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Split decision in gubernatorial races

Republicans scored two big wins in governors’ races in the Midwest, recapturing seats in Indiana and Missouri. But the GOP gains were offset by Democratic victories in New Hampshire and Montana.
West Virginia Gov.-elect Joe Manchin and wife, Gayle, raise hands in victory Tuesday in Morgantown, W.Va. Dale Sparks / AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Republicans scored two big wins in governors’ races in the Midwest, recapturing seats in Indiana and Missouri. But the GOP gains were offset by Democratic victories in New Hampshire and Montana in an election where neither party dominated statehouse contests.

In Washington state, the candidates were running neck-in-neck with mail-in ballots potentially delaying the final result for days.

Among 11 states that chose their governors Tuesday, two in America’s heartland saw a turnover to the GOP in their executive mansions. Both were places were President Bush posted solid victories.

In Indiana, Mitch Daniels, former White House budget director under Bush, won easily and gave the GOP control of the governor’s seat for the first time since a Democrat took office in 1989. He defeated Joe Kernan, who took over last year after the death of Gov. Frank O’Bannon.

‘Welcome back from the wilderness’
“Welcome back from the wilderness,” Daniels told cheering supporters Tuesday night.

In Missouri, Matt Blunt, the Republican secretary of state and son of Rep. Roy Blunt, edged out Claire McCaskill, the Democratic state auditor. His win gives the state GOP full control of the Capitol for the first time in four generations.

But those Republican wins were balanced by Democratic gains:

In New Hampshire, John Lynch ousted GOP incumbent Craig Benson after accusing him of running a corrupt administration. State officials said it was the first time since 1926 that a freshman governor was denied a second term.

And in Montana, another bit of history was written as Democrat Brian Schweitzer, a farmer-rancher, rolled by Bob Brown, the Republican secretary of state.

“It’s a new day in Montana,” Schweitzer said Tuesday night as he celebrated the victory that returns the office to Democrats for the first time in 16 years.

The GOP still could pick up a governorship previously held by Democrats in Washington state. In that contest, Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire were separated by a few thousand votes and absentee and provisional ballots could delay the final tally for weeks.

Incumbents didn't run in three states
Washington — along with Montana and West Virginia — were states where governors chose not to seek re-election. In two other states — Utah and Missouri — incumbents were ousted by their own parties during the primaries.

In several open seats, the races were marked by record spending and unprecedented bursts of out-of-state money. But local issues, including taxes, economic development and transportation, also were factors in gubernatorial races.

In six other states, incumbents won or the party kept control of the executive mansions.

In Delaware, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a 30-year veteran of political contests, squeaked by GOP challenger Bill Lee, a retired judge, to win a second term.

“It’s sure been a tough campaign, but it’s been a wonderful, humbling night, one that will be the last for me,” she told supporters.

Rape comment haunts incumbent
Minner’s campaign had been marred by her response to the abduction and rape of prison counselor last summer in which the governor was quoted as saying: “In prisons, you almost expect this to happen.” She later said the remark had been taken out of context.

In North Carolina, Gov. Mike Easley won a second term over Republican Patrick Ballantine in a state that has suffered job losses in the textile and furniture industry.

On the GOP side, two incumbents also won. In Vermont, Jim Douglas crushed Democrat Peter Clavelle, the Burlington mayor. And in North Dakota, John Hoeven breezed to a second term over former Democratic state Sen. Joe Satrom, who had argued the incumbent was ineffective.

In the remaining open seats, the Republicans maintained control in Utah, where Jon Huntsman Jr., heir to his father’s chemical fortune, capitalized on the state’s overwhelming GOP base to defeat Democrat Scott Matheson Jr.

And in West Virginia, Democrat Joe Manchin, the secretary of state, beat Republican Monty Warner and Jesse Johnson of the Mountain Party.

There was no outcome in the election for Washington state,  where Republicans hoped to pick up a state that has long been in Democratic hands. With the race too close to call, Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire will wait for the count of several hundred thousand mail-in and provisional ballots. That’s expected to take days.

As of Wednesday afternoon, NBC News determined that, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, fewer than 1,100 votes separated the two.