Republicans aim to expand gubernatorial power

Updated 6:01 PM EST, Tue November 6, 2012

Story highlights

GOP could gain four gubernatorial seats, crossing the 30-seat mark nationally

Republican gains could help the GOP fight federal initiatives like health care reform

Washington, North Carolina could elect GOP governors for first time since 1980s

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Washington gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna looks to help Republicans cross an important threshold while expanding their power at the top of state government nationally.

McKenna is locked in a competitive race in a state that hasn’t had a Republican governor in nearly 30 years. It’s just one example of how the party is leveraging trends and strengthening its hand in a number of ways in state races across the country.

If projections bear out and they grab four seats in addition to retaining the three they are defending, Republicans could hold the governorships of 33 states after Election Day, the most for them in nearly half a century.

Such an advantage would fortify their positions against Democratic policies, like “Obamacare,” tax increases and government spending and give them enormous influence in Washington – even if Mitt Romney doesn’t win the White House.

“It does help Republicans policy wise if one party controls the majority of governorships,” said Cook Political Report Senior Editor Jennifer Duffy.

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While the presidential campaign affects statewide candidates, especially by increasing voter turnout, races for governor can turn on more parochial issues.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in Washington state.

McKenna has deep roots in King County, the state’s most populous. He is a former county councilman and has run and won statewide previously. His Democratic opponent, former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, is mostly experienced in congressional races.

But McKenna is tapping a sense of voter discontent with a string of Democrats, whose margin of support has been slim over the years.

“They’ve had Democratic governors since 1984 and there’s a sense that voters are unhappy that despite promises, these governors haven’t been able to change things,” Duffy said, pointing out problems with education and the economy in the state.

Senate races to watch

A recent Elway Poll of likely voters showed McKenna with a 47% to 45% lead over Inslee, which was within the survey’s margin of error.

While the fight remains tight in Washington state, Democrats might have to throw in the towel in North Carolina.

The Tar Heel State elected its first female governor in Democrat Beverly Perdue in 2008, but she is retiring amid a campaign finance investigation. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory could become the first Republican governor since 1985 and only the third since 1901.

He leads comfortably in the polls against Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton.

“More than the investigation,” Duffy said of Perdue, “you’ve got voters with buyer’s remorse. The reason she isn’t running again is she was behind in all the polls – there was no path to victory for her.”

Key governor’s races snapshots

Compiled by Adam Levy and Robert Yoon, CNN Political Research

Delaware

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

Democratic Gov. Jack Markell appears headed for a second term this November. Markell’s Republican opponent is Jeff Cragg, a small business owner from Wilmington. 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 is 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