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Democrats score in 2005 governor elections { November 8 2005 }

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Democrats score wins in Virginia, New Jersey
Tuesday, November 08, 2005 10:12 p.m. ET

By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats swept tough and sometimes nasty governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey on Tuesday, dealing a setback to Republicans and President George W. Bush ahead of critical congressional elections next year.

In Republican-leaning Virginia, Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine defeated former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore despite an 11th-hour visit to the state and a personal appeal from Bush.

In New Jersey, Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine easily beat back a challenge from Republican businessman Doug Forrester that included an attack on the divorced Corzine from his ex-wife.

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.

The Virginia result in particular was a blow to Bush, who stopped in the state to attend a rally with Kilgore on his return from Latin America on Monday.

Kilgore and Kaine, the state's lieutenant governor, waged a heated race, with Kilgore attacking 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, 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."

But Corzine appeared on his way to a relatively easy win. As governor, he will now appoint his replacement as senator to complete the rest of his term, which ends in 2007.

HIGH STAKES FOR SCHWARZENEGGER

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 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.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.



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