Democrats picked up at least seven governor seats Tuesday night, but Republicans prevailed in the key states of Iowa, Ohio and Florida. Thirty-six states had gubernatorial elections this year, 26 of which Republicans were defending.
As Election night ended, much of the spotlight was trained on too-close-to-call races in Georgia and Wisconsin, but in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, and New Mexico Democrats won governorships that had been held by Republicans. In Georgia, former state House Minority Leader, Democrat Stacey Abrams, had not conceded to Secretary of State Brian Kemp, hoping that late-counted ballots would prevent Kemp from gaining a majority and force a runoff. As we went to press, Kemp led by 50.7 percent versus 48.3 percent.Races in Alaska and Connecticut were also not yet finalized.
The Wisconsin race, between Republican incumbent Scott Walker and Tony Evers, the superintendent of public instruction, had been neck-and-neck in the polls, a pattern that continued through the night as precinct results trickled in. Late in the evening, Evers took the lead after a late influx of absentee ballots from Milwaukee County. The Associated Press called the race for Democrat Tony Evers, based on unofficial returns, but the race could be headed for a recount.
On his website, Evers said as governor, he would strengthen the University of Wisconsin Extension system "to offer support and market assistance to help farmers navigate brutal commodity markets. In the past, UW-Extension was key to building up agriculture in Wisconsin – they need to again be a part of finding solutions." Walker was endorsed by the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association and the Dairy Business Association.
In Illinois, Democratic businessman and billionaire J.B. Pritzker defeated Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in Illinois. At an Illinois Farm Bureau forum in August, Pritzker criticized Rauner for not doing enough to protest tariffs that are hurting U.S. farmers and said the health of Illinois agriculture should not be a partisan issue.
In Kansas, Democrat Laura Kelly, the Senate Assistant Minority Leader, defeated the Republican Secretary of State, Kris Kobach. Kelly has said that “corporate farming is an important part of our agricultural sector” but that Kansas “needs reasonable regulations to balance the interests of communities and corporate farms.” Significantly, farm groups stayed out of the race, endorsing neither candidate.
In Michigan, Democrat and longtime state lawmaker Gretchen Whitmer defeated the Republican and Michigan Farm Bureau-endorsed Bill Schuette, a former congressman, state senator, state Cabinet official and state appellate judge from Midland. Whitmer has emphasized water issues in her campaign, particularly clean drinking water, given the long-term problems in Flint.
In New Mexico, Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham defeated fellow congressional representative and Republican Rep. Steve Pearce. Polls had shown Lujan Grisham well ahead in the race. Another Democratic pickup was in Maine, where state Attorney General Janet Mills beat Republican business executive Shawn Moody. She will take over from controversial Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who was prevented from running by term limits.
Also in the Midwest, Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, who represents southern Minnesota, defeated former state lawmaker and current Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, holding the governorship for Democrats.
In other farm states, Republicans held firm. Former Senator Mike DeWine won the governor’s race in Ohio, defeating Democrat Richard Cordray, former head of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. John Kasich, a former and perhaps future Republican presidential candidate, had been governor for eight years.
And in Iowa, incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds, who took over last year when longtime Governor Terry Branstad became ambassador to China, won by three percentage points to become the state’s first female to be elected governor. Reynolds had trailed Democratic businessman Fred Hubbell in almost all polls leading up to election night. In neighboring Nebraska, incumbent Republican Pete Ricketts won re-election over Democratic state lawmaker Bob Krist.
In one of many close races, in South Dakota, Republican Rep. Kristi Noem narrowly defeated Senate Minority Leader and former professional bronco rider Billie Sutton. Another tight contest was in Florida, where former Republican congressman Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor and Democrat Andrew Gillum to succeed Rick Scott, running for the U.S. Senate.
In California, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom defeated Republican businessman John Cox, succeeding Jerry Brown as governor.
For full results of the governors' races, go here.