FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has been re-elected, becoming the second Democrat to win a U.S. gubernatorial race this year amid lingering economic uncertainty that's already proving worrisome to President Barack Obama's 2012 effort.
Beshear easily overcame challenges from Republican David Williams and independent Gatewood Galbraith, in a conservative state where voters routinely elect Republicans in national races. With 50 percent of precincts reporting, Beshear had 241,211 votes or 58 percent, to 131,319 votes for Williams or 31 percent. Galbraith had 44,893 votes or 11 percent.
Williams, the state Senate president, and Galbraith, an attorney in his fifth run for governor, campaigned on claims Beshear didn't do enough to create jobs in a state where one in 10 workers is unemployed. Beshear said Kentucky was emerging stronger from the downturn.
Democrats have lost only two Kentucky governor's races since 1950, and pre-election polls had Beshear poised to keep the streak going with a double-digit lead over Williams heading into an election where some projected that three-fourths of the state's registered voters might stay away from the polls.
In Louisiana, GOP incumbent Gov. Bobby Jindal easily won re-election last month. Republicans are favored Tuesday in Mississippi, where Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is the front-runner to succeed two-term Gov. Haley Barbour. Bryant faces Democrat Johnny DuPree, the first black candidate in modern times to win a major-party nod for Mississippi governor.
Beshear had vowed to join West Virginia's Early Ray Tomblin as the second Democrat to win a governor's race this year.
Tomblin won Oct. 4 in a special gubernatorial election after his Republican challenger sought to paint as a mandate on Obama's presidency.
In the Kentucky race, Williams also tried to make Obama a central figure.
Beshear endorsed Obama for re-election while Williams blamed the Democratic president for job-killing economic policies and for environmental policies that have harmed Kentucky's coal industry, which employs about 18,000 people. At campaign stops, Williams said Beshear has failed to set an agenda that puts people back to work, noting Kentucky has lost some 90,000 jobs since Beshear took office in 2007.
Beshear acknowledged that the economic gloom continues, but insisted that Kentucky is emerging from lean times much stronger than most other states.
Republican leaders quickly lined up to discount Democratic assertions that the governor's race is a harbinger for Obama.
Republican operative Larry Forgy, a Kentucky attorney, said the governor's race shouldn't be viewed as a harbinger for Obama.
"Steve Beshear will be up in the treetops screeching like a buzzard, but there's nothing unusual about a Democrat being elected governor in Kentucky," Forgy said, noting the state's historical record of siding with Democrats for the job.
Beshear raised more than $10 million, gaining a huge campaign-financing advantage from the get-go. Williams, the often prickly small-town lawyer, had banked about $2 million, and Galbraith less than $200,000, according to the last donor reports filed with election authorities.
"This race was not about unemployment, not about Obama, not even about Beshear," said Louisville businessman and Republican operative Ted Jackson. "It was about David Williams. I think it would have taken a miracle of biblical proportions for him to win this race. The likeability factor is just so important today."
Matt Colwell, a bank employee in Fort Thomas and stalwart Republican, said he's voted for a Democrat only twice in his life, both times for Beshear for governor.
"I just don't like David Williams," Colwell said. " ... He seems like an old-school, mean Republican. My mind was made up the moment he was nominated."
Truck driver Rollie Hubbard said he didn't allow Williams' sometimes prickly disposition stop him from voting a straight Republican ticket Tuesday.
"I don't much care for Williams, but maybe he can do a bit of a better job than Beshear," Hubbard said. " ... I don't think Beshear's done a whole hell of a lot. He hasn't brought jobs to Kentucky -- he's lost them."