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U.S. Governors Elected by less than 50% of Votes: 1990-2003, by State

The tables below show state-by-state data of which elections were won by plurality between 1990 and 2003.  Each table gives the year of the election, the type of election (primary or general), the candidate's name and party affiliation, and the percentage of votes received by the candidate.

* indicates a currently serving Governor .

Bold type indicates candidates that served as governor. 

AL, AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, GA, HI, ID, IL, KS, KY, LA, ME, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OK, OR, PA, RISD, TX, UT, VT, WA, WV, WI, WYPuerto Rico




2002 General Bob Riley (R)*                                    49%

The 2002 election in Alabama was extremely close, with Riley and Democrat Sieglman both winning 49% of the vote.  Riley, a former congressman, defeated the incumbent by a 3,120-vote margin.



1998 Primary John Lindauer (R)                               38%
1994 Primary

Tony Knowles (D)

1994 General Tony Knowles (D) 41%
1990 Primary Arliss Sturgulewski (R) 38%
1990 General Walter J. Hickel (Alaska Ind. Party) 39%


In 1990, Alaska became one of the four states to elect a non-major party candidate when Walter Hickel won with 39%.

In 1994, Democrat Knowles won by 536 votes out of more than 211,000 cast (by 0.3%), defeating a Republican and a more conservative candidate from the Alaska Independene Party. Republicans have also suffered divisions in their party due to controversial plurality victories in gubernatorial blanket primaries in which all voters can choose among all candidates regardless of party.

Although Lindauer won his primary in 1998, he was defeated in the general election by Knowles, and even received less votes than Robin Taylor, a write-in.  Taylor had 20% to Lindauer's 18%.



2002 General Janet Napolitano (D)*                46%
1990 Primary Fife Symington (R)  44%

Note that in 1997, former governor Fife Symington (R) resigned. He had been elected in his 1990 primary with 44%. He then won a runoff in the general election with fewer votes than he won in the election that forced the runoff.  Arizona voters had voted to adopt general election runoffs after controversial governor Evan Mecham was elected with 40% in 1986, but then voted them out in 1992 after the perceived waste and confusion associated with Symingtonĺ─˘s 1990 runoff win.

The 2002 elections resulted in another plurality win, this time by Janet Napolitano, narrowly defeating Republican candidate Matt Salmon by 1%. 



2003 General Arnold Schwarzenegger (R)* 48.6%
2002 General Gray Davis (D)                      47%
1998 Primary Gray Davis (D) 35%
1990 General Pete Wilson (R) 49%

Following a state-wide energy crisis as well as a budget crisis in 2001, Governor Davis' popularity decreased significantly.  His job approval rating dropped from 50% in 2000 to 38% in 2001.  However, Davis was re-elected in 2002, defeating Republican Simon 47%  to 42%, in a race where Green Party candidate Camejo won 5% of the vote.  With continuing budget problems, Davis' approval rates were as low as 27% in early 2003, when two groups of Californians began efforts to recall the governor. In the 2003 special election, a majority of voters decided to recall Davis (55.4%), and Schwarzenegger won the race with 48.6% of the vote. Of the remaining 134 candidates, most notable are Democrat Cruz Bustamante (31.5%), Republican Tom McClintock (13.5) and Peter Miguel Camejo of the Green Party (2.8%). See Lessons from the California Recall for more information.


1998 General  Bill Owens (R) *                                            49%

In 1998, Owens narrowly defeated Democrat Schoettler 49% to 48%, but won re-election in 2002 by almost a 30% margin over the Democratic challenger.


1994 General John Rowland (R) *                                    36%
1990 General Lowell P Weicker, Jr. (I)    40%

Four candidates won more than 10% of the vote each in 1994 in the wake of Lowell Weicker's win as an independent in 1990.


1994 General Benjamin Cayetano (D)                       37%

Three candidates won at least 29% of the vote in the 1994 general election, and Cayetano beat the runner-up by 6%.



1994 Primary Phil Batt (R)                                          48%

Batt went on to win the 1994 governor's race with 52% to 44% of the vote for the Democrat runner-up, and an independent candidate captured 4%.



2002 Primary Rod Blagojevich (D)*                            37%

Rod Blagojevich went on to win the 2002 general election with 52% of the vote, about 7% more than Republican Jim Ryan.


