Key wins in New York, Ohio and Massachusetts helped lead the way. Attorney General Elliott Spitzer prevailed in New York, former Clinton aide DeVal Patrick won in Massachusetts and Ted Strickland cruised to victory in Ohio. The Democrats also took away Republican governorships in Arkansas, Maryland and Colorado.
Patrick, an African American, defeated Lt. Governor Kerry Healey in a fierce and ugly race in the Bay State, and Strickland, a longtime congressman, defeated Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, whose campaign was plagued by statewide G.O.P. scandals. Spitzer easily bested John Faso in New York State. The Republicans could point to victories in a few key states, including California, Texas and Florida.
Republicans have controlled a majority of the governors seats since 1994, but that came to an end Tuesday. Governors' offices have been a reliable training ground for national candidates, including the last two Presidents. The party that controls the governors' mansions is particularly important in the years before a presidential election, as a governor usually has a powerful statewide organization he or she can put at the service of his party in a national contest.
One up-and-coming national figure whose reputation could be on the line in all this is Massachusetts' outgoing Governor Mitt Romney, one of the party's brighter 2008 presidential prospects. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Romney raised a record $20 million in the first three quarters of the year (the previous high mark was $18 million in 2004). But with the Republicans' poor showing in the governors' races, some of the blame will fall on Romney.
Democrats with an eye on the White House in 2008 relished the good news. "The important thing is what that does for us in '08," said top Hillary Clinton strategist and fundraiser, Terry McAuliffe. The victory in Ohio, the state that provided President Bush with his margin of victory in 2004, was especially gratifying, said McAuliffe: "We can't win the presidency without Ohio."