MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans swept governor's races across the country Tuesday, holding on to control of key swing states like Florida, Michigan and Ohio and scoring upsets in Democratic bastions like Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois. Among the victors was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a conservative darling who won his third election in four years.
The victories boosted the presidential prospects of several likely GOP contenders, none more so than Walker, who rose to national prominence by taking on public sector unions and winning a recall campaign sparked by his efforts to strip them of nearly all collective bargaining authority.
Walker told The Associated Press that any decision about 2016 "will have to wait" while he pursues his agenda in Wisconsin.
"The bottom line is people elected me to get the job done in Wisconsin," said Walker, who defeated Democratic businesswoman Mary Burke. "We're going to spend the next couple months putting together our legislative agenda."
Democrats, already facing the loss of their Senate majority, had hoped governor's races would be a bright spot on an otherwise bleak night. Instead, the contests for statehouses across the country proved equally frustrating.
In a significant upset in Maryland, Republican businessman Larry Hogan beat the state's Democratic lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown. In Vermont, the state's Democratically controlled legislature appeared likely to pick its next governor, after the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, Gov. Peter Shumlin, led Republican Scott Milne but failed to top 50 percent of the vote. State law requires governor's races to go to the Legislature if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.
Democrats' only significant victory came in Pennsylvania, where businessman Tom Wolf ousted GOP Gov. Tom Corbett.
Republicans flipped the governor's seat in Arkansas, where Asa Hutchison won an open contest. Potential GOP presidential candidates John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan easily retained their offices. And in Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback thwarted Democrats who had hoped to make him an example of conservative overreach.
Three governor's races remained too close to call: Connecticut, Alaska and Colorado.
A look at some of the most watched contests in the country:
Republican Gov. Rick Scott edged Democrat Charlie Crist in the nation's largest swing state. The campaign was among the most expensive and nasty in the country, with both sides and their allies spending more than $100 million on television ads.
"Forget about all the partisanship," Scott said. "Florida is on a mission. And that mission is to keep growing and to become the very best place in the world to get a job, to raise a family, and live the American Dream."
Florida Democrats had hoped that Crist, a former Republican governor, could leverage his statewide recognition to help notch the party's first gubernatorial win in 20 years.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback won his first bid for re-election after putting in place the most conservative agenda of any governor in the country.
His prescription of massive tax and spending cuts generated a public backlash, and many Republicans defected from him to support Democrat Paul Davis, the state House minority leader.
GOP candidate Charlie Baker became the state's first Republican governor since Mitt Romney left office in 2007.
Baker outlasted Democrat Martha Coakley, the state's attorney general who was seeking to become Massachusetts' first female governor.
Wealthy GOP businessman Bruce Rauner ousted Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, reclaiming the governor's office for Republicans for the first time in more than a decade.
Rauner poured $26 million of his fortune into the race, criticizing the incumbent Quinn as a "failure." Quinn had pushed to raise the minimum wage while blasting Rauner as an out-of-touch "billionaire."
Rauner said his victory would chart a new direction for Illinois. "This election is about bringing back our great state," the first-time candidate from Winnetka said.
Democrat Mike Michaud conceded a three-way race to outspoken Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Democrats had feared independent Eliot Cutler would siphon votes from Michaud to give LePage a victory.
LePage squeaked into office in 2010 with 38 percent of the vote in a three-way race, and his inflammatory rhetoric and partisan agenda made him a divisive figure.
Democrat Tom Wolf easily dispatched GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, making the Republican the first incumbent to lose in the four decades since Pennsylvania's chief executive was allowed to seek re-election. Wolf, a former cabinet and building product magnate, left his role running the business to run for governor in 2013.
Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, turned back a challenge from Democrat Jason Carter, a state senator and the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber won re-election comfortably, after his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes acknowledged marrying an Ethopian man 17 years ago so that he could obtain residency in the United States. She said she had hid the marriage from Kitzhaber.
Associated Press writer Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Michael J. Mishak on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mjmishak