When it comes to winning governors, the Rust Belt is officially red: The GOP has recaptured the majority of governors' seats in races across the nation, including pivotal contests in the Midwest-the so-called Rust Belt-that often serves as a bellwether for presidential politics.
After 37 races for governor yesterday, Republicans have secured at least 21 wins. (Seven races remained too close to call Wednesday morning.) With six Republican governorships not up for reelection, Tuesday night's wins gives the GOP a majority of governors' seats-and a distinct advantage in redistricting efforts that begin next year (see "State's fights," Oct. 23, 2010.)
Some of the most stinging defeats came for Democrats in the Midwest, including Ohio, where Republican John Kasich defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in a tight race for a state that plays a heavy role in presidential politics. Republican operatives saw the Midwest as a crucial region to make gains ahead of the 2012 elections. Ohio GOP Chairman Kevin DeWine put it bluntly to a crowd of jubilant Kasich supporters at a late-night victory party: "Today we kicked down Obama's firewall."
The GOP clinched other gubernatorial victories in Midwest and industrial states currently held by Democrats: Republican Rick Synder defeated Democrat Virg Bernero in Michigan-one of the states hardest hit by economic woes. In Pennsylvania, Republican Tom Corbett beat Democrat Dan Onorato in a state where sitting Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell has been an outspoken supporter of some of President Barack Obama's most unpopular policies, including healthcare reform. Republicans also won Kansas, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
Outside the Midwest, a handful of races were notable for other reasons: Three states elected their first female governors. Republican Mary Fallin took Oklahoma, and Susana Martinez won in New Mexico. In South Carolina, GOP candidate Nikki Haley becomes the state's first governor who isn't a white male. She's also set to become the nation's second Indian-American governor.
In Rhode Island, former Sen. Lincoln Chafee won his independent bid in a narrow win against Republican John Robitaille. Chafee is set to become the nation's only independent governor after independent Florida Gov. Charlie Crist steps down in January. (Crist left the Republican Party to run for the U.S. Senate-a race he lost to Republican Marco Rubio. The Florida's governor race remained too close to call Wednesday morning.)
Democrats did make some gains: Jerry Brown defeated Republican Meg Whitman in California to claim a seat held by outgoing Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Democrats also picked up Hawaii, and are running a close race to capture Minnesota. The party also defended high-profile seats in Massachusetts and Colorado.
As the GOP retakes the majority of governorships, they retake power in the redistricting process that begins in 2011, but they also retake a host of problems: Governors in most states will face massive deficits, sluggish local economies, and a bevy of voters waiting to see what they'll do differently.
See WORLD's interactive national map for complete election results from across the country.