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Presidential hopes at stake in US governors’ races

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03._Republican_PartyWisconsin, Nov 05 (AP) - Florida's Republican governor had a slim lead over his Democratic challenger Tuesday in one of several hard-fought gubernatorial races across the U.S. that could resonate in the 2016 White House election.
Also closely watched was the race in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker's bid for re-election could make or break his aspirations to launch a presidential bid in two years.
In Florida, early returns show Gov. Rick Scott has nearly 49 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor-turned Democrat. More than half of precincts have reported results.
The race - one of the nastiest and most expensive in the country - has implications for 2016 because Florida is a crucial battleground state with its large population of senior citizens and Hispanics. Democrats were hoping Crist would give the party its first gubernatorial win there in 20 years and put the state in friendly territory for the White House race.
A judge denied a last-minute request Tuesday night from Crist's campaign to extend voting by two hours in Broward County because of what he called voter confusion and malfunctions in the Democratic stronghold.
Governors were on the ballot in 36 states Tuesday, most of them overshadowed by the fierce fight for control of the Senate, where Republicans need just six seats to take over. But several close governors' races have drawn campaign appearances from potential White House contenders, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as they try to raise their own profiles and cement alliances for 2016.
In Wisconsin, a victory over Democratic businesswoman Mary Burke could push Walker to the top tier of prospective 2016 candidates, while a loss would almost certainly dash his White House ambitions.
Walker became a conservative favorite and gained a national profile shortly after taking office in 2011, as he pushed lawmakers in Wisconsin to take away the collective bargaining rights of most state workers. Opponents responded by trying to boot Walker from office, and he became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election the following year.
While Walker has downplayed talk of a White House bid during his re-election effort, his conservative agenda would likely form the backbone of an eventual campaign.
The first race to be called came in South Carolina, where Republican Gov. Nikki Haley handily beat Democratic challenger Vincent Sheheen to win a second term. The victory boosts the national image of the 42-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants, who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2016.
Another governor who has figured in the 2016 discussion, John Kasich of Ohio, sailed to victory against Democrat Ed FitzGerald to win a second term largely on a record of economic growth and shrinking unemployment. Kasich's state is also major presidential battleground, its voters neither reliably Republican nor Democrat.
In another swing state, Colorado's Democratic governor was in a tight race with a Republican challenger. Republicans also see a chance to reclaim the governor's office in Illinois - the adopted home state of President Barack Obama - for the first time in more than a decade.
Democrats scored a big victory in Pennsylvania, where businessman Tom Wolf unseated Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Pennsylvania is a state long coveted by Republican presidential candidates, but a last-minute push there by Mitt Romney failed in 2012.
Other Republican governors were facing tough re-election battles in Kansas, Michigan and Maine.