Republicans Elect Governors in Kentucky, Mississippi
By Jason White, Assistant Staff Writer
Republican candidates won the governors races in Kentucky and Mississippi Tuesday, continuing a decades-long trend toward Republican domination of the South.
In Mississippi, Republican power broker Haley Barbour defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove by a surprisingly large margin, 53 percent to 45 percent, according to preliminary vote totals. Barbour becomes just the second Republican to rule the state since Reconstruction.
In Kentucky, Republican U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher coasted to an easy victory over Democratic Attorney General Ben Chandler, winning 55 percent to 45 percent, according to preliminary vote totals. He becomes the state's first Republican governor in 32 years.
President Bush loomed large in both races, visiting Kentucky and Mississippi in the final days of the campaigns to rally supporters.
"We're very fortunate to have a leader who recognizes the importance of electing Republican governors," said Ed Tobin, executive director of the Republican Governors Association (RGA). The RGA also was a big factor in these campaigns, spending $2 million in Kentucky on Fletcher's behalf and more than $5 million to elect Barbour in Mississippi.
Eight of the 11 Southern states now have Republican governors. And with Arnold Schwarzenegger's victory in California last month, Republicans now hold 29 of 50 governorships nationwide.
Democrats will try to chip away at these totals Nov. 15, when a third Southern state, Louisiana, holds a runoff election between Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Republican Bobby Jindal. The candidates are vying to succeed Republican Gov. Mike Foster.
Although Democrats lost both of Tuesday's gubernatorial elections, they did manage to gain control of the New Jersey Legislature. Democrats broke a 20-20 tie in the state Senate by ousting embattled Senate Co-President John Bennett, a Republican. They also gained six seats in the House.
Mississippi and Virginia also held legislative elections Tuesday, but neither statehouse was close to shifting control. In Virginia, Democrats gained a couple seats in the House of Delegates but appear to have lost ground in the Senate, The Washington Post reported.
In other state-level electoral news, Maine voters defeated a controversial referendum that would have allowed a mammoth Las Vegas-style casino to be built in the Southern part of the state. With 85 percent of ballots counted, the ballot measure was defeated 66 percent to 34 percent, according to the Portland Press Herald.