Republicans fall short in another governor's race

Democrat Steve Bullock was elected governor in Montana on Wednesday, dealing another blow to GOP hopes of making significant gains in the nation's governors' offices.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Republicans have fallen short in another gubernatorial race, all but dashing the party's hopes of gaining control of significantly more governors' office across the nation.

Democrat Steve Bullock was elected governor in Montana on Wednesday. That left only one undecided governor's race — in Washington state, where Democrats were in position to extend nearly three decades of control. Democrats have already fended off GOP challengers in Missouri, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Delaware and Vermont.

Republicans did pick up the governor's office in North Carolina and defended the seats they held. But they had targeted four seats for potential takeover. Eight of the 11 state gubernatorial races involved Democratic incumbents.

Because Washington state votes entirely by mail, the result may not be known for days.

Democrats fended off GOP challengers in governorship races in Missouri, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Delaware and Vermont.

Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory's victory Tuesday in North Carolina came two years after Republicans snatched six governors' offices in the midterm elections. Those victories gave the party 29 governorships to 20 for Democrats and one independent going into the latest elections.

Republicans remained at the top of state government in North Dakota, Utah and Indiana.

But the GOP's successes remained somewhat muted early Wednesday, despite the victory by McCrory, who defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton to become North Carolina's first GOP chief executive since early 1993. McCrory narrowly lost his gubernatorial bid in 2008 to Democrat Beverly Perdue, who opted not to run this year.

To the Republican Governors Association's chairman, Bob McDonnell, that modest gain was notable.

"There's no doubt that the Republican Party's strength comes from the states, and the RGA's ability to expand our majority provides optimism for the future," McDonnell said.

Indiana voters went with Republican Mike Pence, a 12-year congressman who defeated Democrat John Gregg and Libertarian Rupert Boneham to succeed GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is barred by state law from seeking a third term.

Democratic governors are leaving office in North Carolina, Montana, New Hampshire and Washington — a fact that stirred Republican hopes that at least some of those offices could be flipped to the GOP.

If Republican candidate Rob McKenna is elected in Washington, he will be the state's first GOP governor in more than three decades.

Chief executives of conservative North Dakota and Utah stayed in the Republican column with Tuesday's re-elections of popular incumbents. They included Jack Dalrymple, who took over two years ago in North Dakota when John Hoeven resigned to move to the Senate. Dalrymple won his first full term, defeating rancher and Democratic state Sen. Ryan Taylor.

In Missouri, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon won a second term on a night the state's electoral votes went to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who failed to block President Barack Obama from winning a second term. Nixon turned back a challenge from Republican St. Louis businessman Dave Spence in a race that attracted millions of dollars from political groups.

While federal elections often can be referendums on the national economy, statewide races are often decided by matters unique to those states, including whether voters like and trust a certain candidate, a national political observer said Monday.

"The races for governor and races for senator are high-profile for each state, and the outcomes will be determined largely by the personalities of those candidates and the issues in those states," said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Kate Hansen, a Democratic Governors Association spokeswoman, said 2012 was a difficult year for Democrats, since they have more seats to defend.

But in at least three states, Democrats easily prevailed. Gov. Peter Shumlin won another term in Vermont, Gov. Jack Markell did the same in Delaware and state Sen. Maggie Hassan was elected to lead New Hampshire.

Some observers have suggested there isn't necessarily a national tide lifting Republicans in governor's races so much as individual circumstances in a small number of competitive states. Democrats in North Carolina, for example, saw a former governor convicted of a felony in 2010 and the current governor sullied by an investigation that led to charges against her former campaign aides.

Republicans have also been aided by a cash advantage, with the Republican Governors Association raising about twice as much as its Democratic counterpart this election cycle.

 

Mike Baker contributed to this report from Olympia, Wash.