1994 Primary Bill Graves (R) 41%
1990 Primary Joan Finney (D) 47%
1990 General Joan Finney (D) 49%

In 1990 Finney won the Democratic primary by 1,844 votes of 172,228 cast (1%), then won the general election by 6 percentage points, 49% to 43% (Hayden).  Independent candidate Campbell-Cline took 9% of the vote in the general election.

Though Graves won his primary by plurality in 1994, he won the general election by a landslide - 64% to 36% for the runner-up.


1995 Primary Paul Patton ( D)      45%
1991 Primary Brereton C. Jones (D) 38%

In 1991, Jones defeated Republican Hopkins in the general election 65% to 35%.

Paul Patton went on to win the 1995 general election with 51% of the vote, compared to 49% for his Republican challenger.


2003 Primary Kathleen Blanco (D)* 31%

Louisiana's unique system makes calculations of plurality wins somewhat complicated. In the first round, all candidates run on a single ballot, and a candidate can win by obtaining more than 50% of the vote.  

In October 2003, Kathleen Blanco qualified for the runoff election after having won just 31% of the Democratic votes and 18% of total votes in the first round. Blanco went on to ultimately defeat Republican Bobby Jindal, who had received 33% of total votes in the first round. 

In the second round of the 1995 election, Republican Mike Foster won 26% of the total votes in the blanket primary, before going on to defeat Democrat Cleo Fields with 64% in the final round.


2002 General John Baldacci (D)* 47%
1994 General Angus King(I) 35%
1990 General John R. McKernan Jr.(R)  47%

In 1990, McKernan won the general election by 3 percentage points, with independent candidate Andrew Adam drawing 9% of the vote.

In 1994, independent King defeated Democrat Joseph Brennan by 1% in an election in which four candidates won at least 5%.  He went on to be re-elected in 1998 with 59% of votes. 

Baldacci defeated republican Cianchette by a 6% margin in 2002.


2002  General Mitt Romney (R)*                                       49.8%

Mitt Romney was unopposed in the 2002 primary and won the general election by about 5%.



2002 Primary Jennifer Granholm (D)*                            48%
1990 General  John Engler (R) 49.8%


Although near a majority, Engler won by less than 1% in 1990. 

In 2002, Jennifer Granholm went on to win the general election with 51% of the vote, 4% more than her nearest opponent.


2002 General Tim Pawlenty (R)* 44%
1998 General Jesse Ventura (Ref)    37%
1990 Primary Jon Grunseth (IR) 49%

In 1990 Arne Carlson (IR) lost the Republican primary to Grunseth with only 32% of the vote. Beset by scandal, however, Grunseth withdrew nine days before the general election, which Carlson then won with 51% of the vote.

In the most publicized gubernatorial upset of 1998, Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura beat Republican Norm Coleman (34%) and Hubert Humphrey III (28%). 

Tim Pawlenty won in 2002 by a margin of 8%, in an election in which a third party candidate captured 16% of the vote.


1999 General Ronnie Musgrove (D)                             49.6%

Musgrove was ultimately elected governor in January 2000 by a vote in the Legislature. Mississippiĺ─˘s constitution requires a legislative vote if no candidate wins a majority of the vote. Musgrove came out of the general election with 49.6% of votes compared to opponent Mike Parkerĺ─˘s 48.5%.


2000 General Bob Holden (D) *                                   49%

Holden won the 2000 general election by 21,445 votes over suburban Republican Jim Talent, in one of the closest races in the country that year.


1998 Primary Mike Johanns (R) *                         40%
1990 Primary E. Benjamin Nelson (D)     27% 

Nelson won the 1990 primary, 48 days and a recount later, by 42 votes.  He went on to win the general election with 50% to 49% for the runner-up.

In 1998, three candidates in a bitter Republican primary took over 28% of votes each.  Mike Johanns went on to win the general election with 54% of votes.

New Hampshire: 

2002 Primary Craig Benson (R)*                               37%
2000 General Jean Shaheen (D ĺ─ý Incumbent)             49%

Incumbent Shaheen won the 2000 general election with 49% to 44% for former Senator Gorden Humphrey (R) and 6% for pro-income tax independent candidate Mary Brown. 

In 2002, Benson defeated the democratic candidate, Mark Fernald, by a 59% - 38% margin.

