Conservatives still reeling from the presidential election and the loss of some very winnable Senate seats can take comfort in a rather significant consolation prize: Republicans now control 30 governorships for the first time in more than a decade. The victory in North Carolina was particularly sweet for Republicans. But on a more fundamental level, the right has swamped the country with conservative reform-minded governors, and this success is not geographically constrained: such conservatives are at the helm in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Louisiana, New Mexico, and even Michigan.
In the last couple of years, out of power in the White House and stymied in Congress by Harry Reid–so enamored of grinding business to a halt that he’s refused to pass a budget for going on three years–conservative governors have led the charge. Though Virginia voters went for Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012, they elected Bob McDonnell, a Republican, governor. And we can’t forget Texas Governor Rick Perry, who despite having a rough go in the presidential primary debates has presided over a state that has become a laboratory of conservative reform: tort reform, prison reform, education reform (ultimately blocked by the Democrats). Just how dominant is the GOP at the state level? U.S. News & World Report has this reaction from the Democrats:
But while Republicans hailed their victory in North Carolina as a way forward to “four years of balanced budgets, limited taxes and economic growth,” critics argued that losses in several other contested states revealed fissures in the GOP strategy.
“Like Republicans’ failure to reclaim control of the Senate, 2012 presents a year of missed opportunities for the GOP in governors’ races,” a release from the Democratic Governors Association said.
That is the statement of someone at the wrong end of an election drubbing. The DGA’s response to the GOP’s election night success was that Republicans didn’t crush them quite as thoroughly as they could have. An unspinnable victory has got to alleviate at least some of the bitterness on the right for what was a terrible night on other fronts, especially the Senate.
It’s more significant, however, because of the way the GOP has utilized those governorships. Blue states used to elect liberal Republicans who would basically govern as the Democrats would. But that’s not the case with this (young) crop. Many on the right are thinking about the promising future of these governors in terms of a 2016 presidential run. But it’s also important for conservatives to keep reforming the states’ approaches to economic and education policy to help insulate them from the worst of the Obama economy’s doldrums and the consequences of the left’s decision to completely give up on education reform. One lesson for the GOP on Election Day was that candidates matter. When it comes to governors, the right appears to need no such reminder.