Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Democrats guaranteed governor majority

By ROBERT TANNER, AP National Writer

Democrats reclaimed governors' offices Tuesday from the Northeast to the Rockies and even in the South, giving them control of the top political job in a majority of states for the first time in 12 years and an edge in places critical to the 2008 White House race.

A string of victories in Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, Arkansas, Colorado and Maryland means Democrats will control the governorship in at least 28 states. They also held onto vulnerable seats that had been targeted by Republicans in Iowa, Michigan, Oregon and Wisconsin.

Massachusetts Democrat Deval Patrick will be the first black governor of his state — and just the second elected black governor of any state. In Ohio, Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland (news, bio, voting record) 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 hadn't elected a Democrat since 1986. New York last elected one in 1990.

In Colorado — which voted Republican for president in the last three elections — Democrat Bill Ritter defeated GOP Rep. Bob Beauprez (news, bio, voting record) for the seat left open by term-limited GOP Gov. Bill Owens. Arkansas chose a Democrat — attorney general Mike Beebe over Republican Asa Hutchinson — for the first time since 1992.

And Democrats turned out GOP Gov. Robert Ehrlich of Maryland, the lone party switch that wasn't in an open seat. Martin O'Malley, the Baltimore mayor, was the winner there.

A tight race emerged for Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota, who was pulling ahead of Democrat Mike Hatch, attorney general, as votes continued to be counted into Wednesday morning.

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 (news, bio, voting record). Democrat Ted Kulongoski also beat back a tough challenge in Oregon.

The geographical reach of the victories will be critical for the next White House race and for redistricting of congressional seats, which are typically controlled by the governor and the legislature, said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who won re-election — and is also exploring a presidential run.

"It makes us more a national party. In the past, the Democratic party was strong in the Northeast and California, and that was about it," he said. "Now we're a more centrist, national party who can show victories across the country."

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 (news, bio, voting record) 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.

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.

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, who is exploring a presidential race.

Republicans held narrow leads in the last few uncalled races:

• 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.

• Idaho, with GOP Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter in a close contest against Democrat Jerry Brady, a former newspaper publisher.

Also, in Alaska, pre-election polls showed a competitive contest between Republican Sarah Palin, who unseated unpopular Gov. Murkowski in the GOP primary, and Democratic former Gov. Tony Knowles.

The contests could break the record for women governors, depending on the outcome in Alaska and Nevada. Eight women governors now hold office, one fewer than the record — though that number won't fall following the re-election of Granholm in Michigan.


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