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Republican governors win in Wisconsin, Florida

November 5, 2014

MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) — Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker won re-election in one of several hard-fought gubernatorial races, boosting the conservative favorite’s prospects as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.

Governors were on the ballot in 36 states Tuesday, most of them overshadowed by the fierce fight for control of the Senate, where Republicans were favored to take the majority. But several close governors’ races were closely watched because of implications for the White House race in two years.

In another hotly contested election, Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott held on to his office in the country’s largest battleground state despite a strong challenge from Democrat Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor who changed parties to run for his old job.

While Walker downplayed talk of a White House bid during the campaign, his victory over Democratic challenger Mary Burke in a state that voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 will immediately shift the focus to his future intentions.

Walker became a hero to conservatives for taking on public sector unions, stripping them of nearly all collective bargaining authority. Opponents responded by trying to boot him from office, and he became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election the following year.

Walker’s victory Tuesday was a blow to national Democrats and labor unions, which dumped millions of dollars into the race in an effort to derail the governor’s national ambitions.

In Florida, Scott won nearly 49 percent of the vote compared to about 47 percent for Crist. The close outcome underlined Florida’s status as an unpredictable battleground state that will be hard-fought in the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats had hoped Crist would give the party its first gubernatorial win there in 20 years and put the state in friendly territory for the White House race.

Exit polling conducted for AP and television networks showed Crist, who supported an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba, appealed to Hispanics. Scott, who had emphasized the drop in Florida’s unemployment rate, had the support of white voters and another major group of Florida voters, senior citizens.

Another governor who has figured in the 2016 discussion, John Kasich of Ohio, sailed to victory against Democrat Ed FitzGerald to win a second term largely on a record of economic growth and shrinking unemployment. Kasich’s state is also major presidential battleground, its voters neither reliably Republican nor Democrat.

In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley handily beat Democratic challenger Vincent Sheheen to win a second term. The victory boosts the national image of the 42-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants, who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2016.

In another swing state, Colorado’s Democratic governor was in a tight race with a Republican challenger.

Democrats scored a big victory in Pennsylvania, where businessman Tom Wolf unseated Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Pennsylvania is a state long coveted by Republican presidential candidates, but a last-minute push there by Mitt Romney failed in 2012.

Republicans also won in Nevada, Maryland and Georgia, and they reclaimed the governor’s office in Illinois — Obama’s adopted home state — for the first time in more than a decade.

Other Republican governors were facing strong challenges in Kansas, Michigan and Maine.

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Associated Press writers Brendan Farrington, Gary Fineout, Scott Bauer and Michael J. Mishak contributed to this report.

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