Ruth Ann Minner started working in the Delaware statehouse as a receptionist in the 1970s. Judy Martz entered Montana politics just four years ago after helping run a garbage business.
Now both lieutenant governors have been promoted to their states' highest office and have helped give the nation more women governors â€” five â€” than ever before.
In all, three women were among the 11 gubernatorial victors in Tuesday's elections; the other was New Hampshire's Democratic incumbent, Jeanne Shaheen. They join two serving Republican governors, Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey and Jane Hull of Arizona.
Two other women ran strong major-party campaigns, but lost in high-profile races.
North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat diagnosed with breast cancer in September, lost to Republican banker John Hoeven. In Vermont, Democratic Gov. Howard Dean survived a challenge from Republican Ruth Dwyer, who opposed a Dean-backed bill that extended marriage-like rights to gay couples.
Martz, a Republican, got 51 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Democratic State Auditor Mark O'Keefe. A former Olympic speedskater, Martz was virtually unknown in Montana politics until picked as running mate for outgoing Gov. Marc Racicot.
Minner, a Democrat whose stint as a statehouse receptionist preceded a lengthy legislative career, won 59 percent of the vote to defeat former GOP lawmaker John Burris.
With one exception, the gubernatorial elections ended with the same party holding power. Only in West Virginia will there be a change â€” Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Wise edged Republican incumbent Cecil Underwood, at 78 the nation's oldest governor.
Underwood's loss means there will be 29 Republican governors, 19 Democrats and two independents.
The other five incumbents up for re-election won: Republican Mike Leavitt in Utah and Democrats Dean, Shaheen, Frank O'Bannon in Indiana and Gary Locke in Washington.
In Missouri, there was an exceptionally close race to succeed Gov. Mel Carnahan, the popular Democrat killed three weeks ago in a plane crash. The winner was Democratic State Treasurer Bob Holden, who edged Republican Rep. Jim Talent in a contest that wasn't decided until nearly 3 a.m. EST Wednesday.
``I'm just sorry he's not here for the rest of the journey,'' Holden said of Carnahan.
The Democrats also won in North Carolina, where Attorney General Mike Easley defeated Republican Richard Vinroot, a former mayor of Charlotte, by 52 percent to 46 percent.