Jeb Bush, Pataki Win Re-Election
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Democrats broke the GOP’s 25-year hold on the Illinois governor’s office and took back Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kansas as they fought to regain a majority of governors’ offices.
But Republicans won the night’s two marquee races. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush turned back a massive Democratic effort to unseat him and Republicans ended Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s bid for Maryland governor.
As 36 states elected governors, Democrats captured formerly Republican or independent-held offices in Maine, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The victories boosted Democrats’ hopes of taking more than half the nation’s executive mansions, while Republicans hoped to minimize the shrinking of their 27-21 edge.
Republicans kept New York, Texas, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and ousted two one-term Southern Democrats _ Govs. Roy Barnes in Georgia and Jim Hodges in South Carolina.
Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, the third Democrat to buck the 1990s GOP Southern gains four years ago, was in a very close race with Republican Rep. Bob Riley.
In California, early returns showed Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and Republican Bill Simon in a tight contest.
Gov. Bush in Florida had extensive campaign help from his brother. Early in the night, President Bush called to ``congratulate him for a big victory,″ White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.
Townsend, a Democrat, was seeking to become the first member of the Kennedy family to serve as a governor. But she saw a huge lead early in the campaign evaporate as she lost to Republican Rep. Bob Ehrlich.
In Illinois, Democratic Rep. Rod Blagojevich defeated Republican Jim Ryan in a race that linked Ryan to the scandal-tainted single term of GOP Gov. George Ryan _ no relation _ who chose not to seek re-election.
Pennsylvania Democrat Ed Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia, defeated GOP Attorney General Mike Fisher.
Republican businessman Mitt Romney defeated state Treasurer Shannon O’Brien in heavily Democratic Massachusetts to continue 12 years of Republican control.
New York Gov. George Pataki easily turned back a challenge from Comptroller H. Carl McCall, the only black ever elected to statewide office there.
In New Hampshire, Republican entrepreneur Craig Benson returned the governor’s office to the GOP after six years of Democratic control.
Incumbent GOP Govs. Bob Taft of Ohio, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Bill Owens of Colorado, Gov. Kenny Guinn of Nevada and John Rowland of Connecticut all won re-election.
In the South, former state legislator Sonny Perdue won election in Georgia despite an underfunded campaign, while former Rep. Mark Sanford won office in South Carolina.
Early returns also showed a close race in Vermont, where the GOP-led Legislature would choose the next governor if no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote _ a real possibility.
The Republicans came into Election Day at a disadvantage, defending 23 of the 36 seats because of term limits and retirements amid painful budget shortfalls. Democrats were defending 11 seats, and independents were leaving office in Maine and Minnesota.
Each party was cautious about their gains, as several races still undecided by early Wednesday could leave either party with the majority. ``It’s very close,″ said GOP Chairman Marc Racicot.
Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe acknowledged he had ``high hopes″ for winning Florida, but said it was hard to win when President Bush weighed so heavily into the race.
Also, 10 women candidates battled onto the ballot this year from major parties, making it possible for voters to break the current record number of five female governors.
The losses of Townsend and O’Brien hurt those chances, though Democratic Kathleen Sebelius won in Kansas and Hawaii was guaranteed to elect its first female governor _ both major-party candidates were women.
More than any recent year, this election brought a sweeping number of close races, including surprisingly competitive campaigns in Arkansas and Wyoming.
Most political observers said this year’s races came down to two things _ timing and a bad economy. Incumbents, and those tied to incumbents, usually suffer when budgets get cut and money runs short.
``Whoever’s in control of the state is having trouble holding onto the state,″ said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. With Republicans holding more offices, they will lose more, she said.