A woman arriving at a polling station walks past an enlarged copy of the democratic primary ballot in primary election day in Boston
By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - Democrats in Massachusetts and Rhode Island picked female candidates to represent their party in November gubernatorial elections, setting the stage for either state to possibly elect its first woman governor.
In New Hampshire and Delaware, voters picked Republican challengers to Democratic incumbents in the U.S. Senate as Republicans look to regain a majority in that chamber.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Rhode Island state Treasurer Gina Raimondo won competitive primaries, with Coakley going on to face Republican businessman Charlie Baker and Raimondo up against Cranston Mayor Allan Fung.
"What we need now is a strong economy that we build on our terms that works for us. All of us," Coakley said in her acceptance speech, vowing to phase in universal pre-kindergarten across the state's public school system.
"We want an economy where there is equal opportunity," she said.
Coakley's rival, Baker, also focused his acceptance speech on economic issues, contending he would be a steadier hand.
"We have a detailed plan to create jobs from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. They don't," Baker said.
"We have a plan to restore fiscal discipline and keep taxes low. They don't."
Some Massachusetts Democrats had expressed wariness about Coakley's chances in November after her stunning 2010 loss to Scott Brown in a race to fill the U.S. Senate seat made available by the death of Edward Kennedy.
Coakley's main rival was state Treasurer Steve Grossman. Some of Grossman's supporters had told pollsters they would vote Republican if their candidate lost the primary.
Grossman asked his supporters to put the race behind them and support their party.
"I hope every one of you will do everything you can to make sure Martha Coakley becomes the next governor of Massachusetts," Grossman said in his concession speech.
While Massachusetts has a reputation for liberal politics, its voters have elected only one Democratic governor in the past two decades, the incumbent Deval Patrick, who decided not to seek a third term.
Coakley could become the first woman elected governor of Massachusetts but the second to hold the office. Republican Jane Swift became acting governor in 2001 when Paul Cellucci resigned to take a post as U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Coakley's former rival, Brown, was on the ballot on Tuesday in neighboring New Hampshire, where he won the Republican nomination to run for the U.S. Senate, seeking to unseat Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen.
Also in New Hampshire, Republican businessman Walt Havenstein beat Tea Party activist Andrew Hemingway for the Republican nomination to take on Governor Maggie Hassan.
In Delaware, businessman Kevin Wade won the Republican nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Coons in November.
In New York, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo held off a long-shot primary challenge by Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor and former Occupy Wall Street activist.
In Congressional primaries, Massachusetts Democrat John Tierney, who had held his seat since 1997, was bested by Iraq war veteran Seth Moulton.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Additional reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Providence, Rhode Island and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Grant McCool, Will Dunham and Paul Tait)