Former Bush administration official Mitch Daniels unseated Democratic Gov. Joe Kernan in Indiana, while New Hampshire’s one-term GOP Gov. Craig Benson faced an aggressive challenger Tuesday as 11 states elected their top officials.

An agonizingly close contest emerged in Missouri, where Democrat Claire McCaskill battled Republican Matt Blunt. In Delaware, Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner withstood a surprisingly strong race from Republican Bill Lee to win a second term.

Elsewhere, Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. took Utah’s open governor’s seat. North Dakota GOP Gov. John Hoeven, Vermont Republican Gov. Jim Douglas and North Carolina Democratic Gov. Mike Easley each won second terms. In West Virginia, Democratic Secretary of State Joe Manchin took an open governor’s seat.

In Indiana, Daniels – the former White House budget chief – knocked off Kernan, facing his first test at the polls since he took office after former Gov. Frank O’Bannon died last year. In New Hampshire, with 44 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat John Lynch was narrowly ahead by less than 2,000 votes, less than a percentage point.

In Missouri’s nailbiter, McCaskill, the state auditor, held a slim lead over Blunt, the secretary of state and son of four-term GOP Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri. With a fifth of precincts reporting, she was ahead 50 percent to Blunt’s 48 percent.

In Delaware, Minner won with 50.5 percent of the vote with 86 percent of precincts reporting. She had lost ground after making what some saw as an insensitive response to a prison inmate’s abduction and rape of a counselor. She said, “In prisons, you almost expect this to happen.”

The contests for open seats in Missouri, Montana, Utah and Washington state brought record spending and unprecedented bursts of out-of-state money, and the heat of the presidential race had an effect on at least a couple of races.

New Hampshire’s Benson fought to hold on for a second term against Lynch in a state leaning against President Bush. In Indiana, a state that went solidly and quickly for Bush, Daniels had the prominent support of the president.

Others contests remained resolutely local, turning on taxes, economic development or transportation issues.

Even before Election Day, dismay over economic problems and other woes over the past few years led to the ouster of governors in Missouri (where one-term Democratic Gov. Bob Holden lost in the primary) and Utah (where GOP Gov. Olene Walker lost the nomination at the party convention).

Three other governors – in Montana, Washington and West Virginia – chose not to seek re-election.

In Utah, Huntsman, a businessman and Bush administration diplomat, easily beat Scott Matheson Jr., dean of the University of Utah law school and the son of a former governor.

In Washington, Democrat Christine Gregoire, the state attorney general, sparred with Republican Dino Rossi, a former legislative leader.

In Montana, polls showed Democrats with a shot at taking a seat held by the Republicans for 16 years. Democrat Brian Schweitzer, a farmer who unsuccessfully sought a Senate seat in 2000, vied with Republican Bob Brown, secretary of state.

Pickup dash matter

AP-ES-11-02-04 2236EST

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