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On a night when President Obama won a second term and Democrats notched a number of key Senate victories, one bright spot for the Republicans -- at least to a limited extent -- were the gubernatorial races.
With two contests not yet called -- Montana and Washington state -- the GOP gained a net of at least one gubernatorial seat. The seat the GOP flipped was North Carolina’s governorship, which we had rated lean Republican prior to the election. Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican, defeated Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton by 55 percent to 43 percent. The seat had been vacated by Democrat Bev Purdue, who opted not to seek a second term.
The Democrats did manage, however, to successfully defend competitive seats in New Hampshire and West Virginia.
In New Hampshire, Democrat Maggie Hassan defeated Republican Ovide Lamontagne with surprising ease by 54 percent to 43 percent. We had rated this late-developing contest a tossup, but the Democrats had a strong night in the Granite State, winning the state’s four electoral votes and ousting two incumbent House members.
In West Virginia, incumbent Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin won a full term by 51 percent to 46 margin over Republican Bill Maloney. We had rated this contest lean Democratic.
The other gubernatorial races decided Tuesday were kept by the party in power and had not been considered competitive in our most recent ratings.
In Missouri, Democratic incumbent Jay Nixon defeated Republican David Spence, 54 percent to 43 percent. Nixon, like Tomblin, managed to keep the seat in Democratic hands despite strong pro-Republican trends in his state by pursuing a moderate-to-conservative agendas.
Three safe Republican seats were won, as expected, by the Republicans, as Gary Herbert (Utah) and Jack Dalrymple (North Dakota) each cracked two-thirds of the vote and Mike Pence in Indiana held off an unexpectedly strong challenge by Democratic former state House Speaker John Gregg. Pence prevailed, 50 percent to 46 percent.
Two safe Democratic seats remained in the party’s hands, as Vermont’s Peter Shumlin and Delaware’s Jack Markell chalked up wide, double-digit victories.
The remaining gubernatorial races still waiting to be called -- due to lagging vote counts -- were in Montana and Washington state. We had rated both contests tossups prior to the election, and both remained competitive through Election Night.
In Montana, Democratic state Attorney General Steve Bullock was narrowly leading Republican former Rep. Rick Hill. With more than half the vote counted, Bullock was up, 49 percent to 47 percent.
In Washington state, Republican state Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is seen as having the GOP’s best shot at winning the governorship in decades, was narrowly trailing Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee. With about half the vote counted early Wednesday morning, Inslee was leading, 51 percent to 49 percent. The narrow margin and the state’s mail-in balloting makes it likely the contest may not be decided until later this week.
If the Democrats win in both Montana and Washington state, the GOP will end up with a one-seat gain. As it currently stands, the Republicans have a 29-20 lead nationally. With the win in North Carolina, they now have a 30-19 lead. That could change if the Republicans win both Montana and Washington state; it would give the GOP a three-seat gain.