Given how little Republicans have to celebrate today, it might be tempting for the more enthusiastic conservatives to sip at least a little champagne over gubernatorial dominance. While races for the top state job in Montana and Washington remain too close to call, Republicans successfully captured North Carolina’s governor’s mansion. That means of the 50 state governors, at least 30 will be Republicans next year; only 18 will be Democrats. It’s a remarkably high number—but it sure ain’t as high as the Grand Old Party was hoping.
Of the 11 states with governor’s races this year, Democrats were playing defense in eight, and GOP operatives figured this was their chance to make huge gains. It seemed likely early on that North Carolina was going to go red—the state’s current Democratic governor, Bev Purdue has done wonders to hurt her party’s brand—but there were a ton of other seemingly close races. In West Virginia, the incumbent blue dog Earl Ray Tomblin had to do his best to distance himself from Barack Obama. In Washington, Republican Rob McKenna emphasized the need for education spending and had appeal with progressive voters. New Hampshire, Montana, and Missouri also had the potential to give the Republicans gains.
The money started pouring in. As the Center for Investigative Reporting notes, in almost all the contentious races, the Republicans outspent Democrats. New Hampshire’s Republican candidate Ovide Lamontagne saw the powerful Republican Governors Association (RGA) spend $8 million on ads attacking opponent Maggie Hassan. The Democratic counterpart only spent $3 million defending her. In Washington, the totals got ridiculous, as both candidates raised around $9 million each. But there as well, the RGA spent $2 million more than the Democratic Governors Association. The RGA also raised double that of the DGA in North Carolina.
Campaign finance took a central roll in the Montana battle, when Republican candidate Rick Hill received $500,000 from the state party—a donation which had origins with the RGA. Hill received the money in a key window, during the four days when one court had knocked down the state’s campaign limits, before a federal appeals court put them back in place. In addition, the RGA spent another $4.2 million in the state. In total, the RGA raised approximately twice that of the DGA.
All in all, the spending didn’t pay off. The Republicans have only picked up North Carolina so far, and while the tallies are still being taken in Washington and Montana, the Democratic candidates lead in both races. It looks like, aside from the Old North State, both parties held their ground. But for Democrats, who lost more than a dozen gubernatorial races in 2010 and had a lot to lose Tuesday, there's undoubtedly a lot of relief.
For Republicans, it's yet another major missed opportunity.