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Republican Ron DeSantis wins Florida, as Dems vie for key governor races

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Republican Ron DeSantis was elected governor of Florida in Tuesday's midterm election, defeating progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum. Photo by Wilfredo Lee/UPI

By Daniel Uria, UPI

Republican Ron DeSantis defeated progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum in Florida as Democrats hoped to win key gubernatorial races throughout the country.

With about 99 percent of the votes counted, Fox News and CNN called Florida's governor's race in favor of DeSantis, a former Republican state senator, over Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee.

The two candidates held vastly differing views on key issues such as gun control, taxes and education that could decide the potentially close race.

In the wake of the mass shooting at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in which a former student killed 17 people on Feb. 14, the candidates have proudly touted their NRA grades, with DeSantis receiving an A and Gillum an F.

Gillum supported bans on assault weapons, large-capacity magazines and bump stocks as well as increased barriers to gun ownership, including strengthening and requiring universal background checks for all gun sales, restricting gun access for the mentally ill and known foreign and domestic terrorists and closing various gun purchasing "loopholes."

DeSantis pledged to "stand up for law-abiding Floridians by defending their Second Amendment rights and said working with law enforcement to identify individuals unfit to own firearms would be more effective than "blanket bans" on weapon purchases.

Gillum,, was looking to become the first Democratic governor of Florida in nearly 20 years as well as the state's first black governor as he faces off against DeSantis.

Race played a factor in the race since DeSantis told voters not to "monkey this up" by supporting Gillum right after the primary and continued with racist robocalls from a white supremacist group imitating Gillum's voice with monkey sounds in the background.

DeSantis' campaign decried the robocalls, but Gillum addressed the tone of the campaign during the final debate between the two last month.

"Now, I'm not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I'm simply saying the racists believe he's a racist," he said, in a clip that gained viral attention throughout the country.

Throughout the campaign DeSantis has stated that Gillum is unfit to be governor, stating he is under federal investigation as the mayor of Tallahassee and that he lied about receiving a pair of tickets to the Broadway show Hamilton from an FBI agent.

Gillum denied being the subject of the FBI's investigation and during the October debate stated he believed his brother exchanged tickets to a Beyonce and Jay Z concert for the play tickets, adding he should've asked more questions.

Republicans held governorships in 33 states, but closely contested races in Georgia, Wisconsin and South Dakota could see Democrats unseat a handful of Republican incumbents.

New Mexico

Democrat Michelle Luján Grisham was elected as the first Latina Democratic governor of New Mexico after defeating Republican Steve Pearce.

Fox News and the New York Times called the race in favor of Luján Grisham, a three-term U.S. Representative, with more than 80 percent of the vote counted to replace Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

She pledged to quickly sign several bills vetoed by Martinez during the state's 60-day legislative session next year and supported increasing New Mexico's $7.50-per hour minimum wage as well as providing more funding for early childhood programs.

Kansas and Michigan

With more than 60 percent of votes counted CNN and Fox News called the Kansas gubernatorial race in favor of Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, while Fox News and the New York Times called the Michigan race in favor of Democrat Gretchen Whitmer with more than 40 percent of the votes counted.

Kelly defeated Kansas' Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach to replace Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer.

She promised to govern the state as a moderate, while also pledging to overhaul state's child welfare system and Medicaid program.

Whitmer will end eight years of Republican governorship in Michigan, replacing term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder and defeating Republican attorney Bill Schuette.

She ran on a platform vowing to "fix the damn roads" and protect expanded Medicaid coverage for lower-income residents in the state.

Illinois

With about 18 percent of votes in Fox News and NBC News called the race in favor of J.B. Pritzker, heir to the the Hyatt hotel franchise, over Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Rauner conceded the race to Pritzker about 30 minutes after polls closed, campaign spokesman Will Allison told the Chicago Tribune.

The election broke national campaign spending records, with Pritzker injecting $171.5 million of his own money into his campaign over the course of two years and Rauner putting $50 million into his re-election campaign in December 2016.

Pritzker proposed an overhaul of the state's tax structure and campaigned in support of legalizing sports betting and recreational marijuana use.

Rauner focused primarily on outlining plans for his second term in office after a first term battling Democrats over the state budget.

