NEW YORK — The political winds of change that hit Congress blew through governor’s mansions as well as unhappy voters replaced Democrats with Republicans in at least 10 states.
The shift from a Democratic to Republican governor is taking place in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The only Democrat gains were in California, Hawaii, and Vermont.
However, as of early Wednesday morning, six governor’s races were still very tight – those in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, and Oregon. Some of these races were separated by only a small number of votes, and it might be days, if not weeks, until the final governor election results in those places are known.
The issues that mattered most to voters in the gubernatorial races mirrored those that resulted in a seismic shift in power in the House of Representatives, political analysts say: sluggish economic growth, the high unemployment rate, taxes, deficits, and the unpopularity of such Obama programs as the health-care legislation.
“The voters are the angriest they have ever been,” says John Zogby of the polling firm Zogby International in Utica, N.Y.
Forty-four of the 50 states had record budget deficits and are now cutting services or raising fees and taxes, Mr. Zogby notes.
Many of those tax increases raised the hackles of the tea party, which supported such successful candidates as Nikki Haley (R) in South Carolina and Rick Perry (R) in Texas.
A change in governors can have import beyond the individual states, political observers point out. Many governors will have a say in the redistricting of congressional seats in their states — a process that takes place after the 2010 Census. In addition, in 2012, a popular and active governor can be a big asset in a presidential campaign, particularly in a swing state. And already, commentators are talking about some new governors possibly becoming presidential candidates.
For the Democrats, Election Day was not totally bleak on the gubernatorial front. Their biggest victory was in California, a state they had not won since 1999. The high-stakes Golden State race pitted former Democratic governor Jerry Brown against Republican candidate Meg Whitman, who reportedly spent about $140 million of her own money on the race.
Whitman, a former chief executive of eBay, never recovered from the revelation that she employed an illegal immigrant for nearly a decade. But, Zogby says, she also did not “show the voters she has the right skills.”
In New York, Andrew Cuomo had little trouble beating Buffalo real estate developer Carl Paladino, a Republican who also had tea party support. Mr. Paladino had a certain resonance with his tirades against Albany legislators. But he made many missteps in a Democratic state.
In Massachusetts, Democrat Deval Patrick, an Obama friend, won a second term over Republican Charles Baker, and in Maryland, Democrat Martin O’Malley overcame former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
Prior to Election Day, both parties thought they had some good opportunities. At a Monitor breakfast meeting in September, Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi and chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said that in “dominantly Democratic” states such as Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Vermont, “I will say that we’re going to win some of those.”
He turned out to be overly optimistic: A Republican was leading only in Connecticut, and that race was too close to call.
To Barbour, one theme of the midterm elections was the relative unpopularity of President Obama.
“If you look at when he [Obama] goes somewhere, the real question is, is the Democratic candidate for governor going to show up, or is he going to have a root canal that day so he can get out of going, or she can get out of going in some cases?”
However, Democrats felt like they received renewed life in some cases because of infighting between moderate Republicans and conservative tea party-sponsored candidates.
For example, in Florida, conservative businessman Rick Scott battled Attorney General Bill McCollum in the GOP primary. After Mr. Scott won that race, Mr. McCollum refused to endorse Scott.
“This gave us a real opportunity in Florida,” said Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, at another Monitor breakfast.
As it turned out, he was right. As of Wednesday morning, Scott was leading Democrat Alex Sink by about 53,000 votes, with 89 percent of the districts counted.