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© Krantz News Service, November 6, 2014


With significant victories in both federal and state races, Republicans have opportunities for new legislative initiatives in tax policy, overall budget priorities and other issues.

The GOP has gained control of the U.S. Senate and strengthened its hold on the House of Representatives to a degree perhaps unprecedented since World War II.

Yet if the Republicans surge in Congress was a referendum on President Obama's administration, there were also significant statements at the state level.

The GOP will now control two-thirds of state legislative chambers across the country, leaving Democrats "at their weakest point in state legislatures since the 1920s," writes Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures. In addition, Republican governors will be working with Republican-controlled legislatures in nearly half of the states in the nation.

Notably, Republicans won gubernatorial races in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois where union causes and Democratic budget priorities faced striking setbacks.

Wisconsin Gov. Republican Scott Walker won his third statewide election in a row to seal a second term, following a tough recall election fight just two years ago which was seen as a referendum on a Republican reform package that stripped significant bargaining rights from public unions.

In Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder won re-election after signing tax reform and right-to-work legislation that generated heated criticism from Democrats.

And in Illinois, Republican challenger Bruce Rauner defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn after campaigning for tax reform and spotlighting the state's enormous pension funding crisis which has led to a credit downgrade. Quinn had backed a modest reform to stem the crisis, but unions pushed back in opposition.

In Kansas, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback won a second term after pushing steep tax cuts through the legislature, even though critics said the cuts went too far and voters would rebel.

Perhaps the biggest upset in this year's election occurred in Maryland's contest for governor: Republican businessman Larry Hogan, running in his first political race, defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in a solidly blue state where President Obama had campaigned for Brown. He has promised bipartisanship in his dealings with the solidly Democratic Maryland General Assembly.

In North Carolina, Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan had focused her campaign on the activities of the state's General Assembly, and specifically on the role of her Republican challenger, Thom Tillis, North Carolina's Speaker of the House. Even as the campaign intensified, Tillis insisted on maintaining a full legislative schedule through adjournment on Aug. 20.

Hagan harshly criticized the legislature's austere budget, particularly its cuts to education, while Tillis kept the spotlight on Hagan's Senate votes in support of the Obama administration's agenda.

The Republican wave even swept ashore on the West Coast. In the Washington state Senate, Republicans had aligned with two Democrats to form an unusual Majority Coalition Caucus over the past two years. Now the Republicans hold an outright majority in the state Senate, and they have also gained seats in the state House to reduce the overall Democratic majority there.

And in California, late returns showed Republicans keeping the Democrats from maintaining their supermajorities in both the state Senate and the Assembly.

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