Georgia

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, former Democratic leader of the Georgia House of Representatives also has the chance to make history as the state's first black woman to be elected governor as she faces off against Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Voter rights have been at the center of the campaign as former President Jimmy Carter and others have urged Kemp to resign from his position as secretary of state, which gives him oversight of the vote.

Late Tuesday, five voters filed an emergency lawsuit to keep Kemp from overseeing any recount.

On Sunday, Kemp's office announced it was investigating the state's Democratic Party as part of a probe into an alleged failed attempt to hack the voter registration system. The Democratic Party dismissed the investigation as a "political stunt" by Kemp and Abrams declared it a "distraction."

In the lead-up to the election a federal judge ruled Georgia must allow 3,000 new U.S. citizens to vote in the midterm elections if they show proof of citizenship and a week earlier a federal judge blocked the state of Georgia from throwing out absentee ballots and applications in cases when a voter's signature doesn't match their paper work.

As the campaign neared a close, Kemp said the race was about "two different directions," reiterating his plans to lower taxes and his hardline stance on immigration.

Abrams has been a strong proponent of expanding Medicaid and increasing funding for public education, while urging voters not to be "tired or cynical."

"The cost is too great to let someone else write our story or erase our progress. It's time to step up, to knock on every door and to earn every vote," she said.

Libertarian candidate Ted Metz could also play a factor in deciding the race, as the state would hold a runoff election if no one candidate is able to garner more than 50 percent of the vote.

South Dakota

The result of South Dakota's governor race will be historic no matter which candidate comes out on top as Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem will seek to be the first woman elected as governor in the state and South Dakota Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton aims to become the first Democratic governor of the state in 40 years.

Immediately after the primary Noem appeared to be a runaway favorite to replace Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who reached his term limit, but Sutton found himself back in the mix as election day drew closer.

Noem is a strong conservative in line with the state's red roots, but Sutton has won favor for his pro-life stances and support of Second Amendment rights.

The state's agriculture market has provided the primary battleground for the two candidates, as Noem has focused on expanding value-added agriculture and creating a plan to diversify the agricultural sector, while Sutton pledged to promote changes in property tax policy to allow agricultural land to be assessed based on actual use.

Sutton's more liberal stances come in his education policy where he as pledged to create a tuition-reimbursement program for teachers working in underserved areas and boost state funding for needs-based college scholarships, while Noem called for public-private partnerships to provide rewards to teachers and consolidating scholarship applications to a single portal in order to make college more affordable.

Wisconsin

Democrat Tony Evers, Wisconsin's school superintendent, will look to unseat Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker as he seeks his third term as Wisconsin's governor in another tight race.

The election comes with added stakes as the candidate who is elected governor will gain control over a portion of the redistricting process that will take place in the state after the 2020 Census.

Evers focused his campaign largely on pledges to overturn some of Walker's policies, including a law passed by Walker in 2010 that restricted collective bargaining for Wisconsin's public educators.

He has also supported plans to repealing Walker's Right to Work legislation, which prevents mandatory union membership and prohibits unions or employers from requiring non-members to pay dues, as well.

Both candidates shifted stances on key issues as the election neared, with Walker asserted the state would always provide health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, despite having previously authorized Wisconsin to join a federal lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act.

"Tony Evers, I find it outrageous, outrageous that you would take advantage of people in their time of need, battling cancer or other diseases, to take advantage of them politically," he said at a rally in Glendale.

After Walker said Evers' proposal to end tax credits provided to farmers and manufacturers earning more than $300,000 as part of a sweeping tax overhaul would cost the state jobs, Evers said he was "planning to raise no taxes."

First openly gay governor

Colorado Democrat Jared Polis, a five-term U.S. Representative, defeated Republican Walker Stapleton in the state's governor race to become the first openly gay man elected as governor of a U.S. state.

Polis was joined by his longtime partner Marlon Reis as he delivered his victory speech on Tuesday night.

"Tonight we reaffirm what an amazing state we live in," said Polis, who also became the first Jewish governor of Colorado. "In Colorado, we dare, we dream, we do. We proved we're an inclusive state."

The New York Times and CNN called the race in favor of Polis, who won 51 percent of the vote with about 76 percent of ballots counted.

Polis said he was "profoundly grateful" to LGBTQ pioneers who came before him for "all the work you've done and overcome."

His campaign centered on bringing 100 percent renewable energy in the state by 2040 and moving toward universal health care.

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