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Eleven States Stage Gubernatorial Races

Eleven states chose governors Tuesday, with two incumbents at risk of being unseated and changes in party control possible in a few places where a sitting governor was not in the contest.

Open races in Missouri, Montana, Utah and Washington state brought record spending and unprecedented bursts of out-of-state money. Incumbent governors faced aggressive opponents in Indiana and New Hampshire.

Other states electing governors were Delaware, North Carolina, North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia.

The heat of the presidential race had an effect on at least a couple of races.

New Hampshire's Republican Gov. Craig Benson (search) fought to hold on for a second term against Democrat John Lynch in a state leaning against President Bush. Indiana saw a fierce contest between Bush's former budget director, Mitch Daniels (search), and Democratic Gov. Joe Kernan, facing his first test at the polls since former Gov. Frank O'Bannon died.

Others contests remained resolutely local, turning on taxes, economic development or transportation issues.

Even before Election Day (search), dismay over economic problems and other woes over the past few years led to the ouster of governors in Missouri (where one-term Democratic Gov. Bob Holden lost in the primary) and Utah (where GOP Gov. Olene Walker lost the nomination at the party convention).

Three other governors — in Montana, Washington state and West Virginia — chose not to seek re-election.

"It is really tough to run as an incumbent governor today," said Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat. "It's probably not as tough as it was two years ago, but it is still very difficult. We're still dealing with tough budgets, cuts and fewer jobs."

Missouri's race, probably the most-watched contest in the nation, was competitive through the final, frenzied week. Republican Matt Blunt, the secretary of state and son of four-term GOP Rep. Roy Blunt, ran against Democrat Claire McCaskill, the state auditor.

In Washington state, Democrat Christine Gregoire, the state attorney general, sparred with Republican Dino Rossi, a former legislative leader. Democratic Gov. Gary Locke chose not to seek a third term.

In Montana, polls showed Democrats with a shot at taking a seat held by the Republicans for 16 years. Democrat Brian Schweitzer, a farmer who unsuccessfully sought a Senate seat in 2000, vied with Republican Bob Brown, secretary of state.

In Utah, polls showed Republican businessman Jon Huntsman Jr., a Bush administration diplomat, ahead of Scott Matheson Jr., dean of the University of Utah law school and the son of a former governor.

And in Delaware, retired Judge Bill Lee ran an aggressive campaign, boosted when one-term Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner drew criticism for what some saw as an insensitive response to a prison inmate's abduction and rape of a counselor. She said, "In prisons, you almost expect this to happen."

Republicans now hold 28 governorships to the Democrats' 22. The Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association have poured millions into the campaigns, hoping to increase the numbers of executive mansions they control.

The party with a majority of governors holds a prominent platform for presidential politics and domestic policies, such as the GOP's successful push for welfare reform in the 1990s. In presidential campaigns, governors can mobilize fund-raising efforts in their states, capture significant media coverage and help turn out voters.