New inroad for GOP as Democrats lose a former stronghold in North Carolina

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OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Republicans on Tuesday picked up a governor's office that has recently, not to mention historically, been in Democratic Party control, in North Carolina, adding to a streak of gains in recent elections that has given the party a strong majority in state capitals.

But Democratic incumbents held on in Delaware and Vermont in an election year when many voters were distracted from duels for governor by other races and issues -- from the presidential race to control of Congress. And Democrats also held on to the governor's seat in New Hampshire, where a popular Democratic incumbent chose not to run again.

Pat McCrory, longtime mayor of Charlotte, N.C., defeated the Democratic nominee, current Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, whose name was linked -- apparently not to Mr. Dalton's benefit -- with Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat who chose not to seek a second term as her popularity sank with economic troubles and an ethics investigation of former aides. Mr. McCrory, 56, is the first Republican elected governor of his state since 1988, and only the third GOP governor of North Carolina since 1901.

In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell, 51, a Democrat and former business executive who previously served as state treasurer, easily won a second term in office, as did Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, 56, a Democrat who partly made his name by working on helping students with learning disabilities succeed in college -- work inspired, he said, by his early struggle with dyslexia.

In New Hampshire, former state Sen. Maggie Hassan, 54, defeated Republican lawyer Ovide Lamontagne to replace John Lynch, the retiring Democratic governor. Mr. Lynch endorsed Ms. Hassan, but her New Hampshire roots were also unquestioned, as a longtime legislator in her own right, whose husband, Thomas E. Hassan, is the Phillips Exeter Academy principal.

By dint of math -- and in some cases, term limits -- Republicans had an edge right from the start this year, with eight of the 11 governor's offices up for grabs in Democratic control going into Election Day.

But unlike 2010, when Republicans picked up six governor seats in the midterm elections -- to give the party 29 governors, to 20 Democrats and one independent -- there was also much less of a national trend. State-by-state concerns, especially over the economy, dominated the airwaves and debates.

Adding to the local flavor was that the most competitive races, in New Hampshire, Montana and Washington, all were open seats replacing Democratic governors first elected in 2004, before the tumultuous Tea Party-tinged wars of the last few years that raged in other states over public-employee bargaining rights, voter ID or health care.

And of the 11 states with races, only one, New Hampshire, was considered a tossup in the presidential arena, which mostly kept the national candidates -- and their ads -- focused on someplace else.

"Our pick-up opportunities were so difficult," Colm O'Comartun, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, said in a phone interview Tuesday when polls were still open. "We were playing defense," he added.

No party has controlled more than 30 governor's offices at one time since the late 1990s, when the Republicans had 32, according to the National Governors Association. But the Republicans, despite seesaws on the state level over the decades, have not controlled more than 32 seats since the early 1920s.

Here in Washington, both parties read the tea leaves of population growth for clues in a closely fought contest between Republican state Attorney General Rob McKenna and Democratic former Rep. Jay Inslee.

Of the roughly 270,000 net increase in registered voters since 2008, according to the Washington secretary of state's office, more than 51 percent were in the state's three most populous counties -- all in the Democratic-leaning Puget Sound area in and around Seattle.

In North Carolina, Mr. McCrory won largely on the support of a majority of men and women, as well as strong support among voters over 30, conservatives, Republicans and independents and white evangelicals, according to preliminary exit poll results, conducted by Edison Research. Those making $50,000 or more also went for him in large numbers.

Mr. Dalton, the Democrat, drew support from younger voters, black voters and liberals. Moderates divided between the two candidates. Democrats had hoped to hold the seat, and the Democratic Governors Association spent more than $3 million in support of Mr. Dalton, mostly earlier in the campaign.

"We invested all through the summer," said Mr. O'Comartun, the executive director. "And we found the numbers weren't going our way."



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