Breaking News Emails
Democrats reclaimed governor's seats in several key states Tuesday, major steps in their nationwide strategy to reverse years of Republican gains in state capitols.
Still, their victories in Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine and New Mexico were balanced by Republicans holding on to one of the top prizes, Florida, and the governor's offices in Ohio and Arizona. All three states will figure prominently in the presidential map in two years.
The nation's other closely watched governor's race, in Georgia, was considered too early to call by NBC News early Wednesday.
Democrats' toppling of Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin completed a sweep for the party in the upper Midwest. Walker was a top target of Democrats and a polarizing figure in his state, sweeping into office during the tea party wave of 2010 and gaining national attention by leading a rollback of union rights that led to protests inside the state Capitol. He survived a recall attempt before falling short in a bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
The win by Democrat Tony Evers gives his party a chance to undo some of Walker's accomplishments, including a strict voter ID law and the law that effectively ended collective bargaining for public workers.
Likewise, Democrats hope their victories signal a resurgence for their party in America's heartland, where President Donald Trump romped in 2016.
"I think the message is a simple one. A candidate with a moderate tone but progressive in thinking can win in the heartland," former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, said. "Winning the governorships is huge in beginning the process of changing the direction of our politics."
In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer defeated Republican Bill Schuette, upending years of Republican control in the state. The former legislative leader will become the second female governor in a state where Democrats heavily targeted other statewide and legislative offices.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in Illinois lost his bid for a second term to Democrat J.B. Pritzker. The billionaire appears to have capitalized not only on Rauner's lack of popularity but broader dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump. In Kansas, Democratic state lawmaker Laura Kelly defeated Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a close ally of Trump.
New Mexico also tipped into the Democratic column, with NBC News projecting that voters had chosen Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham to succeed two-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. The campaign had been defined by conflicts over struggling public schools and high poverty rates.
In Maine, Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills won the race to succeed combative Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who was term-limited after eight years in office.
Democrats Andrew Cuomo in New York and Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania were both projected winners, as were two Republicans in Democratic-leaning states — Larry Hogan in Maryland and Charlie Baker in Massachusetts.
In Iowa, NBC News projected that Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds would break the Democrats' run of Midwest success by being elected to a full term.
In all, voters were choosing 36 governors and 6,089 state legislators in general and special elections that have attracted record amounts of spending from national Democratic and Republican groups.
Republicans entered Tuesday's election with a sizable advantage, controlling two-thirds of the 99 state legislative chambers and 33 governors' offices. The GOP held a trifecta of power in 25 states, compared with just eight for Democrats.
The Democratic Governors Association had focused on nine swing states — Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where it believes the governorships could be pivotal in congressional redistricting.
As of mid-October, the Democratic Governors Association and its affiliated entities had raised $122 million during the past two years — a record outdone only by the Republican Governors Association's new high mark of at least $156 million.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and Republican State Leadership Committee, which focus on state races, also set record fundraising targets. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, has pumped additional money into state races viewed as critical in future redistricting decisions.
Although most state lawmakers responsible for redistricting will be elected in 2020, voters on Tuesday were electing more than 800 state lawmakers in about two dozen states to four-year terms where they could play a role in approving new congressional or state legislative districts.