JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Republicans won control of governors’ offices in Missouri, New Hampshire and Vermont on Tuesday, picking up a trio of previously Democratic seats in their quest to expand their statehouse leadership to their strongest levels in decades.
The governors’ contests in a dozen states were part of a battle for statehouse supremacy that also included nearly 6,000 state legislative elections. Heading into Tuesday, Republicans controlled more than two-thirds of the nation’s legislative chambers, as well as 31 of the 50 governors’ offices.
They were inching toward their historical high of 34 governorships sent in 1922, with races in North Carolina and Montana still too close to call early Wednesday.
In a key legislative battle, Republicans also won control of the Kentucky House — the lone remaining Democratic-held chamber in the South — for the first time in nearly a century while defeating Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo. And Republicans reclaimed the Iowa Senate from Democrats, giving them control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
The states in play Tuesday included:
Former Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens defeated Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in the state’s costliest-ever gubernatorial race. He will succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to become just the second Republican governor in the past 24 years.
Greitens capitalized on his military service and his work as founder of the veterans’ charity known as The Mission Continues. He cast himself as an outsider going up against a career politician. Koster, a former Republican state senator, had picked up key endorsements from the National Rifle Association and major agricultural groups.
Including primary candidates, Missouri governors’ campaigns raised more than $72 million, easily doubling the previous record.
Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott defeated Democrat Sue Minter to take over the office held by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who chose not to run for another two-year term.
Scott is currently the only Republican statewide officeholder in a liberal-leaning state but has tacked to the left by embracing abortion rights and gay marriage and pledged to make government more efficient. Minter was a former transportation secretary for Shumlin.
Republican Chris Sununu defeated Democrat Colin Van Ostern in a close race set up by Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan’s decision to forgo re-election in order to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
Sununu is the son of former Gov. John H. Sununu and the brother of former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu. He has served on the governor’s Executive Council with Van Ostern.
Democrats had controlled the governor’s office for 18 of the past 20 years.
Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper claimed victory early Wednesday in a close race against Gov. Pat McCrory, but the Republican incumbent told his supporters “the election is not over” while citing uncounted votes and provisional ballots.
Cooper was ahead by just a few thousand votes out of more than 4.6 million counted.
The race has become a referendum on North Carolina’s rightward shift under McCrory, highlighted by a law that limits anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and directs transgender people to use public restrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates. Cooper has vowed to try to repeal the law as governor.
Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb won election over Democrat John Gregg to continue a 12-year run of Republican governors in Indiana. Holcomb, a former state Republican Party chairman, had had been appointed to the state’s No. 2 spot by Gov. Mike Pence and later was nominated as his replacement when Pence dropped his re-election bid in July to run for vice president.
Gregg had tried to cast Holcomb as a “rubber stamp” for Pence, pointing out Holcomb’s support for a religious-objections law that Pence signed. Opponents said the law, which was later revised, sanctioned discrimination against same-sex couples by allowing businesses to refuse to serve them.
Jim Justice’s victory will continue a 16-year stint of Democratic governors in a state that has otherwise been tilting toward Republicans. Justice, the state’s wealthiest resident, cast himself as a political outsider adept at creating jobs.
Republican candidate Bill Cole, the state Senate president, had hoped to ride Trump’s coattails. But Cole’s pledge to revive the coal industry was offset by Justice, himself a coal billionaire.
Justice will succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock was in a close race against Republican Greg Gianforte, a computer software firm founder who poured millions of his own money into the race. Gianforte aired more TV ads than all other statewide executive candidates in the nation, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity of data from the tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
Bullock was heavily aided by the Democratic Governors Association.
In Delaware, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Carney Jr. was elected to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Jack Markell. And in North Dakota, Republican businessman Doug Burgum won election to replace Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who did not seek re-election. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert won re-election in Utah, and Democratic Govs. Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington also turned back challengers.
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