NEW YORK – A series of upsets quashed Democratic hopes to break the Republican grip on governorships, but Dems still made notable strides in once-steadily GOP strongholds.
With 36 races contested and 20 seats open through term limits and retirements, Republicans had to put up 23 of 27 seats for grabs, compared to only 11 of the Democrat's 21 seats.
Hopes had been high among Democrats that they would have a net gain in seats, but as it turned out, by Wednesday, Republicans had kept 25 seats, Democrats had won 23 seats, two states were still undecided and one was in dispute.
In Alabama, Gov. Don Siegelman was defending his seat from Republican Rep. Bob Riley. The race was immersed in a miscount in Baldwin County that has put the outcome in doubt.
As of Wednesday afternoon, county officials had put Riley in the lead whereas he had been behind in the tally the night before.
In a joint press conference Wednesday, Democrat Lt. Gov. Doug Racine conceded the race to Republican state Treasurer Jim Douglas after it became evident the Vermont Legislature would award the governorship to Douglas.
The election results proved to be an upset, Douglas came from behind to defeat Racine 45 to 42 percent, with independent Cornelius Hogan siphoning off 10 percent. But since neither Douglas nor Racine won a majority, the election was to get tossed into the state Legislature to vote on a winner. Each chamber of which is controlled by a different party, but legislative leaders said they would ratify the popular vote.
Florida's incumbent Republican Gov. Jeb Bush handily won re-election against Democratic challenger Bill McBride on Tuesday in a closely-watched contest that was seen as a possible comeuppance for the 2000 presidential elections.
"Now is the time to unite us as a state and I appreciate Mr. McBride's contribution to the political process," Bush said at an acceptance speech attended by his father, former President George H.W. Bush.
The results were decisively in Bush's favor, 56 percent to McBride's 43 percent, with 98 precincts reporting. Independent candidate Bob Kunst was drawing one percent of the vote.
Dems also held onto the titan of the West Coast, California. Gov. Gray Davis won re-election, as expected, over GOP businessman Bill Simon, but with less of a share than commonly anticipated -- 47 to 43, with 58 percent of the precincts counted. The next closest candidate, the Green Party's Peter Miguel Camejo, came in third with 5 percent.
In an unexpected upset, Georgia's Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes lost his grip on the seat at the statehouse after a tight race with Republican Sonny Perdue. Barnes' spending advantage may have proved useless in a race that saw Perdue steadily gaining on his opponent in the final weeks. Perdue will be the state's first GOP governor since 1872. He won 51 to 46, with 84 percent of the votes counted.
In another win for the GOP, South Carolina is now Republican red. After running on a platform of education and a claim that he built "hundreds of new school buildings without a tax increase," Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges failed in his attempt to return to Columbia for another term as South Carolina's top executive. Apparently, Republican former Rep. Mark Sanford's criticism that the governor was relying on negative and deceptive advertising worked. Sanford won with 53 percent compared to Hodges 47 percent with 99 percent of precincts reporting.
Republican Governor Mike Huckabee will be returning to Arkansas' capital of Little Rock, defeating Democrat Jimmie Lou Fisher 54 to 46 percent with 75 percent of the votes counted.
"Folks, like it or not, it looks like we've got to get up and go to work in the morning," Huckabee said in his midnight victory speech.
It wasn't all smiles in the governor's mansion, though. Huckabee's wife lost to Democrat Charlie Daniels in the race for secretary of state.
Alaska's vast land is now Republican. Sen. Frank Murkowski beat Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, 58 to 39, completing a bid the popular senator had almost made in 1980. The state now moves from a Democratic governor to a Republican one. Gov. Tony Knowles was term-limited.
Maryland's especially combative race for governor turned out to be a win for Republican Rep. Bob Ehrlich. He had been locked in a fierce battle with Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who tried to make up for a notable, uncharismatic campaign with a series of ads blasting Ehrlich's gun-control stance in the wake of the Beltway Sniper attacks. Ehrlich, on the other hand, has played defense, accusing Townsend of trying to capitalize on a national tragedy.
"Welcome to history," Ehrlich said at a midnight acceptance speech, on the cusp of becoming Maryland's first Republican governor since Spiro Agnew in 1966.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Ehrlich won 52 percent of the vote, Townsend 47 percent.
Idaho also rested safely in Republican hands at the end of the night. The GOP's Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, onetime Boise mayor and U.S. senator, easily defeated newspaper publisher Jerry Brady, a Democrat political newcomer, 56 to 42 with 44 of precincts reporting. Libertarian Daniel Adams polled 2 percent.
In Massachusetts, Republican Mitt Romney came from behind in late polling to defeat Democratic state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien. Polls showed Romney leading O'Brien 52 percent to 43 percent with 57 percent of precincts reporting. An O'Brien win would have made Massachusetts a one-party state for the first time in more than a decade.
