How sweeping was the Republican wave of 2014? Yes, the GOP has held the House of Representatives (with gains) and taken control of the Senate. But the party is also likely to come out ahead for the year in governor’s races—something few thought possible at the beginning of the cycle. And here’s a shocking data point to put it in perspective: At the start of next year, half of the New England states could have a Republican governor.
After making big gains in 2010, the GOP was playing defense in governor's races across the country. Democrats were itching to take back seats in supposedly friendly states in the northeast and Midwest: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio, for starters. Republican governors looked weak even in states where they ought to have been strong, like Georgia and Kansas. National Democrats even talked early on about “turning Texas blue.”
And Republicans actually winning governor’s races in deep blue states like Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts? Forget about it.
But that’s exactly what happened, and more. Republican Bruce Rauner toppled Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn in Illinois. GOP Businessman Larry Hogan defeated the sitting Democratic lieutenant governor of Maryland, Anthony Brown, in a campaign that railed against the two-term incumbent Democrat Martin O’Malley. Democratic attorney general Martha Coakley of Massachusetts lost another race (after her failed Senate special election bid in 2010), this time to Republican Charlie Baker. In Arkansas, Democrat Mike Ross began trailing badly early in the race to succeed his fellow Democrat, Mike Beebe, and Republican Asa Hutchison cruised to victory. Bob Beauprez, Republican, currently has a small advantage over sitting Colorado Democratic governor John Hickenlooper, and Republican Tom Foley in Connecticut has a razor-thin lead on incumbent Democrat Dannel Malloy.
The GOP played great defense, too. Ohio’s incumbent Republican John Kasich put away Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald before the summer was over. Republican incumbents in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nevada, South Carolina, Alabama, Iowa, Idaho, Wyoming, Tennessee, and South Dakota all won with at least 55 percent of the vote, and sometimes a lot more.
Meanwhile in Texas, liberal darling Wendy Davis struggled in her bid to be the first Democratic governor of the Lone Star State since Ann Richards. Her campaign flopped, embarrassing itself in the last few weeks, while Republican attorney general Greg Abbott easily succeeded Rick Perry. Republicans also held open GOP seats in Arizona and Nebraska.
Democrats struck out in their attempts to topple the GOP’s Scotts and Ricks. To wit, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and Rick Scott of Florida all held on in close, expensive races. As did Maine’s Paul LePage, the accidental governor who won a quirky three-way race in 2010 and had enraged the state’s liberal establishment with a litany of politically incorrect statements throughout his term. Democrat Mike Michaud, hurt by the same third independent candidate that spoiled the 2010 race, couldn’t put LePage away. In Georgia, Republican Nathan Deal righted the ship after stumbling in the polls most of the year to win a second term, beating Democrat Jason Carter. And in Kansas, where Republican Sam Brownback was thought to be a goner just two months ago, Democrat Paul Davis failed to get the job done.
Democrats have one bright spot in Pennsylvania, where Republican incumbent Tom Corbett had been in the basement for months and where Democrat Tom Wolf won with ease. They also held on to solid Democratic seats in California, Oregon, New York, and New Hampshire.
But make no mistake: Republicans won big in governor’s races. That’s what a wave looks like.