Rep. Ernie Fletcher easily won the Kentucky governor's race Tuesday, ousting Democrats from power after 32 years. Mississippi Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove fought to keep his job against Washington lobbyist Haley Barbour as the GOP sought to make further inroads in the South.
Fletcher, a three-term congressman, defeated state Attorney General Ben Chandler, polling 55 percent, or 593,508 votes, to the Democrat's 45 percent, or 484,938 votes, with all precincts reporting.
With 54 percent of Mississippi precincts reporting, Barbour had 53 percent, or 243,426 votes, to 46 percent, or 212,269 votes, for Musgrove. Returns were slow coming from some of the biggest counties, including several Democratic strongholds.
In both states, candidates tried out slogans and strategies that might be used in the 2004 presidential race.
Mississippi Democrats criticized Barbour as a "Washington insider" as President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other top GOP officials came to campaign for him.
In Kentucky, party activists argued that a vote for Chandler would tell the White House its economic policy is a failure.
State Republican Chairwoman Ellen Williams said Bush helped swing the race in western Kentucky, a conservative Democratic area which both campaigns said was crucial. Bush "lit that district on fire," she said. "The people in that part of the state are in line with Bush's conservative values."
Democrats in Mississippi complained Tuesday of intimidation at black voting precincts, echoing an earlier clash over race in Kentucky's final days. In both states, Democrats claimed GOP poll observers sought to suppress the black vote, though Kentucky activists said they saw few problems on Election Day.
Under Mississippi law, unless one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the popular vote and carries a majority of the state's 122 House districts, the race would be decided in the state House _ which is controlled by Democrats.
Each state's race turned on state issues, but as the highest-level elections before the 2004 White House contest, they drew close scrutiny from political strategists.
Each party will try to frame the outcome to its advantage, said political science professor Alan Rosenthal of Rutgers University: "The winners will make it national, and the losers will make it idiosyncratic and local."