At Least Seven New Governors
By John Celock
In addition to the election of President-elect Donald Trump, seven and possibly eight states elected new governors Tuesday night.
In a closely contested race in a swing state, Republican Executive Councilor Chris Sununu defeated Democratic Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern 49 percent to 46.7 percent for governor. The contest returns the governorship to GOP control after 12 years of Democratic control. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) did not seek a third two-year term in order to challenge U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R).
While parts of the race focused on issues including the state’s opioid drug problem, much of the race focused on the deep divide between the two candidates. Sununu painted a return to a more conservative state government, while Van Ostern painted Sununu as an extremist who voted against funding for Planned Parenthood. Sununu’s win also returns the job to a family that has already produced one governor and one U.S. senator.
Eight years after losing the Democratic primary for governor, U.S. Rep. John Carney easily walked into the governor’s mansion Tuesday night. Carney defeated state Sen. Colin Bonini 58.3 percent to 39.2 percent.
Carney, a former lieutenant governor, emerged as the Democratic frontrunner last year after the death of former state Attorney General Beau Biden (D) who had been viewed as the frontrunner to succeed term limited Gov. Jack Markell (D).
Democrat Jim Justice is the richest man in West Virginia and the owner of the iconic Greenbrier resort. He is now the state’s governor. Justice defeated Republican state Senate President Bill Cole 49.1 percent to 42.3 percent to succeed term limited Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D).
Justice’s win keeps the governorship in Democratic hands at a time when Republicans continue to gain victories for the state Legislature and down ballot statewide offices.
Vermont had long been a Republican bastion until the 1960s and for over four decades the state has alternated between Democratic and GOP governors, a trend that did not end this year. Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott defeated Democrat Sue Minter, a former state transportation secretary, 52.9 percent to 44.2 percent for the right to succeed retiring Gov. Peter Shumlin (D).
Scott, who had won three terms as lieutenant governor, had been viewed as a frontrunner and got a head start in the general election as Minter had to get past a competitive primary. Minter had the strong support of former Gov. Madeleine Kunin (D), who promoted Minter’s shot to be the state’s second female governor. Backlash against Shumlin’s tax hikes to pay for his health care plan worked in Scott’s favor as voters chose to change partisan control of the governorship. Scott, though, did not have coattails and Democrats captured the rest of the state’s statewide posts.
Republican Eric Holcomb started the year trailing in a U.S. Senate race, then dropped out to fill the vacant lieutenant governor’s office and then stepped up to replace Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the state’s outgoing governor, atop the GOP state ticket. After trailing for most of the campaign, Holcomb defeated Democratic state House Speaker John Gregg 51.4 percent to 45.4 percent.
Gregg, who narrowly lost to Pence four years ago, called for voters to move the state in a new direction, following a conservative push by Pence. Holcomb promised to continue economic policies pushed by Pence and former Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). Holcomb’s victory keeps the governorship in GOP hands after 12 years.
Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster was long viewed as the frontrunner for governor, including after his flip from the GOP to the Democratic Party prior to being elected attorney general eight years ago. The nation’s anti-incumbent mood though, helped retired Navy SEAL Eric Greitens (R) to beat Koster 51.3 percent to 45.4 percent to succeed term limited Gov. Jay Nixon (D).
Greitens pledged to govern differently from Nixon, including a closer working relationship with the Republican-controlled state Legislature. Koster pledged to govern in a similar manner to the moderate Nixon. Greitens was able to usher in Republicans to win the state’s down ballot offices.
Republican businessman Doug Burgum started the year as a virtual unknown, heavily trailing Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Burgum upset Stenehjem in the primary setting himself up as the frontrunner in the general election, On Tuesday, Burgum defeated Democratic state Rep. Marvin Nelson 76.7 percent to 19.4 percent.
North Carolina has been the center of national focus on gubernatorial politics all near with the battle between Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and Attorney General Roy Cooper (D). McCrory has been a top target for progressives nationally since his 2012 election ushered in Republican-controlled state government for the first time. McCrory and legislative Republicans have passed a number of conservative laws, prompting a series of protests in Raleigh. McCrory has been on the defensive all year following backlash for signing the state’s transgender bathroom law.
The North Carolina race is too close to call with Cooper holding a roughly 4,800 vote lead over McCrory with over 4.5 million votes cast. McCrory has said he wants to wait for all provisional votes to be tallied before conceding, while Cooper says he is moving forward with preparing for the governorship.