Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's younger brother, survived a spirited challenge from Democratic Tampa lawyer Bill McBride, 56 percent to 43 percent, to win a second term in Florida.
"Fifteen minutes ago Bill McBride called me and graciously conceded the election. I told him he ran a hard race and I look forward to working with him to build the state of Florida," Bush told supporters in Miami. He also thanked his family for helping him win.
"I want to thank the president for coming down and lending a hand to his little brother," he said.
President George W. Bush, former president George H.W. Bush, former first lady Barbara Bush, first lady Laura Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney all campaigned for Jeb Bush in a political test of the popularity of the Bush dynasty.
A Bush loss in Florida would have been a personal embarrassment for the president and a major coup for the Democrats. Former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore raised funds and stumped for McBride, who defeated former attorney general Janet Reno in the Sept. 10 primary.
President Bush called his brother from the White House to congratulate him.
"The president was particularly delighted about his brother's win. He is very proud of Gov. Jeb Bush and his win by a very large margin in Florida. It is important to note that the chairman of the Democratic National Committee said the Florida's governor's race was the DNC's No. 1 priority, and they did not achieve their No. 1 top priority. It was a poignant moment watching the president watch his brother give his acceptance speech," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
With 36 of the nation's 50 governorships up for grabs, Republicans held 27 statehouses and Democrats 21. Two independents -- Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota and Maine Gov. Angus King, who was barred by term limits -- did not seek reelection.
In Vermont, the Legislature could decide who will be the state's next governor in January. According to unofficial returns with 96 percent of precincts counted, Republican state Treasurer Jim Douglas led Democrat Doug Racine with 45 percent of the vote in a field of 10 candidates. Unless one of the candidates gets a majority of the vote, the decision is left to the Legislature.
The incumbent governor, Democrat Howard Dean, decided not to run for re-election this year so he could make a presidential run in 2004.
Going into the election, 23 governorships contested Tuesday were held by Republicans, 11 by Democrats and two by independents. There was no incumbent running in 19 of the 36 races.
In Illinois, Democrat Rod Blagojevich ended 26 years of Republican domination of the statehouse defeating state attorney general Jim Ryan, 52 percent to 45 percent.
Ryan, who was hurt by a drivers-license-for-bribes scandal linked to outgoing Gov. George Ryan, said he told Blagojevich, who left a safe House seat, "he has a tough job ahead of him and to do his best."
Republican Ohio Gov. Bob Taft crushed Democrat Tim Hagen to win a second term, 58 percent to 38 percent.
In Michigan, Democratic state Attorney General Jennifer Granholm beat Republican Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, 52 percent to 47 percent, to become the state's first female governor.
Republican Tim Pawlenty beat Democratic-Farm-Labor candidate Doug Moe and Independent Party nominee Tim Penny in Minnesota race to succeed Ventura. With 97 percent of the precincts counted, Pawlenty had 45.6 percent, Moe 35.6 percent and Penny 16 percent.
Wisconsin attorney general Jim Doyle ousted Republican Gov. Scott McCallum, 45 percent to 42 percent. McCallum assumed office when Tommy Thompson became Secretary of Health and Human Services 21 months ago. He was lieutenant governor for 14 years.
Kansas Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, defeated Republican state treasurer Tim Shallenburger, 53 percent to 45 percent.
Oklahoma state Sen. Brad Henry narrowly defeated former Republican Rep. Steve Largent by 6,357 votes in one of the election's closest races.
Incumbent Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns cruised to re-election to a second term over Democratic businessman Stormy Dean, 68 percent to 28 percent.
In South Dakota, former state representative Mike Rounds vanquished Democrat Jim Abbott, 57 percent to 42 percent.
Republican Winter Olympics chief Mitt Romney defeated Democratic state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien in the Massachusetts governor's race. O'Brien conceded after unofficial returns showed her trailing Romney 50 percent to 45 percent.
Republican Gov. John G. Rowland defeated Democrat Bill Curry to win a new term in Connecticut, 56 percent to 44 percent.
In the New Hampshire governor's race, Republican Craig Benson defeated Democrat Mark Fernald, 59 percent to 38 percent with 95 percent of the precincts counted. Benson will replace three-term Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who ran for the U.S. Senate.
