Democrats gain ground in governors' races

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Democrats reclaimed governors' offices from the Northeast to the Rockies to the South on Tuesday, putting them on track to take a majority of the governorships for the first time in 12 years.

Victories in Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, Arkansas and Colorado meant Democrats would control the top elected office in at least 27 states, provided they held onto their own seats. Such an edge over Republicans could prove pivotal in the 2008 campaign for the White House.

In Colorado - which voted Republican for president in the last three elections - Democrat Bill Ritter defeated GOP Rep. Bob Beauprez for the seat left open by term-limited GOP Gov. Bill Owens. Arkansas chose Democrat Mike Beebe over Republican Asa Hutchinson.

Massachusetts Democrat Deval Patrick was declared the winner in his state - he will be the first black governor of the state and the second elected black governor of any state. In Ohio, Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland easily defeated Republican Ken Blackwell. New York, as expected, chose Democrat Eliot Spitzer, the attorney general who crusaded for Wall Street and corporate reform.

Massachusetts and Ohio haven't elected a Democrat since 1986. New York last elected one in 1990.

Democrats were jubilant.

"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.

Two vulnerable Democratic governors in the Great Lakes beat back well-funded Republican challenges. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, long targeted by the GOP, defeated millionaire Dick DeVos, even though he put more than $35 million of his own money toward his campaign. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle defeated GOP Rep. Mark Green.

Republicans remained strong in some of the nation's biggest states. They got good news in Florida, where Republican Charlie Crist, the state attorney general of Florida, defeated Democratic Rep. Jim Davis in the contest to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Jeb Bush.

In California, the nation's best-known governor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, easily won re-election. The former action star defeated Democrat Phil Angelides, the state treasurer.

And Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, won re-election. He fended off challengers including musician and writer Kinky Friedman.

Ten states had open seats because of retirements, term limits and primary defeat. Republicans went into Election Day holding 28 governorships to 22 for the Democrats. The GOP began the year trying to hold eight open seats, while Democrats had only one. Republicans also saw another seat come open when Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski lost his primary.

In Massachusetts, Patrick trounced GOP Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey despite her support from outgoing GOP Gov. Mitt Romney, a potential 2008 presidential candidate. The last elected black governor was L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia who left office in 1994.

Two other black candidates - both Republicans - lost. In Ohio, Strickland swept past Blackwell, the secretary of state who was criticized by Democrats for his role in overseeing the 2004 election in Ohio that was critical in securing President Bush's victory. And in Pennsylvania, former NFL star Lynn Swann was swamped by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.

Tight races emerged for Republican Govs. Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota and Robert Ehrlich in Maryland, with vote totals showing them even or slightly trailing their Democratic challengers - Mike Hatch, Minnesota's attorney general, and Martin O'Malley, Baltimore's mayor.

In Illinois, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich won re-election in a contest that Republicans had at one time hoped would go their way.

Elsewhere, Republican incumbents won in Alabama, Connecticut, Hawaii, South Carolina, Nebraska, Georgia and South Dakota, as did Democratic governors in New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, Tennessee, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

The contests for open seats were some of the closest, including:

- Nevada, where GOP Rep. Jim Gibbons was hobbled by accusations he assaulted and propositioned a cocktail waitress. He faced Democrat Dina Titus, a state senator.

- Iowa, where Democrat Chet Culver, the secretary of state, and GOP Rep. Jim Nussle fought for the seat left by retiring Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack, who is exploring a possible presidential run.

A few states that strategists expected to stay safely Republican wound up competitive.

In Alaska, Republican Sarah Palin unseated unpopular Gov. Murkowski in the GOP primary and faced Democratic former Gov. Tony Knowles. In Idaho, GOP Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter was in a close contest with Democrat Jerry Brady, a former newspaper publisher.

The contests could break the record for women governors. Eight women governors now hold office, one fewer than the record. Four women were in the running as major-party candidates.

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