Republican Gov. George Pataki staved off Democratic Comptroller H. Carl McCall to enter a third term as New York's chief executive. Pataki's major campaign promise was to not raise taxes during his next term. McCall would have been New York's first black governor.
Pataki also fended off billionaire Tom Golisano, who beat Pataki for the Independence Party nomination and spent wads of his personal fortune in both the Independence Party primary and the general election. Golisano had claimed Pataki and McCall were two sides of the same coin and vowed to cut through the red tape in Albany.
The race, which totaled over $125 million, was the costliest non-presidential race in history. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Pataki won 50 percent of the vote, McCall 33 and Golisano 14 percent.
South Dakota state Senate Majority Leader Mike Rounds, a Republican, won the governor's seat with a low-budget campaign over Democratic former University of South Dakota president Jim Abbott in a relatively low-key race. Rounds takes the seat being vacated by term-limited GOP Gov. Bill Janklow, who is running for the House seat vacated by Republican Rep. John Thune, who was running for the Senate seat.
With 53 percent of precincts reporting, Rounds won 57 percent of the vote, Abbott 42 percent and the remaining two candidates about 1 percent each.
In Texas, Rick Perry, President Bush's lieutenant governor when he was governor of the state, won the top spot outright against Democratic businessman Tony Sanchez. Perry was expected to win. Perry won 59 to 39, with 40 percent of precincts reporting.
On the other hand, Democrats could boast of an upset victory in Oklahoma, where Democratic state Sen. Brad Henry won over Republican former Rep. Steve Largent by a matter of less than 7,000 votes. At the end of the night, with all votes counted, both had 43 percent of the vote, but Henry had 448,133 votes to Largent's 441,776. Independent Gary L. Richardson had 146,206 votes, or 14 percent.
In Illinois, the keys to the statehouse changed party hands with the victory of Democrat Rep. Rod Blagojevich over Republican state Attorney General Jim Ryan, 55 to 42 with 82 percent of precincts reporting. Though Ryan had enjoyed a last-minute boost with a visit from President Bush, his campaign was riddled with problems, from his public sniping with the sitting governor, George Ryan, to the similarity of his name to the scandal-ridden lame duck.
Another party changeover came in Michigan, where, as widely expected, Democratic Attorney General Jennifer Granholm beat Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus for the governorship, 56 to 43, with 26 percent of precincts reporting in. Though the GOP's Gov. John Engler had tried to throw his weight behind his No. 2, neither that nor a brief kerfuffle over Granholm's alleged stances on slave reparations and gay marriage were enough to derail her early and wide lead.
Meanwhile, in New Mexico, former Clinton Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, a Democrat, defeated young GOP up-and-comer and first-term Republican Rep. John Sanchez, 57 to 37 with 60 percent of the vote counted, giving the Democrats their third statehouse conquest of the night. The current governor, Gary Johnson, is a Republican. It was the state's most expensive gubernatorial race ever, with Richardson spending $6.7 million, and Sanchez $2.6 million.
In New Hampshire, the GOP's Cabletron businessman Craig Benson defeated Democratic state Sen. Mark Fernald, 59 to 38 with 91 percent of the votes counted. Fernald had said he wanted to institute a state income tax, which Benson blasted as a sign of Fernald's big-government tendencies. Benson's own business difficulties seem not to have cost him his win.
Not far to the south, Rhode Island also went to a Republican. In a come-from-behind surprise win, retired businessman Donald L. Carcieri beat three-time loser Myrth York, a former state senator on a platform of change and cutting government waste. With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Carcieri had 55 percent of the vote to York's 45 percent.
In Pennsylvania, heavyweight Democrat Ed Rendell won a decisive victory over Republican Attorney General Mike Fisher to become the next governor of the state. Rendell won 53 to 44, with 94 percent of precincts reporting.
Rendell, once mayor of Philadelphia and Democratic National Committee chairman, was largely considered a shoo-in, taking an early lead in the polls and never letting go of his front-runner position.
Rendell focused on education, the economy and getting state funding for prescription drugs. He will succeed Republican Mark Schweiker, lieutenant governor-turned-acting governor who replaced former Gov. Tom Ridge. Ridge left office to become director of the Office of Homeland Security. Schweiker chose not to run for the governor's seat.
Democratic Rep. John Baldacci will replace Independent Angus King as governor of Maine. Baldacci, part of a famous Bangor restaurateur family, defeated Republican Rep. Peter Cianchette, a former state representative, 48 to 39, with 10 percent of the precincts rallied. Baldacci's platform included ensuring health care for the state's children, while Cianchette painted his opponent as a flip-flopper and governmental spendthrift. Baldacci is the first Democrat residing in Blaine House in 16 years.
