CNN morning host Alisyn Camerota wanted to know: Where had Chris Christie been the night before, when it became clear Republicans would take control of the Senate? The New Jersey governor’s voice was hoarse, his eyes drooping. “I was in 19 states in the last five days,” Christie replied, cracking a weary smile. “So last night I was at home.” Yes, but the next morning, he was back at it, making it to CNN (and Fox News and NBC’s Today Show) to discuss the underreported story of Election 2014. Keeping the House and winning the Senate was all well and good. However . . .
“My focus last night was on my governors’ races,” he told Camerota. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie spent the last year crisscrossing the country to stump for GOP candidates. He raised $102 million as chairman, an October 31 RGA press release trumpeted. In a postelection memo sent to donors and candidates, the RGA reports it spent a total of $130 million and even “went into debt” investing in their successful Maryland race.
“Governor Christie made the election of Republican governors his number-one political priority,” says Phil Cox, the RGA’s executive director.
Overall, it was a banner night for “Christie’s” races, though surely the candidates themselves deserve some of the credit. The GOP now holds 31 governorships to the Democrats’ 17, a net gain of 3. (Final results are still outstanding in Vermont and Alaska.) Republicans successfully defended eight governors in states Barack Obama won twice, including John Kasich in Ohio, Paul LePage in Maine, and what the RGA called the all-important “trifecta”: Rick Snyder in Michigan, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and Rick Scott in Florida.
Republicans held on in problematic races in Georgia and Kansas, the latter of which had incumbent Sam Brownback coming from behind to win after trailing his Democratic challenger since August. The only GOP incumbent to lose was Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, in a seat considered long gone to the Democrats.
The GOP didn’t slouch in its safer seats, either. The party easily picked up Arkansas’s open, Democratic-held governorship, completing the GOP’s takeover of the state. Republican incumbents in Oklahoma, South Carolina, Alabama, Iowa, Idaho, Wyoming, Tennessee, and South Dakota all won with at least 55 percent of the vote, sometimes a lot more. Once hailed by national Democrats as the party’s champion to “turn Texas blue,” state senator Wendy Davis’s campaign became a joke as she lost to attorney general Greg Abbott by more than 20 points. Susana Martinez, the GOP governor of New Mexico, was reelected by 15 points in a state Mitt Romney lost by 10 points. In Nevada, which Obama won in 2012 by 6 points, Republican Brian Sandoval won reelection with more than 70 percent of the vote.
Sweeter still for the GOP were the party’s takeovers of Democratic seats in some of the bluest states in the country, including Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts. “That’s a really good night for Republicans to win in those blue states, and as a blue state governor myself, and as a Republican, I was particularly gratified,” Christie said on CNN. Here, the RGA chair has some bragging rights. During the campaign, Christie visited Maryland four times and Illinois eight times. In Massachusetts, the RGA outspent all the Democratic-affiliated outside groups by $3 million to help Charlie Baker defeat Martha Coakley.
Speaking of Coakley, it didn’t hurt that Republicans in those states faced particularly flawed Democratic candidates. In Illinois, Republican businessman Bruce Rauner defeated incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn by nearly 5 points, winning every county but Cook (which includes Chicago). “Pat Quinn was a pretty open target,” says Tim Schneider, the state Republican chairman. Quinn succeeded impeached Democrat Rod Blagojevich in 2009 and barely won election in his own right the next year. As governor, he temporarily raised income tax rates 67 percent while unemployment in the state climbed—it dropped off in the last year only because the labor force shrank. Polls showed Illinois residents overwhelmingly opposed the tax hike, and Rauner ran hard against it, suggesting Quinn would likely make the increase permanent if reelected. Voters seem to have made the same calculation.