Democrats lose Kentucky, Mississippi governorships
(CNN) -- The Democratic Party's electoral woes in the South continued Tuesday, as Republicans captured Kentucky's governorship for the first time in more than three decades and Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove became the fifth Democratic incumbent to fall in the past year.
Republican Haley Barbour, a Washington lobbyist and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, won the Mississippi governorship in a tight race with Musgrove.
"We Republicans have a wonderful team and we believe in team work," Barbour said in his victory speech. "Being part of that team will help Mississippi for the next four years."
With 84 percent of the precincts reporting, Barbour secured 53 percent, compared to 45 percent for Musgrove, according to The Associated Press, who reported Barbour's victory early Wednesday.
Musgrove is the fifth sitting Democratic governor ousted in the past year, and the fourth in the South.
In last fall's mid-term elections, Democratic governors fell in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama; in October, California Gov. Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In Tuesday's off-year election in Kentucky, GOP U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher defeated Democratic state Attorney General Ben Chandler to take the helm of the Bluegrass State. The seat was open because the incumbent Democrat, Gov. Paul Patton, mired in a messy adultery scandal, was forced from office by term limits.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Fletcher won 55 percent, compared to 45 percent for Chandler, according to vote totals from The Associated Press.
"I never dreamed we would win by the margin we won by. That's something else," said Fletcher. "It's a new era in Kentucky."
While Kentucky has trended Republican in federal races -- President Bush carried 57 percent of the state's vote in 2000 -- the top state office had been solidly in Democratic hands. The last Republican elected governor was Louie B. Nunn, who served from 1967-1971.
During the campaign, Fletcher, 50, a doctor first elected to Congress in 1998, had tied Chandler to the unpopular Patton and the state's Democratic political establishment, vowing to clean up "the mess in Frankfort."
Chandler, 43, the grandson of legendary Kentucky politico A.B. "Happy" Chandler, tried to distance himself from Patton, who admitted to having an affair with a nursing home operator who now accuses the governor of turning state regulators loose on her business when she ended their relationship.
Patton denied the charge, but Democrats feared the fallout from the scandal would hurt them in the governor's race.
Conceding defeat, Chandler, quoting his grandfather, told supporters, "When you dig a dry hole, don't stand there and fill it with tears. Move your digger."
Chandler focused his campaign on the state's economy, which he said had been hurt by Bush administration policies that Fletcher supported in Congress. But Fletcher, banking on the president's popularity in Kentucky, did not shy away from their connection, bringing Bush to the state for rallies last weekend.
With Musgrove's loss, only four of the 13 states in the South, once a Democratic bastion, will have Democratic governors. However, Democrats could gain a fifth seat next week in Louisiana, where Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco is locked in a tight runoff race with Republican Bobby Jindal to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Mike Foster.
Musgrove, 47, ran as a conservative, calling attention to his opposition to abortion and gun control while shying away from the Democratic label in his advertising. The governor attacked Barbour for being a Washington lobbyist who worked for tobacco and pharmaceutical companies, and he touted his own efforts to improve education and bring jobs to the state.
But Barbour, 56, focused his campaign on what he called a lack of leadership in Mississippi, one of the nation's poorest states, blaming the incumbent for the state's economic woes. Barbour also brought Bush to the state, which the president carried with 58 percent of the vote in 2000.
In other races Tuesday, voters in three states -- Mississippi, Virginia and New Jersey -- were electing state legislators. But the only state where control of legislative chambers changed was in New Jersey, where the Senate had been evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats and just three seats separated the parties in the House.
The Associated Press estimated that Democrats would win enough seats to take control of Senate and retain control of the House.
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