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(CNN) -- Republicans appeared to have regained the majority of U.S. governorships Tuesday night, capturing 10 in states where the previous executives were Democrats, according to CNN projections of exit poll data.
But Democrats scored two takeaways, including in California, where CNN projected that Jerry Brown will defeat Republican Meg Whitman for the governorship now held by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is stepping down under term limits. Brown returns to the governor's mansion in California 28 years after his last term ended. The other takeaway state was Hawaii.
GOP women made major inroads, as New Mexico's Susana Martinez, South Carolina's Nikki Haley and Oklahoma's Mary Fallin all defeated their Democratic opponents.
A widely publicized battle in New York ended with a projected Democratic victory as state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo slid past Republican favorite Carl Paladino, according to CNN analysis of exit poll data.
Son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, the younger Cuomo squared off against Paladino, a businessman and developer, after the Tea Party-endorsed candidate scored an upset victory over former Rep. Rick Lazio earlier in the GOP primary. Cuomo added to Democratic wins in New Hampshire, Maryland and Arkansas, according to the projections.
But governorships in Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa all have gone from Democrat to GOP, according to CNN analysis of exit poll data.
Republicans, however, lost Rhode Island. But Democrats didn't win it either. That's because Independent Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican, was projected by CNN to defeat Republican John Robitaille and Democrat Frank Caprio for the governorship, which had been vacated by Republican Gov. Don Carcieri because of term limits.
Chafee becomes Rhode Island's first governor since 1857 who is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
Often overshadowed during midterm campaigns, governorships can impact national politics by their influence in the redistricting of state electorates.
Republicans needed a net gain of only three governorships Tuesday for a majority nationally. If the eight-state pickup margin holds, the GOP will have gained a national gubernatorial majority plus five.
Tennessee became the first Republican pickup Tuesday evening, when Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam edged past Democrat Mike McWherter.
Haslam will succeed Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who was precluded from running again by term limits.
In Michigan, Republican Rick Snyder defeated Democratic Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero in Michigan.
In Pennsylvania, CNN projected Tom Corbett, who had an 8-percentage-point lead with 84 percent of precincts reporting, as the winner over Democrat Dan Onorato.
In Wisconsin, Republican Scott Walker was CNN's projected winner over Democrat Tom Barrett.
In Kansas, Sam Brownback won easily over Democrat Tom Holland.
In Wyoming, Republican Matt Mead was the projected winner over Leslie Petersen.
In Oklahoma, Fallin defeated another woman, Democrat Jari Askins.
In Ohio, Republican John Kasich, a former congressman turned pundit, defeated Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland, who was seeking a second term.
In Iowa, Republican former Gov. Terry Branstad, who had the job in 1980s and 1990s, defeated Democratic Gov. Chet Culver.
And in New Mexico, also a contest between female candidates, Martinez defeated Diane Denish in a race to replace Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson.
Addressing her cheering supporters Tuesday night, Martinez hit repeatedly on one theme: "You were the ones telling me how desperately we needed to move New Mexico in a new direction," she said. "At the end of the day, New Mexico chose a new direction."
In South Carolina, Haley became the state's first female governor by defeating Democratic opponent Vincent Sheheen in a tightly contested race.
Haley, a 38-year-old state representative, is supported by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Tea Party activists, and has promised to tackle unemployment and excess government spending by way of a 10-year plan.
During a bitter campaign run-up, Sheheen hammered Haley on reports of late tax payments while campaigning on the scandal surrounding the former governor.
The governor's race in South Carolina had earned a prominent stage among a series of high-profile gubernatorial elections that some analysts speculate could be a bellwether for future presidential politics.
Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Utah, Texas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Alabama and South Carolina returned Republicans to their governor's mansions; Colorado, Arkansas, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland did likewise for Democrats.
In Texas, incumbent Gov. Rick Perry defeated Democrat Bill White, and Democratic incumbents held on to governorships in Arkansas and New Hampshire, based on projections.
In New Hampshire, incumbent John Lynch bested Republican challenger John Stephens, while in Arkansas, Democrat Mike Beebe has defeated GOP nominee Jim Keet.
Democratic incumbents also held on in Massachusetts, where Gov. Deval Patrick was projected to defeat Republican Charlie Baker, and in Maryland, where Gov. Martin O'Malley was projected to prevail over Bob Ehrlich.
In Baltimore, O'Malley thanked state employees and campaign workers, pledging to "move Maryland forward" by creating jobs and in what he described as a "new economy."
In South Dakota, Republican Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard edged past Democrat Scott Heidepriem.
In Georgia, former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, the Republican candidate, defeated former Gov. Roy Barnes, according to a CNN projection based on exit poll data.
Deal narrowly defeated Tea Party favorite and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel for the state's Republican nomination.
The national spotlight turned on the Georgia race when national GOP heavyweights Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney endorsed Handel, while Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich backed Deal.
In Vermont, GOP Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie was up against Democratic challenger Peter Shumlin.
Dubie ran uncontested in the GOP primary, while Shumlin, a state senator, couldn't declare victory in his crowded primary until a recount was certified almost three weeks after the voting.
According to Vermont law, if no gubernatorial candidate wins a majority of the vote on Election Day, the responsibility of electing the governor falls to the state legislature, with each state senator and representative casting one vote.
Democrats currently hold a decisive 117 to 55 lead in the legislature.
In Nevada, Republican Brian Sandoval, who had beaten scandal-plagued incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons in the primary, defeated Democrat Rory Reid.
In Arizona, incumbent Republican Gov. Jan Brewer defeated Democrat Terry Goddard.
In Alaska, Palin's successor as governor, former Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, beat Democrat Ethan Berkowitz, a former state representative.
In Hawaii, Democrat and former Rep. Neil Abercrombie won back the governorship for his party by defeating Republican Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona. Republican Gov. Linda Lingle left the seat due to term limits.