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In Governor Races, Democrats Flip 7 Seats

In Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams refuses to concede.

Election 2018 Governor Evers Wisconsin
Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers, left, and his running mate Mandela Barnes, at a post-election party in Madison, Wis.
(AP/John Hart)
Last Updated at 4:10 p.m. ET

Democrats lost high-profile gubernatorial races in Florida, Iowa and Ohio, overshadowing what was otherwise a strong night for the party in the 36 governors’ races.

The Democrats appeared to flip Republican gubernatorial seats in seven states -- Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin. (Right in the middle of Governing’s pre-election prediction of between three and 10 seats.)

The Republicans entered Election Day with a 33-16 lead among governors. There was one independent governor, Alaska's Bill Walker, who ended his reelection campaign last month.

Seven Democratic flips would diminish the GOP's lead to 27-23, including Alaska's shift from Independent to Republican. A big question mark looms in Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams refuses to concede to Republican Brian Kemp.

"Across our state, folks are opening up the dreams of voters in absentee ballots, and we believe our chance for a stronger Georgia is just within reach. But we cannot seize it until all voices are heard," Abrams said early Wednesday. "And I promise you tonight, we're going to make sure that every vote is counted."

The Democrats also dodged a bullet in Connecticut, where Republican Bob Stefanowski's lead over Democrat Ned Lamont evaporated early Wednesday morning once several large Democratic strongholds reported their votes. That would have been the only potential Republican flip of a Democratic governorship.

A few of the Democratic victories were especially sweet for the party. 

In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers narrowly defeated Republican Scott Walker, who lost in his fourth election in eight years. In red Kansas, Democrat Laura Kelly defeated Republican Kris Kobach, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump and takes hardline stances on voting and immigration. In Maine, voters turned the page on eight years of polarizing Republican Gov. Paul LePage, as Democrat Janet Mills won the state. And Democrat Gretchen Whitmer easily won the race to succeed Michigan's Republican governor, Rick Snyder, whose tenure was overshadowed by the Flint water crisis.

Still, for Democrats, the losses in big states loom large.

In Florida, Democrat Andrew Gillum lost to Republican Ron DeSantis by about a percentage point after leading narrowly in most polls during the campaign. Gillum, along with Abrams in neighboring Georgia, is a younger African-American who seemed poised to draw a more youthful and diverse electorate to the polls. But Gillum fell short, and Abrams is trailing. 

Despite picking up GOP-held governorships in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, the Democrats fell short by a few points in two other midwestern states -- Ohio, where Republican Mike DeWine defeated Democrat Richard Cordray, and Iowa, where Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds held off a strong challenge by Democrat Fred Hubbell.

The other three states that had been rated as tossups before the election by Governing -- Alaska, Oregon and South Dakota -- were all sticking to their traditional partisan leanings. In blue Oregon, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown prevailed, while in red South Dakota, Republican Kristi Noem won a surprisingly close race. And in red Alaska, Republican Mike Dunleavy is leading Democrat Mark Begich.

In the remaining competitive races, Republicans won in New Hampshire and Oklahoma, which had been leaning their way, while Democrats won two races leaning their way in Colorado and Minnesota.

The remaining seats where one party had been heavily favored broke as expected, without any upsets. 

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Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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