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W.Va. Governor Loses Cliffhanger

States: Democrats are poised to hold 19 governorships to the GOP's 29. Independents hold two others. Statehouses, too, remain up for grabs.


WASHINGTON — Democrats scooped up six gubernatorial seats in races across the country, while the Republicans claimed two of 11 contested offices.

Incumbent Democratic Govs. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Frank L. O'Bannon of Indiana and Gary Locke of Washington won new terms. Democratic Lt. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware and Democratic Atty. Gen. Mike Easley of North Carolina cruised to victory in their gubernatorial races. And in West Virginia, Democratic Rep. Robert E. Wise Jr. upended Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood in a race that was not decided until late in the evening.

But Republican banker John Hoeven of North Dakota beat Democratic Atty. Gen. Heidi Heitkamp, while Utah Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt breezed to a new term, as expected.

The Democrats appeared on course to make a net gain of one governor's seat. That would give them 19 in all, compared with 29 for the Republicans and two for independents.

It remained unclear who would end up with the Vermont governor's seat, in a contest that has received national attention. Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, has been considered vulnerable to a backlash against the state's new civil union statute, which gave gays and lesbians marriage-like rights.

With 70% of the vote counted, Dean held a 49%-39% margin over Ruth Dwyer, who has attacked the civil union law. A Progressive Party candidate, Anthony Pollina, held 9% of the vote.

Associated Press declared Dean the victor. But under an unusual clause in the state constitution, if Dean fails to get 50% of the vote, the election will be decided in the state Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans.

Eleven governor's seats were at stake in the election, including seven that have been held by Democrats.

Also important is the outcome of races for control of state legislatures, especially since state lawmakers will soon be working with governors to redraw the boundaries of state and congressional districts. About half the legislatures were considered to be in play.

Missouri's state Senate headed for split control Tuesday, while tight races for legislative primacy raged in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont and a half-dozen other states. Both parties sought an edge for next year's redistricting.

Incumbents apparently beat back attempts to take power in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. New Hampshire's Senate remained evenly divided, 12-12.

Republicans were within sight of taking control of Vermont's House, where some candidates ran on their opposition to the new civil-union law.

Going into the election, Democrats held control of both houses in 19 states; Republicans held both in 17; and 13 were split.

The Republicans have held 30 governorships, while the Democrats have had 18 and independents two. Not long ago, New Hampshire Gov. Shaheen had been seen in a tough race with former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey. But with 88% of the vote counted, she was leading, 49% to 44%. An independent candidate, Mary Brown, held 6% of the vote.

Lt. Gov. Minner of Delaware, who will be the first female governor of her state, led by 59% to 40% over former Chamber of Commerce President John Burris, with 99% of the vote counted.

In North Carolina, Easley was ahead, 52% to 46%, with 92% of the votes tallied.

Indiana Gov. O'Bannon, a newspaper owner who had been considered a solid favorite, led Republican Rep. David McIntosh, 57% to 42%, with 89% of the vote in.

The Republicans had been considered vulnerable in West Virginia, where Republican Gov. Underwood had to defend the state's weak economic condition against challenger Wise. With 69% of the vote in, Wise had 51% to Underwood's 46%.

Another cliffhanger was Missouri, where Democratic State Treasurer Bob Holden battled Republican Rep. James M. Talent.

The governor's office had been held by Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash a few weeks ago while campaigning for a Senate seat.

With 55% of the vote in, Holden had 47% to Talent's 51%.

In Washington state, incumbent Democrat Gov. Locke held his seat in the face of a challenge from Republican John Carlson.

Five women were among the major party candidates for the 11 governor's seats.

One of them was Republican Lt. Gov. Judy Martz of Montana, a former Olympian speedskater who is battling Democrat Mark O'Keefe, the state auditor, on spending and growth issues.

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