Key GOP Gov’nor Wins in SC, WI and OH

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Update: A few minutes before 1 a.m., the RGA announced they had won the majority of governors’ seats. Going into the election, Democrats held an edge of 26 to the Republicans’ 24.

Haley Scores One for the Mama Grizzlies

As Election Night wore on, the South Carolina gubernatorial race stayed nail-bite tight. At 9:30, with almost 50% reporting, Republican State Rep. Nikki Haley and Democratic State Sen. Victor Sheheen were within one tenth of a percentage point. Later with 60% reporting, they were still within tenths of a percentage point. But as the numbers inched toward 100%, Haley gained an insurmountable lead — by 11 p.m., CNN had called her the winner — meaning she looks to have completed the Mama Grizzly narrative that eluded Sarah Palin so painfully in the Delaware Senate race earlier in the night.

Haley weathered alleged sex scandals, all-too-reminiscent of incumbent Gov. Mark Sanford’s affair, before overcoming a tough primary against more conventional Republican candidates with 65% of the vote. She is a 38-year-old Indian-American, the second to be elected governor, and will be the first female governor of the Palmetto State if this prediction holds. (As well as remain one of TIME’s 40 Under 40, of course).

As Feingold Falters, Walker Takes Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle bowed out of the game (not seeking a second reelection in the face of souring circumstances and prospects), leaving the seat wide open for whomever could convince the people that they held the elixir for economic ills.

Both men vying for the spot were Milwaukee sons. But Republican Scott Walker, executive of Milwaukee County (and a long-time state figure), looked to have topped Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, soon after the Senate race was called against incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold. Walker was leading in polls going into Election Day, the people less-than-convinced that Barrett could live up to his promise of putting Madison on a fiscal diet.

Both the RGA and DGA listed this race as one of their top priorities. (The RGA spent almost half of its budget on 10 of their 37 governors’ races, and this was one of them.) Although Walker isn’t a name familiar to the average American, Wisconsin is a place where both Obama and Biden have made appearances in recent months. This is partly because it’s a purple space, one with urban centers and rural areas, one superlatively representative of the nation as a whole. And this gubernatorial coup, done in the face of high-profile appearances, is one to hang Republican hats on, not in the least because of how much redistricting will affect politics for the next decade to come.

Ohio — The Coveted Ground

With Portman the clear Senate victor early on, Ohio Democrats pinned their hopes on incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland. Yes, Ohio is the classic battleground state, with plenty more presidential visits to boast than Wisconsin — and the governor win here has implications for 2012 — but this was also the classic 2010 race.

Unemployment in Ohio has hovered above the national rate during the recession (currently at 9.6% to the nation’s 10%). Strickland had presided over almost 400,000 job losses, and his opponent, John Kasich, had similarly damning baggage to overcome (think: long-time congressman, Lehman Brothers executive). Kasich was leading, barely, in the polls going into Election Day, and this too was one of the 10 races in which the RGA spent almost half of its $102-million budget. That money seems to have worked its magic in the Buckeye State, the place pundits have long been looking to as an indication of how out-of-sorts the voters truly felt with Democrats.