With an open governor's seat in Washington state and two Senate seats drawing vigorous challengers, voters in eight states chose their fall candidates Tuesday in the shadow of a divisive, tight presidential contest.

The last big day of primary elections before November also saw a handful of contested House seats. Other states voting were Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.

In the hardest-fought primary race, the contest for the Democratic nomination for governor in Washington state pitted Attorney General Christine Gregoire (search) against Ron Sims (search), the King County executive and the state's most prominent black leader.

Dino Rossi, a former state senator, was favored to win the GOP nomination. Two-term Democratic Gov. Gary Locke chose not to seek re-election.

Gregoire, known nationally for helping negotiate the $206 billion settlement with cigarette makers, led in the polls and money. But leaders of the Seattle black community criticized her for belonging to an all-white sorority in the late 1960s.

Gregoire accused Sims of planting the story and said he knew full well that she is not racist. She argued that she helped get the sorority's racial policy reversed. "Knock it off, Ron!" Gregoire shouted at an August speech, her voice shaking with anger.

Sims denied any role in the story. He, in turn, made news with a proposal for a state income tax, coupled with elimination of the business and state sales tax.

In two states considered battlegrounds for the presidential race, Republican hopefuls competed to challenge sitting Democratic senators, contests that are receiving national attention and money because of the GOP's narrow 51-48 control of the Senate.

In Wisconsin and Washington state, Republicans made the war on terror and their support for President Bush central to their campaigns.

Four Republicans vied for the chance to unseat Wisconsin's two-term Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold (search), arguing that he is too liberal for their state. Feingold faced no primary challenge. With all the Republicans agreed on their support for the war against terror, one — former Army Ranger Tim Michels — ran an ad that featured the World Trade Center on fire.

In Washington state, five-term Rep. George Nethercutt led a crowd of Republicans hoping to challenge Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who faced token opposition in her bid for a third term. Murray has raised twice as much money as Nethercutt, and went into the race ahead in recent polls.

Elsewhere, Democratic Sens. Pat Leahy of Vermont and Chuck Schumer of New York had no primary opposition, while two-term Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire faced little-known primary challengers.

In the fall, Gregg is expected face Democrat Doris "Granny D" Haddock (search), a 94-year-old political neophyte who made a name for herself when she walked across the country five years ago to promote campaign finance reform. She walked across the state for this campaign.

Governors up for election include Republicans Craig Benson of New Hampshire, who faced a little-known primary challenger, and James Douglas of Vermont, who was unchallenged for his party's nomination.

Several House races promised fireworks, including the eastern Washington seat that Nethercutt left open by running for the Senate. He made history in 1994 by defeating then-House Speaker Tom Foley, a Democrat who had represented the district for 30 years. Three Republicans sought the nomination to take on Democrat Don Barbieri, chief executive of a hotel company.

Also in Washington state, a Republican-dominated district in Seattle's suburbs saw the law officer who caught the Green River serial killer among four Republicans running for the seat left open by retiring Rep. Jennifer Dunn (search).

In Wisconsin, three Democrats and two Republicans vied to succeed Rep. Jerry Kleczka (search), a Democratic from Milwaukee who is retiring after 20 years. Both of the primaries had black candidates; Wisconsin has never elected a black member of Congress.

In New York, GOP Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (search) faced a primary challenge from conservative David Walrath in an upstate district. In a heavily Democratic district in Brooklyn, Rep. Major Owens was in a three-way primary against two well-known City Council members.