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Johnson, Shuler, Wyche among sports figures to win government seats

Basketball's Kevin Johnson became mayor of Sacramento, Calif.,
while Heath Shuler and Sam Wyche scored victories that had little
to do with football Tuesday on a night when more than a dozen
sports figures ran for office.

Joe Mesi, once one of boxing's top heavyweights, had a rough
time in the political ring, losing a bid for a legislative seat in
New York.

Craig Robinson wasn't listed on any ballot, but the first-year
Oregon State basketball coach could soon be a frequent White House
visitor. Robinson was in Chicago to watch election results with his
family, which includes brother-in-law and President-elect Barack
Obama.

Johnson, a former All-Star point guard for the Phoenix Suns, is
the first black mayor of Sacramento. The 42-year-old Democrat with
conservative social views defeated two-term incumbent Heather Fargo
in a run-off election.

"Sacramento also made history today in electing its first black
mayor," Johnson said. "Both Obama and myself, we ran on a promise
and the theme of change. No more business as usual."

Johnson put some flash into his campaign with the backing of
basketball royalty Shaquille O'Neal, Magic Johnson and Charles
Barkley. He wants to raise the profile of his hometown and bemoans
his city's image beside that of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"We should be a destination place," he said leading into the
election.

Shuler, a Heisman Trophy runner-up at Tennessee who played
quarterback for the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints, won
in his first bid for re-election to Congress.

Shuler is a North Carolina Democrat whose district is in the
state's western mountains. He defeated Carl Mumpower, who had
irritated local Republican officials by saying he would support
efforts to impeach President Bush.

"I did what I said I would do and I think the people saw
that," Shuler said.

Wyche coached in the NFL with Cincinnati and Tampa Bay and made
it to the Super Bowl with the Bengals after the 1988 season. He ran
as a Republican and commandingly won a seat on the Pickens County
Council in South Carolina, an area that includes Clemson
University. Wyche, once a quarterback at nearby Furman, promised
better roads and schools and more jobs.

Mesi had a 36-0 record as a fighter and once had to stop
fighting for two years because of bleeding in his brain. The
Democrat had the support of Buffalo Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano
in his attempt to win a state Senate seat but lost to Republican
Michael Ranzenhofer.

Joining Shuler in re-election to the House was Rep. Baron Hill
of Indiana, a former Furman basketball player. He defeated former
Rep. Mike Sodrel, a Republican and trucking company owner. The two
have faced off in four consecutive elections.

Norm Dicks, an ex-linebacker at the University of Washington,
also was successful in his House re-election bid. Jason Chaffetz, a
former BYU kicker who once had 10 extra points in a game, won a
congressional seat in Utah after beating the incumbent in the
Republican primary.

Sports was on the sidelines for the U.S. Senate races. The only
ones with jock connections were not up for election -- Sen. Jim
Bunning of Kentucky, a Hall of Fame pitcher, and Sen. Herb Kohl of
Wisconsin, owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Joey Browner, a former Pro Bowl safety with the Minnesota
Vikings, ran as a write-in and was almost certain to lose his bid
for a place on the City Council in the Minneapolis suburb of Eagan.

In state legislative races, Peter Boulware, a former star
linebacker at Florida State who went on to the Baltimore Ravens,
was vying for a seat in Florida. Boulware, a Republican, appeared
headed for a recount in his attempt to claim a Democratic
stronghold.

Official outcomes of the Browner and Boulware races were not known Wednesday morning.

Bob Heaton, who played with Larry Bird on the Indiana State team
that went to the 1979 Final Four, lost a close race in Indiana.

Two ex-college football players were re-elected in the Oklahoma
Legislature -- Todd Thomsen, a former punter and kicker for
Oklahoma, and Tad Jones, a former backup quarterback at Tulsa.
Anton Gunn, once an offensive lineman at South Carolina, was headed
for victory in the South Carolina Legislature.

Greg Hopkins, a former Arena Football player with the Los
Angeles Avengers, was beaten by Bill DeWeese, the Democratic caucus
leader in the Pennsylvania House.

In Hawaii, Mufi Hannemann, a 6-foot-7 former Harvard basketball
player, won a second term as Honolulu mayor.

Sports and family were not limited to the Obamas. Connie Mack,
the great grandson of the legendary manager, won re-election as a
Florida congressman. George Unseld, the brother of NBA great Wes
Unseld, easily captured a spot on the Louisville (Ky.) Metro
Council.

And Michael Victorino, the father of Philadelphia Phillies
center fielder Shane Victorino, was unopposed in Hawaii for the
Maui County Council.

In ballot measures tied to sports, Massachusetts voted to ban
greyhound racing, and Maryland authorized slot-machine gambling,
which could be key in bolstering thoroughbred racing in the state.