Green Independent Party's Jonathan Carter, Maine's first publicly-funded statewide candidate, had 11 percent of the votes. Independent John Michael had 2 percent.
In the other independent state, Minnesota, state House Republican leader Tim Pawlenty, beat state Senate Democratic-Farmer-Labor leader Roger Moe for the seat left vacant by Independent Gov. Jesse Ventura. With 16 percent of the precincts counted, Pawlenty had 47 percent, Moe 34 percent. Tim Penny, the Independence Party's successor to Ventura, had 16 percent and Green Party candidate Ken Pentel had 2 percent.
Sliding back into his favorite chair at the statehouse will be Ohio Republican Gov. Bob Taft, who won re-election at the expense of Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan. Hagan, a self-described "New Dealer" and husband to Star Trek: Voyager actress Kate Mulgrew, was forthright and outspoken about his pro-abortion rights, anti-death penalty attitude and his refusal to preclude a tax increase. Nevertheless, it's apparently time to beam Hagan back to Cleveland.
There were no otherworldly surprises in Nevada's race for governor. Gov. Kenny Guinn easily won re-election over state Sen. Joe Neal, despite being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Neal, the first African-American to run for governor from a major party in this state, didn't have much state party enthusiasm, endorsing a Republican congressional contestant against a Democratic incumbent. Taft won 58 to 38, with 98 percent of the votes counted.
Neither of the gubernatorial races in Colorado nor Nebraska offered any surprises. In the Rocky Mountain State, popular GOP Gov. Bill Owens defeated Democratic challenger and businessman Rollie Heath on his record of cutting taxes, reforming education and building roads, 64 to 33 with 48 percent of precincts reporting.
In Nebraska, another popular Republican incumbent, Gov. Mike Johanns, won back his seat despite Democratic rival Stormy Dean's campaign for fixing the state's finances and boosting the economy. Dean, who was turned down by four people to be his running mate, was widely seen to have little chance against Johanns' relatively mighty war chest. Johanns won 68 to 28, with 69 percent of votes counted.
The Heartland's Iowa went Democratic, however, with Gov. Tom Vilsack beating the GOP's Doug Gross in a race that traded nasty barbs over the state's economy and the candidates' trustworthiness. With 44 percent of precincts reporting, Vilsack won 55 percent of the vote, Gross 43 percent. Green Party candidate Jay Robinson and Libertarian Clyde Cleveland each took home 1 percent of the vote.
To the southwest, Kansas also flipped from the GOP to the Dems. Democratic Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius defeated socially conservative state Treasurer Tim Shallenburger, a Republican. With 98 percent of the votes counted, Sebelius won 53 to Shallenburger's 45, with the other two candidates trailing far behind at about 1 percent each.
Wisconsin went from GOP to Democrat, with state Attorney General Jim Doyle sending Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum packing from the statehouse after a particularly negative and hard-fought race. McCallum's warning that Doyle would raise taxes apparently didn't faze voters who chose the Dem 56 percent to 42 percent, with 44 percent of the votes counted
Democrats wrested control of the Tennessee statehouse from the GOP with former Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen's successful campaign against Republican Rep. Van Hilleary, an adamant opponent of a state income tax who suffered from party infighting. Republican Gov. Don Sundquist, who could not run again because of term limits, defeated Bredesen in the 1994 governor's race. Bredesen won 50 percent of the vote with 94 percent of precincts reporting; Hilleary won 48 percent and none of the 13 other contenders broke the 1-percent mark.
In Wyoming, Democrat Dave Freudenthal, a former Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney, will replace GOP Gov. Jim Geringer, who could not run for re-election. Freudenthal beat oil executive and former state House speaker Eli Bebout, 51 to 47 with 95 percent of the precincts reporting.
Arizona appeared to belong to the Democrats as well. Attorney General Janet Napolitano defeated former Rep. Matt Salmon, a Republican, 47 to 44 percent at the voting booths, although thousands of absentee and early ballots had yet to be counted. The state turns over to a Democratic woman after Republican female Gov. Jane Dee Hull was term-limited.
In Hawaii, Republican former Maui County mayor and GOP state chairwoman Linda Lingle defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono. Hirono had been caught up in Democratic blame for the state's weak economy. Lingle, who barely lost to term-limited Gov. Ben Cayetano in the race four years ago, is the state's first female governor and first governor-elect since 1962.
In Oregon, Democrat Ted Kulongoski, a former state Supreme Court justice, and Republican Kevin Mannix, a former state representative, were tied at 48 percent each Wednesday morning as votes were still being counted in the governor's race. Kulongoski led by about 3,000 votes with about three-quarters of precincts reporting. Mannix managed to cast himself as an outsider during the campaign, but Kulongoksi fired back with charges that Mannix's socially conservative positions didn't jibe with Oregon voters. Oregon is a mail-in ballot only state so it could take several days before a decision is made.