In Maine, Democratic Rep. John Baldacci defeated former state representative Peter Clanchette, 48 percent to 41 percent.
Republican Donald L. Carcieri, a retired corporate executive, defeated Democrat Myrth York for the open governor's seat in Rhode Island, 54 percent to 45 percent, with 99 of precincts reporting.
New York Gov. George Pataki won a third term handily over Democratic State Comptroller Carl McCall, 50 percent to 33 percent with 99 percent of the vote tallied. The campaign was one of the most expensive state races ever, with more than $118 million spent, of which about $65 million was spent by Independence Party candidate B. Thomas Golisano out of his own pocket. Golisano got 14 percent of the vote.
In the South:
In Alabama, Democratic Gov. Don Siegleman led Republican Rep. Bob Riley by 3,584 votes. Riley refused to concede.
"I don't know if you noticed before, but the governor has been wrong about many things through this whole election," he said. "We ain't giving up yet. If our numbers are right, we still win."
Underdog former Georgia Sen. Sonny Perdue defeated Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes 51 percent to 47 percent to become Georgia's first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
Former South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford unseated incumbent Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges 53 percent to 47 percent.
In Tennessee, former Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen defeated Republican Rep. Van Hilleary, 51 percent to 48 percent.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee turned back Democratic state Treasurer Jimmie Lou Fisher 55 percent to 45 percent with 96 percent of the vote tallied.
In the West:
Republican incumbent Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn crushed Democrat challenger Joe Neal, 68 percent to Neal's 22 percent.
Idaho Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne trounced Democratic newspaper publisher Jerry Brady 56 percent to 42 percent to win a second term.
In Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry declared victory over Laredo millionaire Tony Sanchez, 58 percent to 40 percent, in his bid for a full, 4-year term, but the state's first Hispanic candidate for governor refused to concede late Tuesday.
"We must seek common ground to achieve the common good," Perry told a cheering crowd. "Yes, we are Republicans, Democrats, independents, and yes we are a diverse tapestry of different people from different backgrounds but first and foremost we are Texans."
Just a few minutes after Perry left the podium to a cheering crowd at the Republican victory party in Austin, Sanchez strolled in front of his supporters at another hotel as they shouted, "Tony, Tony, Tony."
Sanchez said Perry's speech reminded him of 1948, a reference to the famous presidential election in which Democrat Harry S. Truman was elected president after Republican Thomas E. Dewey had declared victory.
"I'm still going to give him hell until the last vote is counted," a defiant Sanchez said.
Sanchez, a banker and oilman, spent more than $60 million of his own money in a long and bitter campaign to defeat Perry, a veteran of nearly 18 years in state office who succeeded George W. Bush when he was elected president. Perry was lieutenant governor and automatically assumed the governor's post.
Sanchez refused to concede because of voting problems in Tarrant and Bexar counties, two of the state's most populous urban areas. Perry's had a 58 percent-to-40 percent lead over Sanchez with 89 percent of the vote counted.
Richardson, a 54-year-old former U.N. ambassador and energy secretary, ran on his government experience against Sanchez, a 39-year-old state legislator and roofing contractor who claimed a rags-to-riches story. Richardson, the state's first Hispanic governor in 20 years, will succeed Republican Gary Johnson who had to step down due to term limits.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens handled Democratic challenger Rollie Heath, winning 63 percent to 33 percent.
Wyoming Democrat Dave Freudenthal, a former U.S. attorney, led former state congressman Eli Bebout 50 percent to 48 percent with 97 percent of the ballots counted.
California incumbent Gov. Gray Davis led Republican investment banker Bill Simon Jr., 47.6 percent to 42.3 percent with 81 percent of the vote counted.
In Alaska, Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski beat Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer 56 percent to 41 percent.
Arizona attorney general Janet Napolitano defeated former Rep. Mike Salmon 47 percent to 44 percent. Oregon Democrat Ted Kulongoski led Republican Kevin Mannix 48 percent to 47 percent in a see-saw race that was too close to call.
In Hawaii, Linda Lingle was elected the Aloha State's first Republican governor in 40 years defeating Democratic Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, 51.1 percent to 46.6 percent.
(With reporting by UPI correspondents around the country.)
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