Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, turned back a challenge from Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. on Tuesday, but Republicans still appeared on track to achieve their 2010 goal of retaking a majority of the nation's governorships.
Seeking a second four-year term, Mr. O'Malley led 51 percent to 47 percent and was declared the winner with 11 percent of the precincts reporting.
"I just don't want to go back to where we were four years ago" with Mr. Ehrlich, said William Watson, 68, a veterinarian and Montgomery County resident who voted for Mr. O'Malley.
With 37 governorships up for grabs, Republicans won governorships from Democrats in Kansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, in early reporting. Two of Election Day's top prizes, the governor's races in key swing states Florida and Ohio, were too close to call at deadline.
At a victory rally in Baltimore, Mr. O'Malley told jubilant supporters, "I love you guys."
"The people of Maryland have once again decided that we move forward," Mr. O'Malley added.
South Carolina elected its first female governor, when Sarah Palin-endorsed "tea party" favorite Nikki Haley narrowly defeated Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen. Mrs. Haley held the governorship for the Republicans despite the scandals linked to outgoing GOP Gov. Mark Sanford.
In another closely watched contest, Denver Democratic Mayor John Hickenlooper won a three-way contest in which his closest competitor was American Constitution Party nominee Tom Tancredo, who ran far ahead of the official GOP nominee Dan Maes. In California, former Gov. Jerry Brown won a new term in Sacramento, defeating well-heeled Republican challenger Meg Whitman, a former eBay executive.
In Kansas, retiring Republican Sen. Sam Brownback defeated Democrat Tom Holland. Mr. Brownback replaces Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson, who did not seek election to a full term after ascending to the governorship after Kathleen Sibelius joined President Obama's Cabinet.
In Pennsylvania, another state that could loom large in the 2012 presidential sweepstakes, Republican state Attorney General Tom Corbett defeated Democrat Dan Onorato, Allegheny County executive, for the seat of Democratic Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who was term-limited from running for re-election.
In Tennessee, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam was declared the winner over Democratic businessman Mike McWherter. He succeeds Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.
In Michigan where the unemployment rate is roughly 13 percent, GOP moderate Rick Snyder defeat Democrat Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing, to succeed outgoing Democratic Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm.
Republicans held the lead in several other gubernatorial races, although full results were not available at press time.
In South Dakota, Republican Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard defeated Democratic state Sen. Scott Heidepriem. He replaces Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, who was term-limited.
In Alabama, Republican Robert Bentley defeated Democrat Ron Sparks. Mr. Bentley, a retired physician, in January will replace two-term Republican Gov. Bob Riley. His victory is the sixth by the GOP in the last seven elections for Alabama governor.
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.
Republicans also were hopeful about keeping Florida's governorship, where conservative GOP candidate Rick Scott was ahead of Democrat Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer, 50 percent to 46 percent with roughly 80 percent of the precincts reporting.
c This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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