Deval Patrick, a Democrat making his first run for elective office and a bid to become the state's first black governor, beat two opponents in Tuesday's gubernatorial primary to win a place in November's general election.
Patrick, 50, headed the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Clinton. He will face Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, the Republican nominee, who is trying to become the first woman elected governor of the state.
In Washington state, freshman Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, considered by some to be vulnerable in November, and her GOP challenger, Mike McGavick, easily defeated their little-known rivals in their respective primaries.
If Patrick wins the Massachusetts race, he would be just the second black elected governor in the United States, after L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia in 1989. However, no Democrat has been elected governor in this bluest of blue states since Michael Dukakis 20 years ago.
Republican Gov. Mitt Romney decided not to seek re-election and is instead considering running for president in 2008.
In the primary, Boston venture capitalist Chris Gabrieli, 46, who spent more than $8 million of his own fortune on the campaign, was second, and state Attorney General Tom Reilly, once the prohibitive favorite, came in a distant third. With 94 percent of the precincts reporting, Patrick had 49 percent, Gabrieli had 27 percent and Reilly had 23 percent.
In a speech Tuesday night, Patrick accused the current administration of starving public schools, standing idly by while violence soared on city streets and of ignoring problems with the Big Dig highway project until a tunnel ceiling collapsed, killing a Boston woman this summer.
"Make no mistake: This election is about whether we want more of all that, or lasting and meaningful change instead, about spinning our wheels or aiming high, about government by sound bites and slogans or leadership that strives to serve our long-term interests in stronger, safer and more prosperous communities," Patrick said.
Healey, who was unopposed for the Republican nomination, also addressed supporters, taking a quick jab at her opponent.
"Deval Patrick's prescription of higher taxes, more spending and weaker criminal justice laws are just the type of change we can't afford to make and a risk we cannot take," she said.
In addition to Healey, Patrick will face independent candidate Christy Mihos and Grace Ross of the Green-Rainbow Party in November. Patrick will be teamed up with Worcester Mayor Tim Murray, who won a three-way primary for the No. 2 spot as the party's nominee for lieutenant governor.
In Washington state, Cantwell, like Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, faced a revolt from anti-war activists in her party. But she tried to distance herself from her vote in favor of the Iraq war, and she neutralized an anti-war rival by hiring him to join her campaign.
She was seen as the prohibitive favorite in the field of five Democrats. McGavick, a former insurance executive, was expected to roll over five GOP rivals.
With about 36 percent of the expected vote counted, Cantwell had a commanding 92 percent of the Democratic vote. Her closest Democratic competitor, anti-war activist and attorney Hong Tran, was far back at 4 percent.
She said it was a good showing for many Democrats, and chalked that up to voter unrest with President Bush and the national Republicans, including the "stay the course" policy on Iraq, efforts to privatize Social Security and high energy prices.
"I feel very good about tonight's vote, but the ultimate vote is in November and I will work every day between now and then to be successful," Cantwell said from Washington, D.C.
McGavick had 85 percent of the combined Republican vote. His closest challenger was Brad Klippert at 7 percent. William Edward Chovil, Gordon Allen Pross, B. Barry Massoudi and Warren Hanson trailed.
"The way we have dominated our primary shows that the voters are seeking something new and fresh and we can offer it in this campaign," he said. "The contrast between our campaigns will be very clear."
The state generally leans Democratic, and Cantwell is favored in November.