Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, under fire for supporting gay rights, won re-election Tuesday over a challenger opposed to the new law creating civil unions for same-sex couples.
In West Virginia, a Democrat ousted Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood. Delaware voters elected a woman as governor for the first time
Tuesday, but a similar trailblazing bid by cancer-stricken Heidi Heitkamp fell short in North Dakota.
In all, 11 governorships were at stake, seven of them held by Democrats.
Two races remained unsettled early Wednesday – virtual dead heats in GOP-held Montana and Democratic-held Missouri.
Of the nine decided races, only West Virginia's marked a change in party control.
Underwood, at 78 the nation's oldest governor, lost to U.S. Rep. Bob Wise.
In Vermont, Dean won a fifth term despite furor over the civil-union bill he signed in April, giving marriage-like rights to gay and lesbian couples.
With 92 percent of the precincts reporting, he had 51 percent of the vote, compared to 38 percent for Republican Ruth Dwyer, who favored repealing the law.
Dean was conciliatory in victory. “We also have to be mindful of those who did not win, those who believe their view did not prevail,” he said.
Heading into the election, the states had 30 Republican governors, 18 Democrats and two independents.
The Republicans retained control in Utah, where Gov. Mike Leavitt easily won re-election, and in North Dakota, where banker John Hoeven beat Heitkamp with about 54 percent of the vote.
Heitkamp, the Democratic attorney general, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September, had her right breast removed and is undergoing chemotherapy. “We’ ll just never know what the health challenge meant to me,” she said after conceding defeat.
Democrats retained control in Washington, Delaware, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Indiana.
Washington incumbent Gary Locke, the nation’s first Chinese-American governor, defeated Republican John Carlson, a former radio talk show host.
Delaware’s Lt. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, who in the 1970s worked as a statehouse receptionist, GOP state lawmaker John Burris.
For New Hampshire, beset by a school-financing crisis, it was a milestone election.
Incumbent Jeanne Shaheen, shifting from her previous stance, became the first candidate in decades to win without taking “the pledge” to veto a state income tax.
She won 49 percent of the vote to 44 percent for former U.S. Senator Gordon Humphrey, who opposed any broad-based tax.
In North Carolina, Attorney General Mike Easley defeated Republican Richard Vinroot, a former mayor of Charlotte, by 52 percent to 46 percent. Popular Democratic Gov. James Hunt was barred by a term limit from re-election.
Gov. Frank O'Bannon won a second four-year term in Indiana,
defeating Republican U.S. Rep. David McIntosh by 57 percent to 42 percent.
One of the closest races was in Missouri, where outgoing Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash last month while campaigning for the U.S. Senate.
His successor will be either Democratic State Treasurer Bob Holden or GOP Congressman Jim Talent. In Vermont, exit polling illustrated the divisiveness of civil unions.
Of 832 responses – the largest sample yet polled on the issue in Vermont – 51 percent declared themselves either enthusiastic or supportive of the law, and 47 percent were opposed to or angry about the new law.
The four-point difference was equal to the margin of sampling error in the Voter News Service poll.