updated 11/7/2006 8:12:27 PM ET 2006-11-08T01:12:27

Deval Patrick was elected governor of Massachusetts on Tuesday (NBC is projecting Patrick the winner), restoring the Democratic Party to the Corner Office after a 16-year absence, and putting himself into the history books as the first black to win the state's highest office in its 218-year history.

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Patrick defeated Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, the Republican nominee, as well as independent Christy Mihos and Grace Ross of the Green-Rainbow Party, based on a statistical analysis of the vote from voter interviews conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

In addition to the state distinction, the victory made Patrick just the second African-American governor in the nation since Reconstruction. The first, L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, left office more than a decade ago, in 1995.

"I believe in a grass-roots strategy to campaign. I believe in a grass-roots strategy to govern," Patrick, 50, said earlier in the day, in a preview of remarks he planned to deliver to thousands at an election-night party at the Hynes Convention Center.

"Our biggest challenge is how we transfer that energy and that excitement and willingness of people to connect and check back in into day-to-day governing and into a revived civic life," he said.

With his win came immense challenges, as Patrick inherited responsibility for tunnel repairs in the $14.6-billion Central Artery project, implementing the state's new universal health insurance program and also deciding the fate of a Romney administration proposal to eliminate tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike west of Route 128.

At the same time, he conceded "the line is already forming" among Democrats clamoring for jobs and pet projects. The demand has built over a run of Republican governors extending back to January 1991, when former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis left the Statehouse just over two years after a failed run for the presidency.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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