New Jersey

1997 General Christine Todd Whitman (R) 47%
1993 Primary Christine Todd Whitman (R)  40%
1993 General Christine Todd Whitman (R)    49%

When Whitman won the Republican primary in 1993, two other candidates drew over 24% of the vote each; She went on to win against Democrat Florio in the general election by 26,093 votes of 2,505,964 cast, or just 1%.  Her re-election in 1997 was no easier, and she won with 49% of the votes to Democrat McGreeveyĺ─˘s 46%; Libertarian Sabrin won 5% of the votes.

New Mexico:

1994 Primary  Gary Johnson (R) 34%
1994 General Gary Johnson (R)                                   49.9%

Against three other candidates who each took over 13% of primary votes, Johnson defeated the runner-up by barely 1,000 votes in 1994. Green candidate Robert Mondragon took 10% of the votes in the general election.

New York

2002 General George Pataki (R-C)*                                   49%
1994 General  George Pataki (R)*                                        49%

Pataki was unopposed in the 2002 primary, but defeated Democrat Carl McCall with 49% of the vote to McMcall's 34%.  Independent candidate Golisano took 14% of the vote in this election, almost double the 8% he captured in 1998.


2002 General Brad Henry (D)*                                           43%
1994 General Frank Keating (R)                                       47%

A three-way race in 1994 saw Democrat Mildren with 30% and Independent Watkins with 23%. 

In 2002, the Independent candidate, Richardson also won a significant portion of the vote (14%), leaving Largent (R) and Henry with 43% of the vote each, and Henry winning by just 6,866 votes.


2002 Primary Ted Kulongoski (D)* 49%
2002 General Ted Kulongoski (D)*                                49%
1990 General Barbara Roberts (D)                              43%

Incumbent Roberts was elected with 46% in a three-way general election; Independent Mobleyĺ─˘s 13% more than made the difference between Roberts and Republican Frohnmayerĺ─˘s 40%.


1994 Primary Tom Ridge (R) 35%
1994 General Tom Ridge (R)                                              45%

Four candidates won at least 14% in the 1994 primary.  Ridge won the general election only 5 percentage points ahead of Democrat Singel; Constitutional candidate Luksik took 13%

Rhode Island:

1994 General  Lincoln Almond (R) *                                     47%
1990 Primary Bruce Sundlun (D) 41%

The 1990 Democratic primary split between three candidates who had at least 25% of votes each.  Sundlun went on to win in the general election in a landslide - 74% to Republican DiPrete's 26%.

The 1994 race was almost duplicated in 1998, with Almond taking 51% of the vote to the same opponent Myrth York (42%) and Cool Moose party candidate Robert Healey again taking enough votes to have influenced the outcome (9% in 1994 and 6% in 1998)

South Dakota:

2002 Primary Mike Rounds (R)*                                       44%

Mike Rounds went on to win the 2002 general election with 57% of the vote, 15% more than the Democrat runner-up.



1990 General       Ann W. Richards (D)                                49%


After winning a runoff of the 1990 Democratic primary, Richards defeated Republican Williams in the general election by 2%.


1992 General Michael Leavitt (R)                                       42%

Then-independent Merrill Cook took 34% in 1992.




General Jim Douglas (R)*                                       45%

In the 2002 race, Independent Hogan received 10% of the votes, and Douglas won the election by just 3%.



1996 Primary Gary Locke (D) *                                             45%

Locke's total was among Democratic candidates in blanket primary.


West Virginia: 

1996 Primary Cecil Underwood (R)          41%
1992 Primary Gaston Caperton (D) 43%

In 1992, Caperton won 56% of the vote and the governorship.

Underwood went on to win the general election of 1996 with 52% of the votes cast.



2002 Primary James Doyle (D)* 38%
2002 General James Doyle (D)*                                          45%

Libertarian candidate Ed Thompson won 11% of the votes in 2002, and Doyle narrowly defeated Republican McCallum by 3%.



2002 General Dave Freudenthal (D)*                49.9%
1994 Primary Jim Geringer (R)                          43%

In 1994, Geringer went on to win the general election with 59% of the vote. 

Freudenthal's 2002 victory was a narrow 2% over the runner-up.

Puerto Rico:

2000 General(Governor)  Sila Maria Calderon*                   49%

The first female Governor won a 49%-46% victory over former Transportation Secretary Carlos Pesquera in 2000.

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