Democrats picked up governorships in Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico and — in an upset — Kansas on Tuesday night as the party sought to challenge Republicans’ statehouse dominance around the country. But the party’s push in two major swing states fell short, as Republican Mike DeWine won in Ohio and Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded defeat to Republican Ron DeSantis in Florida.
The GOP holds 26 of the 36 governorships on the ballot Tuesday night, including 13 open seats and 13 Republican incumbents running for reelection.
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The Midwest shaped up to be a mixed bag for Democrats, who had hoped to steamroll Republicans in the epicenter of the gubernatorial map after President Donald Trump rocked them with Midwestern wins in 2016. In Illinois, Democrat J.B. Pritzker beat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer overcame Attorney General Bill Schuette in Michigan. But in Iowa, GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds turned aside a formidable challenge from Democratic businessman Fred Hubbell.
The tightest race of the night was in Wisconsin, where Democrat Tony Evers appears poised to leap ahead of Republican Gov. Scott Walker by just tens of thousands of votes out of more than 2.5 million cast, as late absentee ballots are counted.
And Democrat Laura Kelly delivered the statehouse surprise of the evening by defeating Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump running in a traditionally red state.
But Gillum, who drew notice as one of two prominent black Democrats running for governor, fell short in Florida, and Stacey Abrams trailed in Georgia to Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, though the vote count in the state was expected to continue well past midnight.
In Georgia, Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo addressed the ballroom at the Democrats’ election night party saying that there were still a large amount of outstanding votes to count and “we’re unlikely to have anything definitive to say the rest of tonight.”
Democrat Richard Cordray, a protege of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), also lost the Ohio race against DeWine, the state attorney general.
Kelly’s victory in Kansas was a mirror image of GOP performance in some traditionally Democratic states on the East Coast. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, both moderate Republicans, won reelection easily, defying Democratic attempts to link them to Trump.
But in Connecticut, Democrat Ned Lamont trailed Republican Bob Stefanowski by about 40,000 votes with 53 percent of precincts reporting, a surprising margin as Democrats were bullish that they could keep control of the state, despite outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s low approval ratings. Farther north, the Maine governor’s mansion flipped into Democratic control, with Attorney General Janet Mills defeating Republican Shawn Moody. Mills’ victory marked an end to eight years of Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s tenure in the governor’s mansion.
Democrats took back New Mexico behind Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s campaign, while Rep. Jared Polis kept the Democratic hold on Colorado’s governorship. Rep. Tim Walz also won his governor’s race in Minnesota, preserving Democratic control there.
Farther west, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown staved off an unusually competitive campaign from Republican nominee Knute Buehler.
Meanwhile, Alaska has emerged as one of the most unpredictable campaigns of 2018, with the independent governor dropping out in October to endorse former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, who faces Republican Mike Dunleavy in a late-breaking race.