Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R), a leading spokesman for expanded oil and gas development in Alaska, fended off a surprisingly strong Democratic challenge to win the governorship.
Murkowski will take the oath of office in December, creating a Senate vacancy. Under Alaska law, he has 30 days to appoint a Republican to serve out his term, which expires in two years. He has given no hint about his selection.
His departure as top Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources comes just as Congress is fashioning energy legislation with major implications for Alaska. In Congress, Murkowski fought to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and create a major new natural gas pipeline to the lower 48 states.
His gubernatorial opponent, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer (D), charged that Alaska was too dependent on energy resources and needed to diversify its economy. Her focus on the state's fiscal problems helped close what had once seemed an insurmountable Murkowski lead.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R), whose position as top Republican on the Appropriations Committee has brought home millions of dollars in government projects and contracts, easily won a seventh term against underfunded challengers.
In one of the nation's most bruising and expensive battles, Gov. Gray Davis (D) won a second term, defeating businessman Bill Simon Jr. (R). Despite his victory, Davis has not been popular and he spent an unprecedented $65 million to overcome his low approval ratings.
Simon's political inexperience showed in a series of mistakes. Even so, the race was close, and the lead switched back and forth throughout the evening. Democrats retained control of the state legislature, and Davis's victory will give the party control of the most populous state for the 2004 presidential election. However, the election pointed up Democratic vulnerabilities. Turnout was low, even for a midterm election. Pre-election polls indicated a swing away from Davis by Hispanic voters, a core Democratic constituency. And a Green Party candidate for governor garnered about 5 percent of the vote.
In one of the state's few competitive House races, Democrat Dennis Cardoza beat Republican Dick Monteith for the Central Valley seat vacated by Rep. Gary A. Condit (D).
Republican Linda Lingle made history several ways Tuesday. She became Hawaii's first female governor, and also the first GOP chief executive in four decades. The usually unbeatable state Democratic machine was hurt by a reeling economy and corruption scandals.
To press that advantage, Lingle, a former mayor of Maui, outspent her Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, by a margin of 2 to 1.
Democrats could take little heart from the fact that Hawaiians voted overwhelmingly to reelect Rep. Patsy T. Mink (D) over State Rep. Bob McDermott (R). Mink died Sept. 28, too late for her name to be taken off the ballot. A special election will take place Nov. 30.
In one of the tightest races in the nation, former state Supreme Court justice Ted Kulongoski (D) defeated former state representative Kevin Mannix (R) and will replace Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) who was prevented by term limits from running again.
As in many other races across the nation, the story was the unexpectedly strong GOP showing. Polls showed Kulongoski with a double-digit lead over Mannix on Labor Day. But Mannix waged an aggressive campaign that criticized his opponent for supporting a $313 million income tax increase to avert cuts in education and other programs.
In the only West Coast Senate race, Republican incumbent Gordon Smith easily defeated Democrat Bill Bradbury.
A ballot initiative to create the nation's first universal health care system was defeated by a margin of 4 to 1. Critics said the plan would play havoc with the state's budget and economy, requiring either huge tax increases or deep cuts in non-health programs.
All nine House members won reelection. With no other major national or state races, attention focused on a proposed initiative to increase taxes on gasoline, large trucks and vehicle sales to pay for a $7 billion rail and road program. It was defeated.