the contest as a toss up. Scott, who was dogged by a Medicare fraud scandal at the hospital corporation he once ran, pumped about $60 million of his family's money into the race and was getting substantial help from the national GOP.

There are now 26 Democratic governors and 24 Republicans. Thirty-seven seats will be filled on Tuesday, a record. More than half of these races have no incumbent running, assuring a robust freshman class of governors next year.

Jerry Brown
Chris Carlson  /  AP
California Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, left, talks with Steven Glazer, campaign manager, en route in San Diego on Sunday.

Why the Midwest matters so much
Those in the Midwest will wield the most clout. Not only will they help redesign legislative districts, but some will have to abolish existing ones.

Because of population losses or sluggish growth, Ohio is expected to lose two congressional seats and Michigan, Iowa and Illinois one apiece. The four now have Democratic governors. Republicans hope to pick up all four — and then some.

"When you look across the Great Lakes and the Midwest, that is a region of the country that has been dominated by Democrats at the state level. We are either tied or ahead in swath of the country between Pennsylvania and Iowa," said Mike Schrimpf, spokesman for the Republican Governors' Association.

Across the nation, Democrats are in danger of losing governorships in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and New Mexico — most of them important presidential battlegrounds.

"They are nearly all 2012 swing states," Schrimpf said. "If we gain back a majority of those swing states, it makes Obama's re-election a lot more difficult."

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Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, said a president's party historically loses five governorships in midterms. With some Republicans predicting twice that many gains or more, Daschle said "frustrating them from reaching their goals is something we'll celebrate."

Obama paid heavy attention to governors races in the final days, personally campaigning for many Democrats. "I think he's been tremendously helpful," Daschle said.

Back in Rhode Island
Well, but maybe not in Rhode Island.

The Democratic candidate, Frank Caprio, had been holding his own until Obama declined to endorse him during a visit a week ago. That's because former Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee was running in the race as an independent. Chafee crossed party lines in 2008 to endorse Obama and the president was repaying the favor.

It didn't sit well with Caprio, who said Obama could "take his endorsement and really shove it." Caprio dipped in the polls following that remark. Over the weekend, Caprio said he wished he had chosen different language, although he didn't flatly apologize.

Polls show Chafee leading both Caprio and Republican John Robitaille.

"I don't think our candidate used the best choice of words in how he reacted to the situation," said Daschle. "But I was also pretty clear in expressing my frustration and disappointment that the White House didn't endorse him."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Final push for midterm candidates

  1. Transcript of: Final push for midterm candidates

    WILLIAMS: And good evening from our election headquarters in New York , Studio 8G , our Decision 2010 studio.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: And tonight the time can now be measured in hours until Americans go to the polls in one of the most important and contentious midterm elections in memory. As you will hear on our coverage all night tomorrow night, it's all

    about the math and two important numbers: 39 and 10. The Republicans need 39 House seats to take control, 10 in the Senate . Tonight we'll look at where the election stands, the last polling and the big races. And we start off here in the studio with our White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie . Savannah , we are used to seeing our presidents out there campaigning till the last minute. We didn't see that today.

    SAVANNAH GUTHRIE reporting: We didn't. The president spent the last day of the campaign out of public sight. He spent the weekend campaigning, taped some radio interviews today, and tonight will call activists. Out on the trail today, though, Michelle Obama , the one they used to call " The Closer ." Making a last push, the first lady in Nevada today campaigning for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , hanging onto his seat by a thread.

    Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA: We're not just here because of an election. We're not just here because we support Harry , and we do. We are here today to renew that promise.

    Former Governor SARAH PALIN: West Virginia , how is everybody?

    GUTHRIE: On the even of a potentially history-making election, candidates from coast to coast today called in high profile reinforcements; former President Bill Clinton hitting four states today alone.

    Former President BILL CLINTON: Please help him. Thank you and God bless you all.

    GUTHRIE: President Obama made his closing pitch yesterday in Ohio , but even a joint appearance with the vice president couldn't quite fill the stadium at Cleveland State University .

    President BARACK OBAMA: If everyone who fought for change in 2008 shows up to vote in 2010 , we will win this election. I am confident of that.

    Group: Everybody vote!

    GUTHRIE: Today, activists worked to get people to the polls. Democrats hoping to hold back losses by getting their core voters -- young people, women, seniors, Latinos and African-Americans -- out tomorrow. Energized by the rise of the tea party movement, Republicans are on the brink of major gains, likely to take control of the House of Representatives . Republicans hold a significant money advantage, too; the party and outside groups outspending Democrats and forcing them to defend seats in more places.

    GUTHRIE: But by far the most decisive factor, an enduring frustration with the economy.

    Mr. STUART ROTHENBERG (Political Analyst): This is about an American public that is dissatisfied with the lack of jobs, worried about the future of the country, and going to send a message about the president's performance.

    GUTHRIE: Well, tonight the man who could be speaker, John Boehner , is making his closing argument at a rally outside Cincinnati . The president today tried to head off one potential line of attack by Boehner , saying that he had been wrong to use the word "enemies" to describe political opponents in an interview the other day. Boehner has been hitting the president hard for that, saying, 'You call us enemies, we call ourselves patriots.' Well, the president said today he should have used a different word other than enemies.

    Brian: All starts in a few hours. We'll see you right here tomorrow night, the very same chair, in fact. Savannah Guthrie covering politics tonight.


Timeline: Timeline: Biggest political events of 2010

The newsmakers and headlines that shaped this year.

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