Democrats reclaimed governors' offices from the Northeast to the Rockies to the South yesterday, putting them on track to take a majority of the governorships for the first time in 12 years.
Victories in Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, Arkansas and Colorado meant Democrats would control the top elected office in at least 27 states, provided they held onto their own seats. Such an edge over Republicans could prove pivotal in the 2008 campaign for the White House.
Republican incumbents managed to hold onto governorships in California and Texas, and in Florida, Republican Charlie Crist beat Democratic Rep. Jim Davis in the battle to succeed Republican Jeb Bush, President Bush's brother. He was prevented under the state's term-limits law from running for a third term.
In New York, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer beat his Republican opponent, John Faso, in the race to succeed George Pataki, a Republican who chose not to run for a fourth term in Albany but who is considering a presidential bid in 2008.
"From here on out, we need a politics that binds us together, a politics that's forward-thinking, a politics that asks not, 'What's in it for me?' but always 'What's in it for us?'" Spitzer said in claiming victory shortly after the polls closed.
In Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, a Justice Department civil rights official in the Clinton administration, won a historic victory: He becomes the state's first African-American governor, and just the second black candidate to be elected governor in any state, after former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder.
Patrick's win ends 16 years in which Republicans served as governor in the Bay State. Patrick trounced GOP Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey despite her support from outgoing GOP Gov. Mitt Romney, a potential 2008 presidential candidate.
Two other black candidates - both Republicans - lost. In Ohio, Ted. Strickland swept past J. Kenneth Blackwell, the secretary of state, who was criticized by Democrats for his role in overseeing the 2004 election in Ohio that was critical in securing President Bush's victory. In Pennsylvania, former NFL star Lynn Swann was swamped by Democratic Gov. Edward G. Rendell.
Strickland becomes the first Democrat elected governor in Ohio in 20 years.
Democrats also held onto three governor's posts in the Great Lakes region.
Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich won re-election, as did Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, who turned back a strong Republican challenge from Amway millionaire Dick DeVos, who pumped $35 million of his own money into his campaign.
Wisconsin Gov. James E. Doyle defeated GOP Rep. Mark Green.
Heading into Election Day, Republicans had a clear leg up in the executive branch of statehouses, with 28 governors belonging to the Republican Party and 22 to the Democratic Party.
But much of that Republican dominance appeared set to erode this year, as voters in 36 of the 50 states went to the polls with governor's races on their ballots, and Democrats were running strongly in several key states.
Democrats were also predicting gains in state legislatures, where partisan control can be a huge factor in the re-drawing of congressional districts.
Republicans currently control both chambers in 20 states, the Democrats in 19, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Control is split in 10, while Nebraska's unicameral legislature is officially nonpartisan.
In all, 10 new governors were guaranteed to emerge from yesterday's elections.
Sam Howe Verhovek writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.