JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ After a racially tinged campaign that turned increasingly bitter in its final days, Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice beat back a strong challenge from a moderate Democrat to win a second term.

Fordice, who promised four years ago not to run again, labeled three-term Secretary of State Dick Molpus a ``career politician'' and beat him by about 55 percent to 45 percent on Tuesday.

He stuck with the same conservative message he wielded four years ago to defeat incumbent Ray Mabus, another moderate Democrat who is now U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Fordice, who routinely denounces government efforts to solve social problems, recovered from several blunders, including a threat to call out the National Guard if federal courts ordered Mississippi to spend more on its three historically black colleges.

``In 1995, greater and greater things will happen with the whole Mississippi behind us,'' the governor said, pledging to create 260,000 jobs and overhaul the welfare and education systems.

Molpus said he will continue working for change: ``I am going to become a private citizen but trust me, I am not going to disappear.''

Mississippi's first GOP governor this century, Fordice becomes the first chief executive to win back-to-back terms since Robert Lowery in the 1880s.

Fordice, 61, looked secure at first, but late polls suggested the contractor from Vicksburg might have been in trouble, particularly among women and black voters, as Molpus steered the campaign toward the issues of education and gambling.

As the campaign waned, Fordice cut back on feel-good advertising about his efforts to create jobs and end welfare. He began running an ad portraying Molpus as a slumlord of crime-infested housing projects.

Molpus denounced the TV commercial as ``a blatant, outright lie,'' then ran a radio ad saying Fordice wanted to send black Mississippians ``to the back of the bus.''

The Fordice campaign denounced the reference to segregation as race baiting.

The 46-year-old Molpus accused Fordice of dividing Mississippians, and ran an ad using public school teachers and his wife, Sally, a onetime teacher, to charge Fordice with attempting to divert already scarce public education dollars to private academies.

He also proposed lowering the 7 percent sales tax on food and pledged to fight rising juvenile crime.

Fordice touted Mississippi's economic growth, due largely to legalized gambling, which he opposes. He bragged about a surplus in the state treasury, his efforts to revamp welfare and his philosophy of tough punishment for criminals. And he proposed a reduction in the state's already low income tax.

He also hammered at Molpus' 16-year government career, which Fordice said qualified him as a ``career politician,'' and tried to link him to President Clinton.

The race included some emotional confrontations, both political and personal. Molpus publicly threatened to take Fordice ``to the woodshed'' after the governor accused his wife of lying in campaign ads. Fordice quietly warned Molpus after a debate that he would ``whip your ass,'' although the Fordice camp said the incumbent only warned his challenger to stop telling lies.