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GOP expands majority in governors’ mansions

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(CNN) – Republicans flipped North Carolina, a state that hasn’t elected a GOP governor since the 1980s, expanding their national lead over Democrats at the statehouse level, according to CNN projections.

Eleven states held governors’ races Tuesday. Democrats were defending eights seats, Republicans three.

CNN has projected winners in all but two of the states. Elections in Washington and Montana — two of the tightest races — remain to be called.

In North Carolina, Republican candidate Pat McCrory bested Walter Dalton, the sitting lieutenant governor, CNN projected.

McCrory, who will replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, would be the first Republican governor elected in North Carolina since 1988.

In West Virginia and New Hampshire, CNN projected that Democrats will retain control of the governorship. The race in New Hampshire to replace a popular outgoing governor was one of the country’s most competitive.

Democratic governors in Vermont and Delaware — Peter Shumlin and Jack Markell — won re-election, CNN projected. Similarly, Republican incumbents in Utah and North Dakota — Gary Herbert and Jack Dalrymple — were expected to win.

In Missouri, Democrat Jay Nixon became the first governor there re-elected to a second term since 1996, CNN projected. In Indiana, CNN projected that Republican Rep. Mike Pence will fill the shoes of outgoing Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Going into the election, Democrats held 20 governorships to the Republicans’ 29. Rhode Island is held by an independent.

With their expected wins in North Carolina and the states they were defending , Republicans will hold the governorships of at least 30 states after Election Day. The all-time high for the GOP was 34 seats in the 1920s.

Such an advantage would fortify the Republican position against Democratic policies like Obamacare, and give them influence in Washington, even if Mitt Romney doesn’t win the White House. CNN has projected President Barack Obama will win.

“There’s no doubt that the Republican Party’s strength comes from the states, and the RGA’s ability to expand our majority provides optimism for the future,” said Republican Governors Association Chairman Bob McDonnell.

Here are snapshots of each race:

Delaware

Gov. Jack Markell (D) vs. Jeff Cragg (R)

CNN has projected Democratic Gov. Jack Markell will be serving a second term, beating his Republican opponent, Jeff Cragg.

Delaware has become an increasingly reliable Democratic state and with the defeat of former Rep. Mike Castle in the 2010 U.S. Senate primary, the state now has no Republicans in statewide elected office. Cragg, a small-business owner from Wilmington was unlikely to change the GOP’s fortunes, especially in a presidential election year with Vice President Joe Biden, a Delaware native, on the Democratic ticket.

Indiana

(Open seat) — Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) is term-limited

Rep. Mike Pence (R) vs. John Gregg (D) vs. Rupert Boneham (Libertarian)

CNN has projected Republican Rep. Mike Pence will win the governor’s race in Indiana, beating Democratic competitor John Gregg.

Pence, having already served six terms as a member of the House of Representatives, mulled a 2012 presidential bid but opted instead to run for governor to replace term-limited Republican incumbent Mitch Daniels. Gregg is the former Indiana House speaker.

Pence’s win was thought as likely. Years in Congress and on the Sunday talk show circuit, as well as his brief foray in near-presidential politics, gave him a relatively high profile for a state candidate. Indiana is also a Republican-friendly state, with Republicans controlling the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat and a majority of U.S. House seats.

Missouri

Gov. Jay Nixon (D) vs. Dave Spence (R)

CNN has projected Democrat Jay Nixon will become the first Missouri governor re-elected to a second term since 1996. Nixon defeated Republican businessman Dave Spence. A veteran campaigner with at least seven statewide races under his belt, Nixon had a solid lead over Spence for much of the past year. Nixon won the governorship in 2008 with 58% in a state known for its tendency to be fickle at the ballot box when it comes to state office. Since the 1970s, Republicans and Democrats have traded control of the governorship six times. Though a long-time swing state, Missouri has voted Republican in the past three presidential elections.

Montana

(Open seat) — Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) is term-limited

Steve Bullock (D) vs. Rep. Rick Hill (R)

The race to replace outgoing Democratic incumbent and frequent CNN contributor Brian Schweitzer is extremely competitive. The Democratic nominee is Steve Bullock, the state attorney general. He faces Republican Rick Hill, a former congressman. Schweitzer leaves office with fairly high marks. He began October with a 61% approval rating, which helps Bullock. But the state leans Republican overall.

New Hampshire

(Open seat) — Gov. John Lynch (D) is retiring

Maggie Hassan (D) vs. Ovide Lamontagne (R)

Democrats retained control of the governorship in New Hampshire with Maggie Hassan beating her Republican challenger Ovide Lamontagne, CNN projected.

As was the case in Montana this year, the race in New Hampshire to replace a popular outgoing Democratic governor became one of the most competitive races in the country. Hassan, a former state senator, faced Lamontagne, an attorney and conservative activist who was the tea party’s choice over Kelly Ayotte in the 2010 GOP U.S. Senate primary. He also was the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 1996, receiving 39.5% of the vote against Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

Gov. John Lynch leaves office with high marks. He began October with a 68% approval rating, which helped Hassan. Democrats have controlled the governorship for all but two years since Shaheen’s win in 1996.

