State Election Results Embolden National GOP Agenda

Congressional Leaders Will Look to Policies Successfully Implemented by Republican Governors


The re-election of numerous Republican governors—and the expansion of Republican control into deep blue territory—signals that voters will back policy makers who tackle contentious issues like welfare reform, labor policy, and spending cuts, potentially helping shape the national GOP agenda.

Govs. Rick Snyder of Michigan, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Rick Scott of Florida, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Paul LePage of Maine were thought to be vulnerable, in part because of economic policies they pursued in their states since 2011. Each won re-election, in some cases handily, bolstered in most cases by improving budget forecasts and job growth.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie , a Republican who helped many of the candidates win re-election, said the victories represent “a repudiation of big spending, big taxes policies” he attributed to Democrats.
“I think you’ll see Republican governors continue to do what they’ve done over the last four” years, and predicted they would fill a leadership “vacuum” created by Washington.

Even though each governor pursued different agendas, the sweep of the results will resonate on a state and national level. With Republicans winning control of the U.S. Senate, they will be looking to policies successfully implemented by Republicans in states as they work to build their political agenda. They could point to successful GOP blueprints, ranging from limits on collective bargaining agreements to new restrictions on welfare benefits.
In addition to defending numerous seats, Republican governors were elected in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Arkansas, states with retiring Democratic governors. And Bruce Rauner, the Republican candidate for governor in Illinois, ousted Democrat Pat Quinn. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, was once on shaky ground with voters, but his popularity picked up several years ago and he coasted to re-election Tuesday night.
In Pennsylvania, Democrat Tom Wolf ousted GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, whose popularity had plunged and who received little national GOP support. But Republicans picked up seats in the state House and Senate, suggesting that Pennsylvania voters saw the election more as a rejection of their current governor and not a liberal pivot.
Similarly, Govs. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, both Democrats, were clinging to razor-thin leads Wednesday morning in their re-election bids. The races remain so close that the Associated Press hasn't declared a winner. Both governors enacted tighter gun laws, issues that drove voters from all sides in the election. They also spent much of their first term trying to expand job creation, and economic gains were central parts of their campaigns.

Many GOP victories served as affirmation by voters that positions once thought to be politically dicey could win broad support. Mr. Snyder enacted “Right to Work” legislation despite opposition from labor unions, overhauled the corporate tax code, and raised taxes on retirement income from pensions. Michigan’s unemployment rate has fallen sharply, from 11.0% when he took office in 2011 to 7.2% in September. Not only was he re-elected 50.9% to 46.9%, but Republicans expanded their majorities in the state legislature, giving him more political muscle.
“We’ve been really reinventing Michigan,” Mr. Snyder said Wednesday morning on MSNBC. “The recovery is going on. Good things are going on.”
Mr. LePage, of Maine, won election in 2010 in a tight three-way race, with just 38% of the vote. A central part of his agenda was reworking welfare programs and he made changes to cash assistance, food stamps and Medicaid rules that made it harder for people to qualify for benefits, a change he said would encourage more Mainers to work. On Tuesday, he won 47.8% of the vote, compared with 43.8% for his challenger, Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud.
Similarly, Mr. Brownback, of Kansas, enacted steep tax cuts that led to lower-than-expected levels of state revenue and credit-rating firms to downgrade the state’s credit rating. But Mr. Brownback said the changes were necessary to lure employers and spur economic growth. Polls projected he would lose. But he won re-election with 50% of the vote, compared with 46% for his Democratic challenger, Paul Davis.
Each race, in some ways, told its own story. There wasn’t a defining common thread.
Republicans won control of both the state Senate and the Assembly in Nevada, giving the GOP complete control over the legislative and executive branches of government for the first time since the Great Depression. Republicans are expected to try use the majorities to rework the tax code.

In West Virginia, Republicans won control of the state House of Delegates for the first time in 83 years, aided in part by the election of 18-year-old Saira Blair, a Republican college student from Martinsburg. The West Virginia state Senate, meanwhile, appeared to be locked in a 17-17 tie after Republicans wrested a number of seats from Democrats.
GOP governors who took opposite sides on implementation of the Affordable Care Act also found that their decisions didn’t disqualify them from re-election. Mr. Scott of Florida, Mr. Snyder of Michigan, and Mr. Kasich of Ohio, for example, agreed to expand access to Medicaid to more low-income residents, a key provision of the law that is subject to state discretion. But Mr. LePage of Maine, Mr. Brownback of Kansas, and Mr. Walker of Wisconsin each opposed Medicaid expansion.

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