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North Carolina win adds to Republican governorships

By Colleen Jenkins

(Reuters) - Republicans were poised to increase their majority of U.S. governors' offices on Tuesday after voters in North Carolina chose their first Republican state chief executive in 20 years.

Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who narrowly lost a statehouse bid in 2008, notched a decisive victory over his Democratic Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton, who conceded.

Eleven governorships were in play on Tuesday, though only a handful of races were considered competitive and all were overshadowed by the White House and congressional contests.

Democrats were on the defensive with four of their party's incumbent governors stepping down compared with just one Republican.

Incumbent Democratic governors in Missouri, West Virginia, Vermont and Delaware had either declared victory or were leading comfortably with most votes counted by early Wednesday morning, according to state vote tallies.

In the swing state of New Hampshire, former state Senate majority leader Maggie Hassan won a tough contest over Ovide Lamontagne, a Republican attorney, to keep the seat in the Democratic column. Lamontage conceded after a campaign marked by negative ads and a focus on social issues.

North Dakota voters easily re-elected Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple, according to the state vote count. In Indiana, where Republican Governor Mitch Daniels is stepping down due to a term limit, Republican Mike Pence picked up the victory as Democrat John Gregg conceded. In Utah, Republican incumbent Greg Herbert was headed for an easy win, state vote totals showed.

In Washington, former Democratic congressman Jay Inslee had opened up a small lead over Republican state Attorney General Rob McKenna as votes were tabulated early Wednesday. Incumbent Governor Christine Gregoire, a Democrat who is retiring after two terms, won by just a handful of votes after multiple recounts and legal battles in 2004.

In Montana, where two-term Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer is stepping aside due to term limits, Attorney General Steve Bullock, a Democrat, held a significant lead over Republican Rick Hill, a former congressman, in early returns.

In the North Carolina race, McCrory had maintained a consistent lead over Dalton during the race after losing to Governor Bev Perdue by a slim margin in 2008. Perdue, the state's first female governor, decided not to seek a second term amid declining popularity.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Richmond, Virginia and Jonathan Weber in San Francisco.; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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