WASHINGTON – The balance of power in the nation's statehouses shifted to Democrats Tuesday for the first time in a dozen years with six gubernatorial seats — Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York and Ohio — moving to the blue column.
Democrats now hold 28 of the top state jobs, winning 20 of 36 races in states such as Ohio and Colorado that will be key to the 2008 presidential race.
The mood behind the reversal was no better expressed than in Ohio, the state no Republican president has ever taken office without winning.
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"I feel like the Republican Party is not my party anymore," Joan Domek, 75, said after voting in Parma Heights, near Cleveland.
Analysts have been predicting a win for the Democrats in part due to widespread corruption in the Ohio statehouse that has tainted many of the statewide and even congressional campaigns this year.
Strickland won big not only among independents and women, but he also picked up support from groups who normally favor Republicans — those who attend church weekly and rural residents, according to exit poll results.
"It's time for a change. That's the buzzword," said Cindy Mushrush, 54, a stay-at-home mom from suburban Columbus.
Ten states had open seats because of retirements, term limits and, in the case of Alaska, a failure by the incumbent to win the primary. Democrats won six of those, and also held onto vulnerable seats in Iowa, Michigan, Oregon and Wisconsin.
The trend followed a national wave of dominance — Democrats wrested control of the House of Representatives and staked gains in state legislatures around the country — largely fueled by President Bush's fading popularity, resentment over the war in Iraq and various scandals involving the GOP.
Twelve Democratic incumbents also won, including Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, who made his support of stem-cell research a big part of his campaign en route to becoming the first re-elected Democrat in 32 years.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm won despite her state's failing economy, battered by the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs during her term. She defeated millionaire Dick DeVos, even though he put more than $35 million of his own money toward his campaign.
Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe broke a 10-year drought for the Democrats, defeating his Republican opponent Asa Hutchinson, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and high-ranking official in the Department of Homeland Security.
In Massachusetts, former civil rights prosecutor and Democrat Deval Patrick became the state's first black governor and the nation's second to be elected. He also ended a 20-year Republican grip on the governor's office.
Patrick also defeated independent Christy Mihos and Grace Ross of the Green-Rainbow Party. One-term Republican Gov. Mitt Romney chose not to run again, and is considering a potential bid for the presidency in 2008.
In New York, Eliot Spitzer, the crusading attorney general who led a crackdown on Wall Street practices, captured a state-record 69 percent of the vote on his way to becoming the first Democratic governor since 1990. Spitzer's margin beat former Gov. Mario Cuomo's mark of 64.6 percent in 1986.
"From here on out, we need a politics that binds us together, a politics that's forward-thinking, a politics that asks not 'What's in it for me?' but always 'What's in it for us,"' Spitzer said in prepared comments for his victory speech.
In Colorado, which has voted Republican in the last three presidential elections, former Denver district attorney Bill Ritter won perhaps one of the most bitter races — complete with an FBI investigation into one of many attack ads. The Democrat's campaign said the information in that ad, which accused him of being soft on illegal immigrants, came from a restricted federal database.
In Maryland, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley unseated Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich in a very close race. Just as Ehrlich benefited four years ago from his association with President Bush — winning the state in which registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans two to one — he suffered for it Tuesday.
The geographical reach of the victories will be critical for the next White House race and for redistricting of congressional seats, which is typically controlled by the governor and the legislature. Governors don't enact national policy, but they can strengthen a party's grass roots, turn out votes for presidential contests, and cultivate future national leaders.
"In the past, the Democratic party was strong in the Northeast and California, and that was about it," said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who won re-election — and is also exploring a presidential run. "Now we're a more centrist, national party who can show victories across the country."
Patrick, 50, defeated Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey in Massachusetts despite an endorsement from outgoing Gov. Mitt Romney, a possible presidential candidate in 2008 who opted not to run for a second term.
"Today, Nov. 7, 2006, the people of Massachusetts chose, by a decisive margin, to take their government back," Patrick told thousands who gathered at the Hynes Convention Center.
"You know change won't come in a flash," the governor-elect said. "You know that it will take focus and commitment and patience. But you also know that government by gimmick and photo-op and sound-bite has failed us. Do not expect more of that from me."
Republicans prevailed in the country's biggest states. Former movie star and incumbent Arnold Schwarzenegger easily won the California race, beating Democratic state treasurer Phil Angelides. Another Republican incumbent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, successfully fended off several challengers, including eccentric mystery writer and musician Kinky Friedman.
Republican Charlie Crist, the state attorney general of Florida, defeated Democratic Rep. Jim Davis in the contest to replace outgoing GOP Gov. Jeb Bush, who served the maximum two terms.
Republican Sarah Palin, the former mayor of Wasilla, won the Alaska race after defeating Gov. Frank Murkowski in the primary, helping tie the record for number of female governors at nine.
In Pennsylvania, former NFL star Lynn Swann was swamped by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty overcame a nail-biter in Minnesota, narrowly pulling ahead of Democrat Mike Hatch, attorney general.
In Illinois, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich won re-election in a contest that Republicans had at one time hoped would go their way. In Iowa, Democrat Chet Culver, the secretary of state, held the seat left open by retiring Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack.
GOP Rep. Jim Gibbons was elected governor of Nevada over state senator Dina Titus, despite accusations he assaulted and propositioned a cocktail waitress. And in Idaho, GOP Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter won a close race against Democrat Jerry Brady, former publisher of the Idaho Falls Post Register.
Elsewhere, Republican incumbents won in Alabama, Connecticut, Hawaii, South Carolina, Nebraska, Georgia and South Dakota as did Democratic governors in Arizona, Kansas, Tennessee, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wyoming.
FOXNews.com's Kelley Beaucar Vlahos and the Associated Press contributed to this report.