Incumbents survive, Dems make gains in governor contests

Democrats reclaimed governorships in two deep blue states and held on in a crucial swing state in Tuesday’s midterm elections, while governors from both parties flexed the power of incumbency as they cruised to re-election.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D). (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Democrats reclaimed governorships in two deep blue states and held on in a crucial swing state in Tuesday’s midterm elections, while governors from both parties flexed the power of incumbency as they cruised to re-election.

In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) defeated state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), a significant win in a battleground state where the Democrat vastly outspent a Republican rival who embraced former President Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories relating to the 2020 elections.

With two-thirds of the vote in, Shapiro led Mastriano 55%-44%. The Associated Press projected Shapiro would maintain his lead.

Shapiro’s victory broke a long streak of the two parties trading gubernatorial power. Shapiro will become the first governor elected to succeed an outgoing governor of the same party since Pennsylvania allowed governors to seek re-election in 1974.

Shapiro centered his campaign on combating the extremism represented by the far right of the Republican Party and promised to protect abortion rights in the state, where the procedure is legal through the 23rd week of pregnancy. Shapiro helped choose his own opponent, running advertisements in the Republican primary that boosted Mastriano.

Mastriano was among a number of Trump-backed Republicans running in governor’s races who denied the results of the 2020 election – including former television broadcaster Kari Lake in Arizona and businessman Tim Michels in Wisconsin. 

Early results showed Lake and Michels locked in competitive races.

Democrats also notched wins on Tuesday in Massachusetts and Maryland, two deep-blue states where popular Republican governors are leaving after two terms in office.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) was leading former state Rep. Geoff Diehl (R), 63% to 36% percent when the Associated Press called the race. She will become the first woman and first openly gay person to be elected the state’s governor. 

In Maryland, nonprofit executive Wes Moore (D), making his first run for public office, defeated state Del. Dan Cox (R) to take over an open seat. Cox, who had Trump’s backing, beat out retiring Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) preferred candidate in the primary. Hogan has since questioned Cox’s mental stability. 

Hogan called Moore to congratulate him Tuesday night, Hogan’s spokesman told Pluribus News.

In several other states, Republican governors showed off the power of incumbency with convincing victories.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) defeated former Rep. Charlie Crist (D) after building a huge fundraising and polling lead.

DeSantis has elevated his national profile by embracing culture war issues, pushing through policies restricting how gender is discussed in schools, using taxpayer money to fly migrants from Texas to the wealthy enclave of Martha’s Vineyard, and appointing health officials who question the efficacy of COVID vaccines. He is considered a potential contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Four years after winning election by just 33,000 votes, DeSantis cast his nearly 20-point win as a sea change in Florida — and perhaps national — politics.

“We have rewritten the political map,” DeSantis told supporters. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) also cruised to re-election in a rematch with former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D). With 86% of the vote counted, Kemp led Abrams 54%-46%.

Kemp used the powers of incumbency to push through a conservative agenda during the last legislative session, ahead of a challenge from a Trump-backed rival in the Republican primary, and then doled out hundreds of millions in federal stimulus dollars and repeatedly extended a gas tax suspension in the months leading up to the general election.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), also rumored to be interested in a presidential run, easily fended off former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) to win a third term in office. With nearly two-thirds of the vote in, Abbott was carrying almost 56%, roughly equal to the share of the vote he won four years ago.

Elsewhere, Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) fended off a challenge from her predecessor, former Gov. Paul LePage (R). New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) beat former meteorologist Mark Ronchetti (R), Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) won a second term against former state Sen. Scott Jensen (R), and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) led Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) by a 55%-45% margin, with 64% of votes cast.

Several tight races have yet to be called, including in Kansas, Nevada, Michigan and Wisconsin, where Democratic governors are seeking a new term. The race to replace Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) is also too close to call.

“Beating an incumbent governor is still the hardest thing to do in politics,” said Jared Leopold, a former top strategist at the Democratic Governors Association.