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Republicans Pick Up Governor's Races In Otherwise Blue States


The GOP had a good night in governor's races, too, and in states where you wouldn't expect it. NPR politics editor Charlie Mahtesian joins me now to talk more about that. And Charlie, there were 36 governorships on the ballot last night. What did Republicans achieve?

CHARLIE MAHTESIAN, BYLINE: Well, they had a great night, Melissa, at the state level. And this is true in governorships and at the state legislative level. But with governorships, Republicans went in with a very difficult map. They were defending more incumbents - almost twice as many incumbents, and they also had lots of open seats to defend. And at the end of the day, Republicans only lost one incumbent and that was Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett which everyone expected I think.

But the more important story was they protected or defended the seats of a number of vulnerable incumbents - folks like Maine's governor, Paul Lepage, Rick Scott in Florida, Scott Walker in Wisconsin. The list goes on and on, and I think at the end of the day if you had told Republicans going into the election that almost all of their incumbents would be safe at the end of the day, they would've been thrilled.

BLOCK: And they managed to upend Democrats in pretty reliably blue states, too.

MAHTESIAN: And that was the other amazing story of last night. States like Maryland - we're talking about some of the states that are the most Democratic turf imaginable - an open seat in Massachusetts, an open seat in Maryland. These were places where Republicans typically don't compete all that well at the statewide level, particularly in Maryland. That was a real shocker. So to win in places like that - also to knock off the Democratic incumbent, Pat Quinn, in the president's home state - again, a very Democratic state - those, I think - when you balance it all out, those are pretty remarkable performances by Republicans.

BLOCK: And signals ahead for 2016 and what might be in store two years from now?

MAHTESIAN: Well, last night's romp certainly burnished the stature of a handful of governors who were seen as presidential prospects. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, for example, will now be able to make a pretty compelling case to his fellow Republicans that he's won statewide three times in a very competitive state that has eluded the Republican Party at the presidential level. And those great successes that the state house level last night will also be a feather in the cap of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who traveled to nearly 40 states in his role as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

And I think the other thing of note as it pertains to 2016 is that Republicans began to see the outlines of a roadmap both in terms of messaging and strategy and tactics for how to win in some of the battleground states where they've struggled in recent presidential elections.

BLOCK: And finally, Charlie, let's talk about some of the ballot initiatives yesterday. What stood out? What were the patterns?

MAHTESIAN: Well, there were a few ballot measures of note. There were five measures dealing with minimum wage hikes, and all of them passed pretty easily yesterday. And that raises the question of whether that has a catalytic effect or none at all on the debate at the federal level.

Marijuana legalization was another prominent theme in ballot measures last night. Two more states, Alaska and Oregon, and the District of Columbia took steps to legalize marijuana. In Florida, though, a constitutional amendment to grant access to medical marijuana fell short, but that's only because it failed to meet a 60 percent threshold to pass.

And so I think the larger lesson last night on marijuana was that it was something of a successful dress rehearsal for 2016 when we're likely to see more action on the issue of marijuana legalization, and most notably in California.

BLOCK: OK NPR politics editor, Charlie Mahtesian. Charlie, Thanks.

MAHTESIAN: Thanks, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Charles Mahtesian is NPR's Politics Editor.