Read: America, now more divided than (almost) ever
In Kansas, Wisconsin, and Maine, the elections could give new momentum to efforts to expand Medicaid. Voters in Maine approved the expansion in a ballot measure last year, but LePage slow-walked its implementation by opposing legislation to fund it. In Michigan, the election of Gretchen Whitmer could speed up the enactment of a major infrastructure package, Inslee noted.
Beyond the policy implications, none of the Democratic victories was sweeter for the party than those in Wisconsin and Kansas. Walker had been a conservative superstar when he won the governorship of the Badger State in 2010, and promptly worked with Republican legislators to enact sweeping restrictions on the bargaining power of public-sector labor unions. He defeated a Democratic recall effort in 2012, won reelection in 2014, and, before the rise of Trump, was a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Evers, the Democratic state superintendent of schools, ran on a kitchen-table platform focused on education, health care, and infrastructure.
Walker conceded on Wednesday, as Evers led him by about 30,000 votes, or 1.2 percent, with all precincts reporting. Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, greeted Walker’s defeat with a statement comprising all of six words: “Scott Walker was a national disgrace,” he said.
Read: Even Scott Walker says he’s “at risk” in Wisconsin.
Kobach’s loss in deep-red Kansas was even more of an upset, despite polls that showed the race between him and Kelly neck and neck. The two-term secretary of state and close Trump ally was just as polarizing in Kansas as the president is nationally. He made a name for himself as a crusader against both illegal immigration and voter fraud, instituting a strict voter-identification law in Kansas and serving as the chairman of the president’s commission on election integrity. Trump empaneled the commission to investigate his unsubstantiated suspicion that millions of illegal ballots cost him the national popular vote in 2016, but in an embarrassment for Kobach, he disbanded it after states refused to submit voter data as requested.
Kelly won in Kansas by four and a half points, despite the presence of an independent candidate, Greg Orman, who Democrats feared would cost them the election. Her victory continues Kansas’s tradition of switching parties in the governor’s office every eight years, but it owes as much to the legacy of former Governor Sam Brownback, the conservative who left office deeply unpopular after Republicans in the state legislature rolled back his signature tax cuts.
In Kansas, Wisconsin, and Michigan, a Republican majority in the legislature will limit a leftward lurch under new Democratic governors. But by defeating Walker and Kobach, in addition to their wins in five other gubernatorial states, Democrats have not only curtailed the careers of two conservative stars—they will have reshaped the policies and the political landscape of those states for the four years to come.