GOP wave keeps incumbents safe, flips blue-state seats

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Senate wasn’t the only place where the GOP had a good night.

Most eyes yesterday were on high-profile Senate races in the midterm election that handed Republicans the reins in the upper chamber of Congress. But Republicans also had a surprisingly good night in 36 gubernatorial elections, where a spate of close races fell in their favor.

High-profile GOP governors in states including Florida, Maine and Wisconsin clinched second terms, after polls showed tight races leading up to Election Day. The GOP also made some surprising gains by snagging seats that had been held by Democrats, including in blue states Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts.

The widespread GOP successes last night could be a boon for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association and potential 2016 presidential candidate, who campaigned with a number of the GOP candidates and will get credit for helping to secure their victories.

In one of the most closely watched gubernatorial races this cycle, Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott hung onto his seat despite a heated race that pitted him against the state’s former Republican governor, Charlie Crist, who ran as a Democrat.

Scott eked out a victory in the tight race despite the efforts of environmentalists, who sought to boost Crist in his bid to unseat the incumbent. Crist and greens assailed Scott’s uncertainty about climate change after Scott consistently deflected questions on the issue by saying he’s not a scientist. Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer’s political group made ousting Scott one of its top priorities (see related story).

Republicans won another contentious battle in Maine, where GOP Gov. Paul LePage withstood challenges from both the Democratic candidate, Rep. Mike Michaud, and independent Eliot Cutler.

Democrats and environmentalists alike — including Steyer’s group — urged voters to rally around Michaud, fearing that Cutler would siphon votes that would have otherwise gone to the Democrat. But their efforts weren’t enough to unseat LePage, despite polling showing Michaud running neck-and-neck with the GOP governor leading up to the election.

In Wisconsin, Michigan and Kansas, sitting GOP governors will get to keep their jobs after polls showed tight races.

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker — a favorite target for national Democrats, labor groups and greens — handily defeated Democrat Mary Burke, a former bicycle company executive. The win may also boost Walker’s 2016 presidential prospects.

Michigan GOP Gov. Rick Snyder beat Democrat Mark Schauer in a race that had also been considered a tossup before yesterday. And in Kansas, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback fended off a challenge from state House Minority Leader Paul Davis after polls showed an extremely close race.

One bright spot for Democrats last night: the Keystone State.

Pennsylvania Democratic businessman Tom Wolf easily bested Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, making Corbett the state’s first governor defeated in a re-election bid, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Natural gas extraction was a critical issue in the race, and Wolf has promised to take a drastically different tack than his predecessor.

Wolf backs a 5 percent severance tax, which would be tied to the amount of gas that companies extract, rather than the current “impact fee” Pennsylvania charges whenever companies break ground on a new well. Corbett and other backers of the impact fee have said it will help keep Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry booming, but Wolf said a severance tax wouldn’t burden companies and could bring in billions of dollars for the state in coming years. Wolf has pledged to use that revenue for programs like environmental regulations and education (Greenwire, Sept. 23).

GOP flips Democratic seats

Republicans also flipped a handful of seats that had been under Democratic control.

Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn lost his race against GOP challenger Bruce Rauner. The defeat on President Obama’s home turf marks a big embarrassment for Democrats after Obama had campaigned for Quinn.

In a major upset, businessman Larry Hogan (R) was victorious in the Maryland gubernatorial race, beating out Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) for the seat being vacated by term-limited Democrat Martin O’Malley.

In Massachusetts, Republican Charlie Baker defeated Democrat Martha Coakley for the seat that will open when Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick steps down next year.

The GOP picked up another seat in Arkansas, where Republican Asa Hutchinson beat former Democratic Rep. Mike Ross to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe.

The Vermont Legislature will decide the winner of that state’s election in January after the candidates failed to secure the 50 percent needed to win outright, the Associated Press reported. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin — chairman of the Democratic Governors Association — held a narrow lead over his Republican challenger, Scott Milne, last night.

Vermont’s Constitution requires the Legislature to pick the winner if no gubernatorial candidate gets an outright majority. Democrats are expected to maintain control of both houses, AP said, but the Legislature nearly always chooses the plurality winner in gubernatorial races.

Too close to call

At about 5 a.m. EST today, three races were too close to call. In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) clung to a 2,800-vote lead over former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) with 91 percent of precincts reporting. The Denver Post reported this morning that most of the outstanding precincts were in the Democratic strongholds of Denver and Boulder, suggesting that Hickenlooper would eke out a narrow victory (see related story).

In Alaska, former Valdez Mayor Bill Walker, running as an independent, had a 1-point lead over Gov. Sean Parnell (R) with 73 percent of precincts reporting.

And in Connecticut, with 79 percent of precincts in, Gov. Dan Malloy (D) had 50 percent to Republican Tom Foley’s 49 percent.