Abortion, Rebukes of Presidents Play Big Roles in Gubernatorial Results

The biggest winner of the night was Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who secured re-election with a 20-point win over Charlie Crist.

AP/Rebecca Blackwell
A woman arrives before Governor DeSantis speaks to supporters during an election night party at Tampa, Florida, November 8, 2022. AP/Rebecca Blackwell

Voters in 36 states cast their ballots for governor Tuesday, and the election results are looking like a rebuke not only of President Biden but also of President Trump.

While 74 percent of voters say they think the country is heading in the wrong direction, protecting legalized abortion proved to be a bigger motivator than late polling suggested. Republicans were aiming to flip governorships in New York, Wisconsin, and Kansas and to hold onto swing states like Arizona, but the predicted “Red Wave” turned out to be but a ripple — if that.

The biggest winner of the night was Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who secured re-election with a 20-point win against Democrat Charlie Crist. Mr. DeSantis gained national prominence for his handling of Covid, reopening businesses and schools before most other states and attracting hundreds of thousands of people to move to the Sunshine State.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Mr. DeSantis called this “the courage to lead” and declared, “Freedom is here to stay.”

During the leadup to the election Mr. DeSantis also plunged into the culture wars with his Parental Rights in Education bill, revoking Disney’s special tax exemption status, and pushing for the state’s medical boards to ban gender affirming care for minors.

“Florida is where the woke goes to die,” Mr. DeSantis said Tuesday night. He held the Democratic stronghold of Miami Dade County, signaling a real shift among Hispanic voters to the GOP — or at a minimum to the candidate himself.

What’s significant about Mr. DeSantis’s victory is the margins. Mr. Trump won the state by only three percentage points in 2020. In a rally last week, Mr. Trump called Mr. DeSantis “Ron DeSanctimonious,” signaling that the former president views the Florida governor as a threat in 2024.

In Arizona, the Democrats are looking likely to flip the governorship, though the race is too close to call. Polls predicted the Trump-backed Republican, Kari Lake, would prevail against the Democrat secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, but Ms. Hobbs is leading by nearly two percentage points. 

A local news anchor, Ms. Lake embraced Mr. Trump’s claims of a “stolen” election and his MAGA policies, and she adopted his combative style — with a telegenic face. Ms. Hobbs ran on her standing up to voter fraud claims in the 2020 election, on the “preserving democracy” message, and on protecting abortion rights.

Michigan’s Democrat governor, Gretchen Whitmer, beat her Republican challenger, Tudor Dixon, by six percentage points. Ms. Whitmer made protecting legalized abortion a central issue in her campaign. Voters were also tasked with deciding on Proposal 3, a ballot measure to enshrine “reproductive freedom” in the state’s constitution. The measure passed with 56 percent support, and Ms. Whitmer’s win can be viewed, at least in part, as a referendum on abortion.

In Georgia, the incumbent governor, Brian Kemp, won re-election against the Democrat, Stacey Abrams, by seven percentage points. This rematch from 2018 earned national attention and dollars, but Ms. Abrams’s message that Republican voting laws were instituting a “Jim Crow 2.0” failed to resonate with voters.

Mr. Kemp’s handling of Covid and his having stood up to President Trump after the 2020 election earned him praise from moderates, business owners, and parents of school-age children. Like Mr. DeSantis’s win in Florida, Mr. Kemp’s victory can be viewed as a vindication of governors who opened their states early during Covid. Unlike in 2018, Ms. Abrams did concede the race this time.

The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, also won re-election. This is the second loss in a statewide race for his Democrat challenger, Beto O’Rourke, and looking at it in combination with Ms. Abrams’s loss in Georgia, Democrats may want to rethink spending so much money and effort boosting celebrity candidates who fail to deliver.

Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, won the governorship against a Trump-endorsed Republican, Doug Mastriano, by nine percentage points. Mr. Mastriano embraced Trump’s 2020 election denialism and marched to the Capitol on January 6, 2021. His poor performance was likely a drag on the Republican senatorial candidate, Mehmet Oz, who narrowly lost to John Fetterman.

In Wisconsin, the Democratic governor, Tony Evers, won re-election against Republican Tim Michels. Abortion and gerrymandering in redistricting were issues in the race. Mr. Evers painted Mr. Michels as “a danger to our democracy” after the Republican said that were he to win the governorship, the GOP would “never lose another election” in the state. In a sign of ticket splitting, the Republican senator, Ron Johnson, has a slight lead in his bid for re-election, though the race is too close to call.

In Kansas, the Democrat governor, Laura Kelly, will likely win re-election, though the race is too close to call. In August, Kansans voted to reject a constitutional amendment that would have weakened abortion rights in the state. This election was largely seen as a referendum on abortion rights. Kansas is another example of split-ticket voting this year; the state elected a Republican, Jerry Moran, for Senate with support of more than 59 percent.

The Nevada governor’s race is too close to call, though the Democrat incumbent, Steve Sisolak, has a slight lead.

Also too close to call is the Oregon governor’s race. The Democrat incumbent, Tina Kotek, is leading her Republican challenger, Christine Drazan, by less than two percentage points. Liberal Oregon hasn’t elected a GOP governor in 40 years, but rising crime, homelessness, the economy, and a three-way race have given the Republican a shot. 

In the predictably blue states of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, and Rhode Island, Democrat incumbent governors all won re-election by safe margins. In Maine and Minnesota, the Democrat incumbents also prevailed.

In the conservative states of Wyoming, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma, Iowa, and South Dakota — and the swing state of Ohio — the Republican incumbents won. Republicans Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Jim Pillen also won their governor races in Arkansas and Nebraska.

Voters in two blue states with moderate Republican governors, Maryland and Massachusetts, elected Democrat governors Tuesday. In Massachusetts, Governor Baker chose not to seek a third term, yet instead of electing another moderate GOP nominee, Republican voters chose a Trump candidate, Geoff Diehl.

The result is that the Democrat, Maura Healey, easily sailed to victory with 63 percent of the vote. In Maryland, celebrity author Wes Moore, a Democrat, beat the Trump-backed Republican, Dan Cox, by more than 20 percentage points.

In blue Vermont, the moderate Republican governor, Phil Scott, handily won a fourth two-year term as governor. In New Hampshire, the popular moderate governor, Chris Sununu, also earned re-election. Meanwhile, the Trump-backed MAGA Republicans running for Senate and Congress in New Hampshire — General Don Bolduc, Karoline Leavitt, and Bob Burns — all lost. The adage that New Englanders prefer moderate Republicans proved true.

In New Mexico, the Democratic incumbent governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, fought off her Republican challenger, Mark Ronchetti, a former meteorologist, winning by five percentage points. Recent polling had suggested the race could be close, with Mr. Ronchetti challenging Ms. Lujan Grisham on her strict Covid closures, crime, and the state’s last-place ranking in education.

New York’s Democratic governor, Kathy Hochul, won against a Republican congressman, Lee Zeldin. Polls showed the race tightening in recent weeks as crime became the major focus, yet the issue failed to prove strong enough to propel Mr. Zeldin to victory in the heavily Democratic state.

Instead of a red wave, Democrats picked up governorships, and who controls the governors’ mansions in battleground states such as Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania could have implications for the 2024 presidential election. At a minimum, the results Tuesday night call into question whether Mr. Trump or Mr. DeSantis is the leader of the GOP and the favored candidate for 2024. 


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