November 8, 2005

Democrats win Virginia, lead in New Jersey

By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Tim Kaine on Tuesday won a
tough and sometimes nasty battle for Virginia governor that was
watched closely for hints about the depth of President George
W. Bush's political woes and the public mood ahead of next
year's congressional elections.

In New Jersey, Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine held a slim lead
in early partial returns in the governor's race, putting
Democrats on the brink of a double-barreled win that would give
them huge momentum heading into 2006.

Kaine, the lieutenant governor in Virginia, led Republican
former attorney general Jerry Kilgore by about 51 percent to 46
percent with 86 percent of the precincts reporting.

Dozens of cities across the country also picked mayors on
Tuesday and seven states voted on ballot questions, including
California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has bet his
sinking political capital on passing four initiatives.

In New York, Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared to
be sailing to re-election after spending as much as $100
million of his own fortune to defeat Democrat Fernando Ferrer,
the Bronx borough president.

With control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress and 36
governorships at stake in 2006, both parties will scour the
off-year election results for clues to next year's political
climate and the long-term effect of Bush's plummeting approval
ratings, now the lowest of his presidency.

Bush had a personal stake in the Virginia race after
stopping there on his return from Latin America on Monday to
attend a rally with the Kilgore.

Kilgore and Kaine, the state's lieutenant governor, waged a
heated and sometimes nasty race in Republican-leaning Virginia.
Kilgore attacked Kaine as too liberal for the Southern state on
social issues like the death penalty, abortion and immigration.

Kaine allied himself with popular Democratic Gov. Mark
Warner, a potential 2008 presidential candidate who is barred
by law from seeking a second term, and argued he was the
logical choice to keep Virginia moving forward.

In Democratic-leaning New Jersey, Corzine, a first-term
U.S. senator, waged another expensive and nasty campaign with
Republican businessman Doug Forrester that featured a strong
personal attack on the divorced Corzine.

Forrester launched an ad last week featuring the published
comments of Corzine's ex-wife, who told The New York Times that
the divorced Corzine "let his family down, and he'll probably
let New Jersey down, too."


Possibly no one had more at stake than Schwarzenegger, the
once immensely popular governor of the nation's largest state
who faces re-election next year. The former actor has
campaigned heavily for the four ballot initiatives, which polls
showed to be losing.

"It's a much bigger battle than I thought it would be,"
Schwarzenegger said on Monday.

The California ballot initiatives were among 39 measures
facing voters in seven states on issues ranging from gay rights
to election reform.

One of the California initiatives would shift the right to
draw political districts from politicians to retired judges.
Ohio has a similar measure being pushed by Democrats.

Another California initiative, which Schwarzenegger has not
supported, would limit teenagers' access to abortion. Maine was
deciding whether to keep a law protecting homosexuals from
discrimination, while Texas voted on a constitutional amendment
banning gay marriage.

In mayor's races, incumbent Kwame Kilpatrick was in a tough
battle in Detroit, while cities from Boston to San Diego also
elected mayors.

Smaller communities were deciding their own local issues.
In Dover, Pennsylvania, where a court battle over teaching
intelligent design is raging, voters were deciding whether to
retain eight Republicans on the nine-member school board.

The Democratic slate calls for removing intelligent design,
which they say is a version of creationism and brings religion
into the teaching of science, from the curriculum.