John Babiarz ran as the Libertarian candidate in the race.

North Carolina

(Open seat) — Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) is retiring

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton (D) vs. Pat McCrory (R)

Republicans have picked up a governor’s seat in North Carolina with Republican Pat McCrory beating Walter Dalton, the sitting lieutenant governor, CNN projected.

Democratic incumbent Beverly Perdue made history in 2008 when she became the first woman to win the North Carolina governorship, undoubtedly helped by Obama’s even more historic win there at the top of the ticket. Since her election, Perdue’s approval ratings rarely crept above 40% as she faced both a struggling state economy and a Republican-controlled state legislature. Her decision not to seek re-election gave Democrats their best hope of retaining the seat, but they still faced an uphill battle.

McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte narrowly lost to Perdue four years ago. Obama made a strong play for North Carolina, in hopes of getting Dalton-friendly Democratic voters to the polls, but Dalton was still saddled with Perdue’s baggage.

With his election, McCrory becomes only the third Republican governor in the state in more than 100 years and only the sixth in the state’s history.

Libertarian Barbara Howe also ran for the top job in the Tar Heel state.

North Dakota

Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) vs. Ryan Taylor (D)

The governorship for North Dakota will remain in Republican hands with Gov. Jack Dalrymple beating his Democratic challenger Ryan Taylor, CNN projected.

Dalrymple was seeking a full term in the office previously held by fellow Republican John Hoeven, who resigned in late 2010 after winning the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Democrat Byron Dorgan. Taylor serves as the state senate minority leader.

Dalrymple appeared to have all the advantages heading into November. Republicans have had a lock on the governorship since 1992. Hoeven easily won re-election to a third term in 2008 with a whopping 74% of the vote. Though Obama lost here by a relatively close margin in 2008, he was not expected to offer down-ballot Democrats much help this year.

Roland Riemers, a real estate investor who originally ran on the Libertarian ticket, and Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect, ran as independents in the race.

Utah

Gov. Gary Herbert (R) vs. Peter Cooke (D)

CNN has projected Republican incumbent Gary Herbert will continue to serve as governor of Utah, beating his Democrat opponent, Peter Cooke.

It was expected that Herbert would win his re-election campaign as Utah has not had a Democratic governor in almost 28 years. Herbert took office in August 2009 when then-Gov. Jon Huntsman resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China. He won a 2010 special election to complete the rest of Huntsman’s term and received 64% of the vote over Peter Corroon, the mayor of Salt Lake County.

Herbert’s challenger, Peter Cooke, is a businessman and retired two-star major general with the U.S. Army Reserve.

Vermont

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) vs. Randy Brock (R)

CNN has projected Democratic Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin beat his Republican competitor, Randy Brock, to win another term in Montpelier.

This year’s election was expected to be less suspenseful for the incumbent than it was two years ago. That year, Shumlin narrowly edged his Republican opponent, Brian Dubie, 49% to 48%. Under Vermont law, the state legislature decides the gubernatorial election if no candidate receives a majority of the vote. Shumlin officially won the election in January 2011, though Dubie conceded the race shortly after Election Day. This year, Shumlin was expected to win re-election easily. Brock currently serves as a state senator.

Washington

Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) is retiring

Former Rep. Jay Inslee (D) vs. Rob McKenna (R)

Washington is headed for its third competitive gubernatorial election in a row. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire barely defeated Republican Dino Rossi in 2004 after a prolonged and tumultuous vote-counting and recount process that lasted 51 days.

Their 2008 rematch remained close throughout much of the campaign, but Gregoire ended up winning with 53%. The race to replace her is shaping up to be another nail-biter. The Democratic nominee is Jay Inslee, the former congressman who resigned his seat in March to focus on the gubernatorial race. Inslee received early criticism for that decision, as it leaves his district without a representative until after the election.

The Republican nominee is Rob McKenna, the two-term state attorney general from King County, the state’s most populous county. Inslee benefits from the state’s overall Democratic bent. President Obama is expected to carry the state easily and boost Democratic turnout. Also, Republicans have not won a gubernatorial race here since 1980.

Nonetheless, McKenna has made the race competitive. He has won statewide before, whereas Inslee has only won on the district level. McKenna also has roots in heavily Democratic King County, where he once served on the county council.

West Virginia

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) vs. Bill Maloney (R)

Democratic incumbent Earl Ray Tomblin defeated Republican businessman Bill Maloney in a rematch to win a four-year term as West Virginia’s governor, CNN has projected.

Tomblin took office in late 2010 after his Democratic predecessor Joe Manchin resigned to take over the late Robert Byrd’s U.S. Senate seat.

Tomblin won a special election last year against Maloney, 50% to 47%, to complete the rest of Manchin’s term. The major difference this time was that 2012 was a presidential election year and the shadow of President Obama loomed larger than it did in 2011.

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