The governor's race in Washington remained too close to call yesterday in a contest whose outcome will determine whether Republicans increase their control of the nation's statehouses.
Fewer than 2,000 votes separated Republican state Sen. Dino Rossi and Democratic Attorney General Christine O. Gregoire, with Rossi leading yesterday. Officials in Washington said counting thousands of absentee and provisional ballots could delay the final tally for weeks. Gov. Gary Locke (D) did not seek a third term.
Entering Tuesday's elections, Republicans controlled 28 governors' offices to Democrats' 22. The two major parties split 10 of the 11 governors races on Tuesday, and each party took over two seats formerly held by the other.
Democrats held onto Delaware, North Carolina and West Virginia, while unseating an incumbent Republican in New Hampshire and taking Montana from the GOP. Republicans maintained control in Vermont, North Dakota and Utah, and picked up seats formerly held by Democrats in Indiana and Missouri.
"We're thrilled that we've already won two of our top three targets for pickups, and we're hoping to hit the trifecta by winning Washington," said Edward Tobin, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, in a statement.
Nicole Harburger, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors' Association, said Democratic gubernatorial candidates posted a strong showing on a day in which Democrats lost the presidential election and suffered setbacks in the Senate and House.
"We feel very good. We had a strong night," Harburger said. ". . . . We're cautiously optimistic about Washington. . . . We still feel like it was a great night for us, especially because of the pickups in Montana and New Hampshire."
Republicans picked up governorships in Indiana and Missouri, where President Bush also won the vote.
In one of the most closely watched contests, former Bush White House budget director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. (R) defeated Democratic Gov. Joseph E. Kernan of Indiana to become the state's first Republican governor since 1989. Daniels, who resigned as director of the Office of Management and Budget in June 2003, campaigned on the themes of improving Indiana's economy and making state government more efficient.
Kernan was lieutenant governor when he took over last year after the death of Gov. Frank. L. O'Bannon.
In Missouri, GOP Secretary of State Matt Blunt, 33, son of House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R), defeated Democratic state auditor Claire McCaskill in the race to succeed Gov. Bob Holden, whom McCaskill beat in an August primary.
Democrats picked up a seat in New Hampshire, where Bush lost, and in Montana, where he won.
In New Hampshire, Democrat John Lynch unseated one-term Gov. Craig Benson (R), accusing him of running a corrupt administration. In Montana, farmer-rancher Brian Schweitzer defeated GOP Secretary of State Bob Brown for the seat being vacated by Republican Gov. Judy Martz, who is retiring.
Elsewhere, Democrats won in North Carolina, where Gov. Mike Easley (D) earned a second term by defeating former GOP state senator Patrick J. Ballantine, and in West Virginia, where Democratic Secretary of State Joe Manchin III, 57, beat Republican Monty Warner, a retired Army colonel. West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise (D) did not seek reelection after acknowledging an extramarital affair.
In Delaware, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) escaped a strong challenge from Republican William S. Lee, a retired Superior Court judge.
Republican incumbents John Hoeven, 47, of North Dakota and James Douglas, 53, of Vermont rolled to easy victories over Democratic challengers. And in Utah, a solid GOP state, Republican Jon Huntsman Jr., 44, a former ambassador to Singapore, won easily over Scott M. Matheson Jr., dean of the law school at the University of Utah, in a battle to succeed Gov. Olene S. Walker (R). Walker, who rose to the top job when then-Gov. Mike Leavitt (R) became head of the Environmental Protection Agency, had faltered in the GOP primary.