Both Parties Claim Big Victories in Gubernatorial Races

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

(Editor's note: Updates with Republican win in Hawaii.)

( - Republican Gov. Jeb Bush Tuesday successfully fended off a challenge from Democratic trial lawyer Bill McBride to win re-election in Florida. It was a race that Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe had declared his party's number one priority this year.

"He ran a hard race," Bush said of his defeated opponent in a victory speech. "Now is the time to unite us as a state."

Thirty-six gubernatorial seats were up for grabs in the 2002 mid-term election. Before the election, Republicans controlled 27 to the Democrats' 21, but many incumbents were term-limited leaving vulnerable open seats. Democrats were expected to have a net gain of around five seats, but into the wee hours of the morning after, a few races remained undecided.

Democrats will get the keys to the governors' offices in three mega-states - Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Democratic Gov. Gray Davis also won re-election in the nation's biggest state, California. However, the unpopular Davis won by a smaller margin than expected over the unpopular Republican, businessman Bill Simon. Davis won by only about four percentage points.

In Pennsylvania, former Philadelphia Mayor and DNC Chairman Ed Rendell has won the governor's race, taking that seat away after eight years of Republican control. GOP incumbent, acting Gov. Mark Schweiker, decided not to run, so the party's nominee became Attorney General Mike Fisher. While the race seemed competitive early on, polls showed the Democrat consistently in the lead.

Michigan Democrat Jennifer Granholm is the winner in another state previously run by a Republican. John Engler held the top job for three terms. Granholm will be the state's first female governor.

In Illinois, GOP Attorney General Jim Ryan is lagging behind Democratic challenger Rod Blagojevich, a three-term congressman. Ryan has battled the scandal-tainted administration of his namesake boss, Gov. George Ryan. A Democratic gubernatorial win in Illinois is the party's first since 1972.

Democrats also picked up Wisconsin, Kansas and Oklahoma. In Wisconsin, Attorney Gen. Jim Doyle won with around 45 percent of the vote, handing defeat to Republican Gov. Scott McCallum, who assumed the governorship when Tommy Thompson (a 16 year incumbent) was appointed to a Bush cabinet post. McCallum had trailed Doyle in pre-election polls.

Kansas' Democratic State Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius won 53 percent of the vote, besting GOP nominee Tim Shallenburger, the state treasurer in that state's governor's race.

In Oklahoma, Democrat state Sen. Brad Henry upset former Republican Rep. Steve Largent, who was favored in the race. GOP Gov. Frank Keating was term-limited. Republican defector Gary Richardson may have siphoned votes away from Largent.

But it was a good Election Day for Republicans in other states.

In a major upset, Republican Congressman Bob Ehrlich captured the Maryland governorship, the first GOP gubernatorial win in the state since 1966. Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, was on the losing end, despite the fact that Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one in Maryland.

In Hawaii, Republican Linda Lingle defeated Democrat Mazie Hirono, making history by becoming Hawaii's first female governor. On top of that, Lingle is the first Republican to hold the office in four decades. Lingle received 52 percent of the vote to Hirono's 48 percent.

In Massachusetts, Republican Mitt Romney has defeated state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien to hang onto the seat for the GOP. The race came down to the wire, as a KRC Communications poll for the Boston Herald just before the election showed O'Brien ahead by one point.

New Hampshire Republican businessman Craig Benson has snatched the governorship out of Democratic hands. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mark Fernald, a state senator, doomed his campaign by openly advocating for a state income tax in a state that has never had either a general sales or income tax. Popular Democratic incumbent Gov. Jeanne Shaheen was running for the Senate.

In South Carolina, Republican challenger Mark Sanford has unseated one-term Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges in what analysts predicted would be a close race. Sanford won 53 to 47 percent. Sanford, a popular former congressman, staked out a reputation as an independent, free market advocate during his three terms in Congress representing the Charleston area. When he won election in the1994 Republican sweep of the House, he pledged to term-limit himself and abided by that pledge, retiring in 2000.

Georgia was another Republican upset. Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes lost his bid for a second term, beat by former state senator Sonny Perdue, who will be the first Republican governor in the state since Reconstruction. It was Barnes who led in the polls prior to Election Day. He had used his reported $7.5 million cash on hand to dominate the airwaves, swamping the under-funded Perdue.

Republicans hung onto the governorship in Rhode Island, with businessman Don Carcieri defeating Myrth York, 55 to 45 percent. Voters may have been unimpressed with York's negative attack campaign tactics in the waning days of the race.

In heavily Republican Idaho, incumbent GOP Gov. Dick Kempthorne won re-election with around 53 percent of the vote, besting Democratic newspaper publisher Jerry Brady.

In Alaska, Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski has won a very competitive race against Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer. Murkowski now gets to appoint a successor to his Senate seat.

Vermont also holds potential good news for the GOP, albeit it in an unusual way. Democrat Lt. Gov. Doug Racine and Republican nominee Jim Douglas, the state treasurer, split most of the votes in a four-man race. Since neither Racine nor Douglas appeared headed for a majority win, it's likely the Republican legislature will elect Douglas in a special session. Democrats had controlled the seat.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, is comfortably ahead in his bid for re-election. In a handful of no-surprise races -- Colorado, Connecticut, Nebraska, New York -- voters have decided their GOP governors are keepers, according to various news sources.

Colorado Republican Gov. Bill Owens had led Democratic businessman Rollie Heath by a whopping 29 points in pre-election polls.

In Connecticut, despite a poor economy and accompanying budget woes, Gov. John Rowland won re-election.

Nebraska arguably presented the least contested governor's race in the country, Republican Gov. Mike Johanns is coming back for a second term, defeating Democrat Stormy Dean.

In New York, Republican Gov. George Pataki has been re-elected, according to CBS News. Pataki defeats Carl McCall, the state's comptroller.

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