Here’s What Happened in 9 Critical Races for Governor

Tuesday night's races for governor saw some groundbreaking victories—and some surprises.

[Photo: Gretchen Whitmer with hands in air at podium.]
Gretchen Whitmer was endorsed in her gubernatorial race by several pro-choice organizations, including NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. Bill Pugliano/ Getty Images

Tuesday’s election results saw groundbreaking victories for several candidates for governor. Here is what happened in some of the nation’s most critical and closely watched gubernatorial contests.


Democrat Gretchen Whitmer won her race Tuesday evening, with just over 50 percent of votes as of Wednesday morning, according to unofficial election results from the Michigan secretary of state’s office. Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette won 46.88 percent of votes. The race was considered a critical one for abortion access, as the next governor may decide the fate of the state’s “zombie” law criminalizing abortion care. Whitmer has vowed to work toward repealing it and protecting abortion rights should Roe v. Wade fall. She was endorsed by pro-choice organizations, including NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.


Democrats took back the governor’s mansion in Maine after eight years of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who was term limited. Democratic state Attorney General Janet Mills won the race against Republican Shawn Moody with 51.1 percent of the votes, making her Maine’s first woman governor. LePage during his time in office has continuously blocked Medicaid expansion in the state—despite voters approving a ballot measure to do so last November. The policy would allow an estimated 70,000 more Mainers to access health insurance. Health and rights advocates hope Mills’ win will be the change needed to finally implement the expansion. “The election results bode well in Maine for Medicaid expansion and making health care more affordable. Janet Mills, who will be Maine’s next governor, has promised to prioritize getting health care to the 70,000 Mainers who are eligible under the law—without delay,” a spokesperson for Maine Equal Justice Partners told Rewire.News.


Democrat Laura Kelly in Kansas defeated Trump ally and voter suppression enthusiast Kris Kobach. During his time as Kansas’ secretary of state, Kobach has engineered major efforts to restrict the vote, including requiring documentation of proof of citizenship to register to vote. The state’s governor will have veto power over the state’s redistricting plans in 2021. Pro-choice groups lauded Kelly’s win, noting it was critical to protect abortion rights in the state.

“As governor, Laura will be a champion for women and families, working to advance quality public education to get Kansas back on track for the people of her state after years of mismanagement,” Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, said in a statement. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, the right to a legal abortion is at “high risk” in Kansas should Roe fall. More than two dozen Kansas Republicans had crossed the aisle to oppose Kobach and endorse Kelly.


Republican Gov. Scott Walker was ousted by Democrat Tony Evers, 49.6 percent to 48.4 percent. With a Democrat at the helm of the state’s highest office, reproductive rights advocates may be able to regain some ground lost under the anti-choice governor. According to Planned Parenthood, Walker has signed 14 policies restricting “women’s access to health information, essential care, and pay equity” since he became governor. Workers’ rights and health care access in the state may also see a sea change. Walker had refused to fully implement Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin and waged a war on the Affordable Care Act and labor unions.

In a statement on Walker’s loss, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka simply noted Walker had been “a national disgrace.”


As of Wednesday morning, the final results of the race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp are still undetermined. Though vote tallies currently have Kemp in the lead, Abrams has yet to concede as some ballots remain uncounted. As Vox explained, while Abrams is unlikely to win enough votes to win the race outright, she may be able to pick up enough to push the race into a runoff. Tuesday’s results come after widespread reports of issues at polls across the state in a race already plagued by what civil rights advocates have deemed apparent voter suppression efforts. Should she be successful in her bid for governor, Abrams would be the first Black woman to win that office in the state.


Andrew Gillum was narrowly defeated in his bid against Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, 49.7 percent to 49 percent. Had Gillum won, he would have been the state’s first Black governor. Gillum had the backing of grassroots and progressive groups, including Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the Working Families Party, and Our Revolution.


Republican Mike DeWine defeated Democrat Richard Cordray in Ohio’s gubernatorial contest after winning 50.7 percent of the vote. As the state’s attorney general, DeWine has made his opposition to abortion rights crystal clear, signing on to amicus briefs in support of anti-choice policies. During a recent debate, he noted that he would sign an extreme measure banning abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many know they are pregnant. Cordray had vowed to veto such a measure. Under term-limited Republican Gov. John Kasich, Ohio has seen a vast reduction in access to reproductive health care, with pro-choice advocates warning that the state is at a critical juncture for legal abortion.


Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds defeated Democrat Fred Hubbell 50.4 to 47.4 percent in Iowa. Reynolds assumed the state’s governorship after then-Gov. Terry Branstad (R) was confirmed as President Donald Trump’s U.S. ambassador to China. Reynolds has since signed the strictest anti-choice law in the United States, a fetal “heartbeat” measure similar to the one debated in Ohio. Hubbell’s campaign focused in part on his dedication to protecting Planned Parenthood as a former chair of the organization in his state.


Despite running in a state where registered Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans, progressive Ben Jealous wasn’t able to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who retained his position with 56.2 percent of the vote, to Jealous’ 42.8 percent. Jealous ran on an unapologetically progressive platform and vowed to cover abortion care under the Medicare for All plan he hoped to implement.

In prepared remarks marking his loss, Jealous noted his campaign had succeeded in pushing Hogan to the left on some issues and motivating grassroots progressive organizing in the state. “In the future, we’ll look back at the year 2018 as a changing point. We’ll look back at this year as the year of the organizer. Because I know many of you who worked on our campaign, whether as staff or as volunteers, will run for office yourselves one day,” he said. “You make up the progressive wave that is growing and approaching our shorelines. And you are the lasting legacy of what we have built the last year and half.”

What Else You Need to Know

Democrats in Illinois reclaimed the governor’s mansion after J.B. Pritzker defeated Republican Bruce Rauner. Michelle Lujan Grisham won New Mexico’s gubernatorial race, flipping power for the Democrats and making her the state’s first Democratic Latina governor. Democrat Christine Hallquist hoped to become the country’s first openly transgender governor, but wasn’t able to topple incumbent Republican Phil Scott. And in Colorado, Jared Polis became the first openly gay person elected governor in the United States.