Gary Locke, the son of an immigrant Chinese grocer, became the first Asian American elected to a governorship in the mainland United States as Washington voters gave the Democrat a substantial majority Tuesday over Ellen Craswell, a self-described "Christian radical."
Locke won the most closely watched gubernatorial contest on a night in which only 11 of the nation's 50 governorships were at stake. With 19% of the vote counted, Locke led 59% to 41%. Asian Americans make up only 4.5% of Washington's population--less than half the percentage in California.
In another key race, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen defeated Republican Ovide Lamontagne to become the first female governor in New Hampshire's history.
With 78% of the vote in, Shaheen led 57% to 39%. Incumbents prevailed in most of the gubernatorial races. Among the sitting governors who prevailed were Democrats Thomas R. Carper in Delaware, Mel Carnahan in Missouri, James B. Hunt Jr. in North Carolina and Howard Dean in Vermont; Republicans Marc Racicot in Montana, Edward T. Schafer in North Dakota and Mike Leavitt in Utah.
In two open races, the results went against the grain of the presidential election. In traditionally Republican Indiana, which was carried by GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole, Democratic Lt. Gov. Frank L. O'Bannon defeated Stephen Goldsmith, the Republican mayor of Indianapolis. And in the closest race of the day, in heavily Democratic West Virginia where Clinton prevailed in a landslide, Republican Cecil Underwood, who held the governorship earlier in his long political career, edged out Democrat Charlotte Pritt, a former teacher and state senator.
Locke's Washington campaign inspired Asian American groups across the country, with fund-raisers being held as far away as New York. He also garnered $1,100 contributions from Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and his wife. Locke, 46, previously served in the state Legislature and as the elected executive of King County, the metropolitan region that includes Seattle. He has championed rights for gay men and lesbians, tenants and the developmentally disabled.
Locke emphasized his Asian roots in his battle with Craswell. "Our ancestors gave their blood, sweat and tears to make this country great," he said. "It's only fair and right that having contributed to the success of this country, that Asian Americans be at the table where the laws affecting the country are made."
During the hard-fought election, Locke also emphasized the quality of education, job development and fighting juvenile crime. Craswell, a 64-year-old grandmother of 14, called for implementing "God's wonderful plan for government." Earlier this year, Locke spearheaded efforts to keep Seattle Seahawks owner Ken Behring from moving the team to Los Angeles.
In New Hampshire, Shaheen, 49, became the first Democrat to garner the governorship in the Granite State since Hugh Gallen was elected in 1978. A longtime Democratic activist who ran Jimmy Carter's successful 1976 presidential campaign in the state, Shaheen easily defeated New Hampshire education board Chairman Lamontagne, who spearheaded Bob Dole's unsuccessful presidential bid in the state this year. Shaheen emphasized insurance reform, the promotion of small business and combating domestic abuse.