Voters dumped a Democratic governor in Indiana for a Bush administration official and forced a Republican incumbent in New Hampshire into a race for his political career as 11 states elected their top leaders Tuesday.
In Montana, Democrats took the governor's office for the first time 16 years. In Missouri and Washington state, close contests left each party fighting for the last few votes as ballot counting went on into the night. Elsewhere, incumbents won or the party in power kept control of executive mansions.
In Indiana, former White House budget chief Mitch Daniels unseated Democratic Gov. Joe Kernan, who was facing his first test at the polls since he took office after former Gov. Frank O'Bannon died last year. In New Hampshire, with 89 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat John Lynch was ahead of one-term GOP Gov. Craig Benson by 14,000 votes, or less than 3 percentage points.
A close race emerged in Missouri, where Republican Matt Blunt was ahead of Democrat Claire McCaskill by less than 3 percentage points. In Delaware, Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner withstood a surprisingly strong race from Republican Bill Lee to win a second term.
Montana Democrat Brian Schweitzer, a farmer who unsuccessfully sought a Senate seat in 2000, defeated Republican Secretary of State Bob Brown in the race for an open seat.
In Washington state, Democrat Christine Gregoire, the state attorney general, pulled narrowly ahead of Republican Dino Rossi, with a quarter of precincts reporting.
Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. took Utah's open governor's seat, while North Dakota GOP Gov. John Hoeven, Vermont Republican Gov. Jim Douglas and North Carolina Democratic Gov. Mike Easley each won second terms. In West Virginia, Democratic Secretary of State Joe Manchin took an open seat.
In Delaware, Minner won despite making what some saw as an insensitive response to a prison inmate's abduction and rape of a counselor. "In prisons, you almost expect this to happen," she said.
The open seats in Missouri, Montana, Utah and Washington state triggered record spending and unprecedented bursts of out-of-state money, and the heat of the presidential race had an effect on at least a couple of races.
New Hampshire's Benson fought to hold on for a second term against Lynch in a state leaning against President Bush. In Indiana, a state that went solidly and quickly for Bush, Daniels had the prominent support of the president.
Others contests remained resolutely local, turning on taxes, economic development or transportation issues.
Even before Election Day, dismay over economic problems and other woes over the past few years led to the ouster of governors in Missouri (where one-term Democratic Gov. Bob Holden lost in the primary) and Utah (where GOP Gov. Olene Walker lost the nomination at the party convention).
Three other governors - in Montana, Washington and West Virginia - chose not to seek re-election.
In Utah, Huntsman, a businessman and Bush administration diplomat, easily beat Scott Matheson Jr., dean of the University of Utah law school and the son of a former governor.