Rep. Ernie Fletcher easily won the Kentucky governor's seat Tuesday, becoming the first Republican to lead the state in 32 years. In 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, easily 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 13 percent of Mississippi precincts reporting, Barbour had 51,760 votes, or 53 percent, to 44,607, or 46 percent, for Musgrove.
In both states, candidates tried out slogans and strategies that could well 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, Democrats said 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.
Democrats in Mississippi raised accusations Tuesday of intimidation at black voting precincts, echoing an earlier clash over race in Kentucky's final days.
Spending records fell in Mississippi's race, where Musgrove, seeking a second term, was outspent by Barbour, a top Washington lobbyist and former head of the Republican National Committee.
The race could be decided in the Democrat-controlled state House if neither candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote or fails to win a majority of the 122 House districts.
Democrats hold the governor's office in Kentucky and Mississippi, though voters in both states supported Bush in 2002.
Each 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."