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In Texas, Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry won a third term by defeating Democratic challenger Bill White, the former mayor of Houston, who was considered at one time a threat to the Republican incumbent.

Going into Tuesday’s races, Democrats had a 26-23 lead in governorships, with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist the country’s lone independent governor. The 37 races are the most in one year in U.S. election history, and in roughly half of the races, no incumbent is on the ballot.

In addition to Mr. O'Malley, Democrats could celebrate a few other bright spots in other early results.

In New Hampshire, Democratic Gov. John Lynch won a historic fourth consecutive term by defeating Republican challenger John Stephen, while Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe earned a second term by defeating GOP businessman Jim Keet.

In New York, Democrat Andrew Cuomo easily defeated Buffalo developer Carl Paladino, the Republican nominee, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick bucked the anti-incumbent, pro-Republican trend and won a second term despite a strong challenge from Republican Charlie Baker and a Democrat-turned-independent third-party challenger.

Democrats also were projected to have a good chance to pick up governorships this year held by Republicans in Hawaii, Vermont and Minnesota.

Marquee races in a number of states - including critical swing states Florida and Ohio - were too close to call.

In Ohio, Republican candidate John R. Kasich, a former congressman, clung to a slim lead over Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, but neither side was declaring victory.

The battle for Ohio has been perhaps the biggest prize of the gubernatorial races. Republicans see the seat as crucial in their effort to derailing the re-election bid of Mr. Obama, who visited the state 12 times over the past year. The state was critical in helping George W. Bush win his 2004 re-election against Democratic challenger John Kerry.

In New Mexico, Republican candidate Susana Martinez was ahead of Democrat Diane Denish, 59 percent to 41 percent, with roughly 10 percent of the precincts reporting. The winner will replace retiring Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson.

The Republican Governors Association said in the closing weeks that ending the night in control of 28 statehouses would make Tuesday “a very successful night.”

The Democratic Governors Association said Republicans have set such a high bar for themselves that picking up less than 10 seats would be a “dramatic failure” for the party.

Beyond controlling battleground states in 2012, the new governors also will play a key role in redrawing congressional and legislative districts based on the 2010 census.

Republican candidates on Tuesday were riding the same anti-incumbent wave that is expected the give the GOP control of the House, several victories in the Senate, and control of statehouses across the country.

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who this year signed into law a tough immigration statute, had a double-digit lead and was expected to win against Democratic opponent and state Attorney General Terry Goddard.

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