Governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey headline an off-year election that also will test the political clout of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.
Although California's actor-turned-governor isn't up for re-election until 2006, he's taken a huge political stake in four ballot measures to be decided Tuesday. Maine, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas and Washington also will vote on ballot measures. In all, nine states are holding statewide elections, including a judicial contest in Pennsylvania.
In the Virginia governor's race, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) and former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R) are running neck-and-neck, with third-party candidate Russ Potts a potential spoiler. The winner will succeed highly popular Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, who is barred by state law from serving more than one term.
In New Jersey, U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine (D) has outspent millionaire businessman Doug Forrester (R) in a race studded with negative TV ads. Corzine's lead in the polls narrowed late in the campaign. New Jersey's incumbent - Acting Gov. Richard Codey (D) - didn't run for the job he took over a year ago from Democratic Gov. James McGreevey, who resigned after admitting to a homosexual affair.
While it may be tempting to read the Virginia and New Jersey results as a dipstick of President Bush's troubles, political analysts say the outcomes are more likely to turn on factors such as voter turnout and history.
Virginia leans Republican, but a historical streak gives odds to a Democrat in 2005. In the past seven elections, whichever party has won the White House has lost the next Virginia governor's race.
"I think seven elections in a row is not a coincidence," said Jennifer Duffy, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. But by staging a final-hour campaign appearance with the Republican candidate, Bush will take some of the blame if Kilgore loses, and signal he's not a liability to GOP candidates in 2006 if Kilgore wins, Duffy said.
The Bush factor is seen as negligible in New Jersey, which is dominantly Democratic even though two of its last four elected governors were Republicans.
But this is the first New Jersey election with no-excuse-necessary absentee voting by mail. With turnout in off-year elections notoriously low, Corzine added to his advantage by pumping extra dollars into a big absentee ballot push, Duffy said.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, meticulously sorted through electoral facts to divine whether 2005 results could foretell 2006 in a column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He concluded: "For those of us who live in Virginia or New Jersey, these elections for governor matter a lot. Beyond our borders, the meaning is mostly invented."
Here's a quick state-by-state rundown of the most important election issues.
Click on each state for a complete list of ballot initiatives and additional links.
All eight initiatives on the California special election ballot failed, including four reform proposals that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) put to voters after the Democrat-controlled Legislature failed to act on them. The crown jewel of the governor's reform package would have imposed strong new limits on state spending to head off the state's chronic budget shortfalls. Schwarzenegger faced a barrage of attacks from the state's public employee unions, whose powers would have been limited by two of the ballot proposals.
Voters upheld a gay rights law passed by the Legislature this year that bans discrimination in housing, employment and education based on sexual orientation, according to reports from news sources compiling district-by-district voting results. Mainers narrowly struck down similar laws in 1998 and 2000, but reversed course this year and sustained the new law by a 56 to 44 percent margin. Maine is the last of the six New England states to enact such an anti-discrimination measure. Voters also OK'd four of five state spending proposals and a constitutional amendment to aid Maine's commercial fishing industry in the form of tax breaks.
U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine (D) defeated businessman Doug Forrester (R) 53 percent to 44 percent in a governor's race marked by mudslinging and dominated by concerns over high property taxes and corruption. Corzine succeeds former Gov. Jim McGreevey (D), who resigned last year after admitting to a homosexual affair, leaving in place an acting governor, Senate President Richard Codey (D). To smooth the lines of succession, New Jersey voters also agreed to amend the state Constitution to create the post of lieutenant governor .
All 80 seats in the General Assembly -- now controlled 47 to 33 by Democrats --were up for re-election.
Voters rejected one ballot measure that would have substantially altered the state's budget process, shifting authority from the governor to the Legislature, and approved another that will finance statewide transportation projects.
Advocates failed to win approval for four electoral reforms a year after charges of voting irregularities in the 2004 presidential election. In a year tainted by scandals in Ohio government, including an investment scheme in a rare coin fund, dubbed "Coingate," and Gov. Bob Taft's (R) guilty pleas for not reporting dozens of free golf outings with lobbyists, backers of the election initiatives tried to cast their reforms as a way to clean up Ohio government. They evoked Taft's name and the specter of "corruption" at the Capitol in their TV ads, but their argument never took hold with voters. All four measures lost by as much as a 2-1 margin.
Voter wrath over a late-night legislative pay raise unseated one unsuspecting state Supreme Court justice and almost removed another in a statewide election . With 99 percent of precincts reporting, it appears voters refused to award Justice Russell M. Nigro another 10-year term on the bench. A second judge, Sandra Schultz Newman, barely won. The justices got caught up in voter backlash, led by groups such as PACleanSweep , that is aimed at the Legislature, but there were no legislative races this year. Lawmakers have retreated and are on the verge of repealing the pay raises they approved for the Legislature, state judges and Gov. Ed Rendell (D).
Texas voters overwhelmingly approved making the state the 19th to write a ban against same-sex marriage into the state Constitution. The amendment, approved by 76 percent of voters, duplicates existing state law banning same-sex marriage and follows similar votes in Kansas last April and 13 states in 2004. Voters rejected two of eight other amendments placed on the ballot by the Legislature.
Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) defeated former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R) in the governor's race to succeed popular Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, who was barred by state law from serving another term. The campaign turned on a variety of issues: last year's tax increase, traffic congestion and the death penalty. Republican state Sen. Bill Bolling edged out former Democratic congresswoman Leslie Byrne to be the state's next lieutenant governor. The race for attorney general remains too close to call, with Republican Bob McDonnell just ahead of Democrat Creigh Deeds, by a 50 to 49.9 margin, according to the State Board of Elections. Republicans lost two seats in the House of Delegates but still will control with a 58-39 edge over Democrats.
By 63 percent to 37 percent, Washington state voters adopted the nation's broadest statewide smoking ban, outlawing smoking in all public building and workplaces, even private clubs, and prohibiting smoking within 25 feet of the doors, windows or vents of public buildings. Voters also -- by 53 percent to 47 percent -- refused to throw out a 9.5-cent-per-gallon increase in the state's gasoline tax approved by the Legislature this year with the backing of Gov. Christine Gregoire (D).