New York - Republican governors in Florida, Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin fended off Democratic challengers on Tuesday in four hard-fought contests that proved wrong predictions of punishment for incumbents over an uneven economy and fiscal problems.
Republicans also won back the governorships in three Democratic strongholds, Massachusetts, Maryland and President Barack Obama's home state of Illinois, according to projections after polls closed in most of the United States.
The big wins at the state level reinforced the good showing nationwide for Republicans, who captured control of the US Senate in the midterm elections, setting up a complicated end to Obama's second term.
"All the close races are tipping the GOP way, not only among the governors but in the Senate, we saw the same thing," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.
"The Republicans are definitely having between a good and a great night, depending on how the remaining few states clock in," he said.
Incumbents from both parties were locked in tight races in Connecticut, Alaska, Colorado and Kansas.
One state spoiling the Republican victory run on Tuesday was Pennsylvania, where the Republican governor lost badly to his Democratic challenger in the wake of unpopular fiscal policies.
In Wisconsin, a political flashpoint in recent years, Republican Governor Scott Walker, a conservative Tea Party favorite considered to have presidential aspirations, defeated Democrat Mary Burke, Reuters/Ipsos projected. He famously survived a recall election in 2012, beating back a labor-backed effort to oust him from the governor's office.
"We thought more about the next generation than we did about the next election," Walker told supporters.
In Florida, one of the most important swing states in the nation, Republican Governor Rick Scott was the projected winner over Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor turned Democrat who appeared to suffer from low turnout in his strongholds. Both candidates struggled with low popularity during the contest that featured months of attack ads on both sides.
"It's time to put all the division behind us and come together. Forget the partisanship," Scott told supporters after receiving a call from Crist.
Brownback survives fiscal woes
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder prevailed over a Democratic political insider, former U.S. Representative Mark Schauer. In the home of the American auto industry, state finances improved under Snyder's watch and the bankrupt city of Detroit edged closer to getting back on course.
Kansas Republican Governor Sam Brownback won re-election by beating Democrat Paul Davis in the historically Republican state despite a bruising campaign that focused on the fiscal problems that followed Brownback's tax cuts.
The biggest disappointments for Democrats might have come in famously blue states.
In Illinois, Republican businessman Bruce Rauner defeated Democratic Governor Pat Quinn in a vote for change in the state with the country's worst public pension crisis and lowest credit rating.
"It's the Land of Lincoln and the Land of Lincoln is going down the tubes," said Neil Barrot of Schaumburg, a suburb of Chicago. "I don't think it's a beacon of America anymore. Policy and leadership attracts jobs and there's virtually no leadership here."
Rauner, 57, who spent millions of dollars of his own money in his first bid for public office, said he wanted to make Illinois friendlier to business by lowering income tax rates.
Republican Charlie Baker, the former chief executive of a New England health insurer, won the Massachusetts governor's race, beating Democrat Martha Coakley, in the contest to replace Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat who is retiring.
But in Pennsylvania, Republican Governor Tom Corbett lost to Democrat Tom Wolf, making him the first incumbent governor in his state's modern history to fail to win a second term.
In his concession speech to supporters in Pittsburgh, Corbett said he had made tough choices as governor knowing they would be unpopular.
"I said I might be a one-term governor, and I am. And I am proud," Corbett said.
Democrats fell way short as expected in the state of Texas, where Republican Greg Abbott, the state's attorney general, defeated his Democratic opponent, state Senator Wendy Davis, who had become a party icon for a 10-hour filibuster against abortion restrictions.