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Election 2002 | National Results

Democrats Gain Governor Seats

The GOP keeps Florida but the party stands to lose its majority of state executives.

November 06, 2002|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Despite Republican victories Tuesday in Florida and other prominent states, Democrats scored significant gains in gubernatorial contests and were battling to deny the GOP a majority of governorships for the first time in eight years.

With wins in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan, Democrats made inroads in the Midwest and elsewhere as voters chose governors in 36 states. Next year, the chief executives of the 50 states will be nearly evenly split between the two parties, although the exact ratio was still unknown early today.

Women also were nearing a milestone. Three female gubernatorial candidates won election, raising the chances that a record-setting six women would be governors next year.

Republicans, on the defensive in a year when many of their incumbents were leaving office and others were facing severe budget trouble, held ground in several major states.

New York Gov. George Pataki easily won a third four-year term, defeating Democrat Carl McCall. Ohio Gov. Robert A. Taft cruised to reelection. In his quest for a second term, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush triumphed solidly over Democrat Bill McBride.

And Texas Gov. Rick Perry beat Democrat Tony Sanchez in a bid for his first full term after rising to the post George W. Bush left two years ago to become president.

Republicans also triumphed in two high-profile contests in the Northeast. In Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, leader of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, defeated Democrat Shannon O'Brien to continue the GOP's hold on the governorship in the otherwise solidly Democratic state. In Maryland, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. defeated Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who was aiming to become the first member of her famous clan to be elected governor. He became the first Republican governor in the state since Spiro T. Agnew in the 1960s.

In Georgia, Republican Sonny Perdue beat Democratic incumbent Gov. Roy Barnes in a major upset. He will be the first GOP governor in that state in more than a century.

But Democrats claimed victory in at least nine states now governed by Republicans and cheered as California Gov. Gray Davis defeated Republican Bill Simon Jr.

Ed Rendell, the former mayor of Philadelphia and onetime chairman of the Democratic National Committee, defeated Republican Mike Fisher in a race for governor of Pennsylvania. In Michigan, Democrat Jennifer Granholm beat Republican Dick Posthumus to succeed a retiring GOP incumbent.

And in Illinois, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, a U.S. House member, defeated Republican Jim Ryan. Blagojevich was the first Democrat in 30 years elected Illinois governor.

In addition, Democrats Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, Kathleen Sebelius in Kansas, James Doyle in Wisconsin, Brad Henry in Oklahoma, Dave Freudenthal in Wyoming and Bill Richardson in New Mexico took governorships from the GOP.

Before the elections, Republicans governed in 27 states, Democrats in 21 and independents in Minnesota and Maine.

The GOP had held the edge since the 1994 elections, when a Republican tide swept the country. Before that, Democrats had dominated the governorships for 24 years.

During the last eight years, the Republican grip on governorships gave the party wide influence over state and local policymaking and helped it immensely in national politics. Republican governors helped elect one of their own, Bush, to the presidency in 2000.

Currently, more than half of Americans live in the 27 states governed by Republicans. Those 27 states also account for a majority of the Electoral College -- 298 electoral votes -- that will elect the next president in 2004.

Republicans managed to snare at least four governorships held by Democrats. In New Hampshire, Republican Craig Benson defeated Democrat Mark Fernald in the race to succeed an outgoing Democrat. In South Carolina, Republican Mark Sanford unseated Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges.

But in Alabama, Democratic Gov. Donald Siegelman won a nail-biter against Republican Bob Riley. Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa won reelection.

Several Republican incumbents coasted to victory, among them Bill Owens of Colorado, John G. Rowland of Connecticut, Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Kenny Guinn of Nevada.

Nevertheless, Democrats were gaining. . They appeared close to capturing a majority of governorships, or at least erasing the GOP edge, with some races still in the balance early today. Their gains would help the party challenge President Bush in 2004.

Several factors were pointing toward Democratic gains. Of the 36 races, Republicans were defending governorships in 23 states and Democrats in just 11. Both parties also were vying for the posts held by independent Govs. Angus S. King Jr. of Maine and Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, neither of whom was running.

Compounding the GOP, challenge, 12 incumbents were retiring, declining to run or facing term limits. Of those, the party faced possible losses in at least five contests.

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