GOP loses Mo. statehouse, but other incumbents hang on

— -- Republicans lost one governorship Tuesday as a Democrat took control in Missouri, while a down-to-the-wire contest in Washington state gave the GOP a chance for payback.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon won the race to replace Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, who did not seek re-election.

But all four other Republican incumbents won, providing a bright spot in an otherwise dismal Election Day for the GOP overall.

"Considering this environment for Republicans, that's an achievement," said Nick Ayers of the Republican Governors Association.

With only 11 governors' races across the country, neither party could gain a decisive advantage. "There's not going to be a wild swing," said Nathan Daschle of the Democratic Governors Association.

Democrats hoped to increase their 28-22 edge over the GOP by one. Washington's race, between Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire and Republican businessman Dino Rossi, will determine whether her party can add to its margin.

The fundraising associations for governors in both parties are focusing on gaining as many seats as possible by 2010 in an effort to influence the once-a-decade redrawing of U.S. House districts. The districts are redrawn by state legislatures.

Both associations set fundraising records this year. The national Republican and Democratic groups poured more than $4 million each into races in North Carolina and Washington, where pre-election polls showed governors' contests too close to call.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue became North Carolina's first female governor, eking out a narrow victory over Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican. Democratic Gov. Mike Easley was barred from re-election by term limits.

Washington's contest was a rematch of the 2004 race between Gregoire and Rossi. The race four years ago was decided by only 133 votes after a protracted recount, and officials from both parties said they expected a similarly close race this time.

Results aren't likely for several days, because mail-in ballots in Washington need only be postmarked by midnight of Election Day.

"It's going to be close," Daschle said. With about a third of votes counted Tuesday night, Gregoire held a small lead over Rossi.

In Vermont, incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Douglas appeared to be headed toward winning a majority of votes in a seven-candidate field. Independent Anthony Pollina and Democratic state House Speaker Gaye Symington were roughly tied as runners-up.

Under Vermont law, if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the state Legislature decides which of the three top vote-getters will become governor. That's the way Douglas won his first term after finishing with 44.9% of the vote in 2002. Douglas appears to have enough votes to win outright this time.

The last time the leading candidate lost in the Vermont Legislature was 1976, when lawmakers picked the runner-up in the lieutenant governor's race.

In Delaware, Democratic state Treasurer Jack Markell defeated Republican Judge Bill Lee. Markell will name a replacement for Vice President-elect Joe Biden, Delaware's senior senator.

Democrats had hoped for a come-from-behind win in Indiana, where President Bush's former budget director, Mitch Daniels, sought a second term as governor. But Daniels prevailed, defeating former Democratic Rep. Jill Long Thompson.

"We always knew Indiana would be a real long shot," said Democratic Governors Association president Joe Manchin.

Manchin himself easily won re-election as governor of West Virginia, defeating former Republican state Sen. Russ Weeks.

Other states with governors' races Tuesday:

•New Hampshire. Incumbent Democrat John Lynch defeated GOP state Sen. Joe Kenney.

•North Dakota. Republican Gov. John Hoeven beat Democratic state Sen. Tim Mathern.

•Utah. In this reddest of red states, GOP Gov. John Huntsman beat Democrat Bob Springmeyer.

•Montana. Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer won re-election over Republican state Sen. Roy Brown.