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GOP wins key governor races, but lose NY congressional seat

christie(CNN) — A Republican Party left for dead by many in the wake of recent Democratic landslides sprang back to life Tuesday with wins in hotly contested races for governor in Virginia and New Jersey.

However, the victories were tempered by the loss of a congressional seat in upstate New York held by the GOP since the Civil War, according to CNN projections. In Virginia, 55-year-old former state attorney general Bob McDonnell will be the first Republican to win the state’s highest office in twelve years, CNN estimated. Republicans will win races for Virginia’s lieutenant governor and attorney general as well.

Former federal prosecutor Chris Christie, 47, will oust first-term Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in New Jersey, CNN projected. Christie will be the first Republican to win the top office in the heavily Democratic Garden State in 12 years.

Corzine will be the first New Jersey governor to lose a re-election bid since 1993, when then-Gov. Jim Florio, a Democrat, lost to GOP challenger Christie Todd Whitman. The two gubernatorial contests have been deemed by some analysts as the first major referendum on President Obama’s young administration. Republicans leaders, demoralized after landslide defeats in 2006 and 2008, have been hoping to capitalize on wins inVirginia and New Jersey to help fuel a nationwide Republican resurgence.

They were buoyed by a huge swing of independent voters to the Republican column. The outcomes, however, also followed recent trends. Since 1989, the party winning the White House has always gone on to lose the gubernatorial races in both states the following year.

A battle for a vacant Republican U.S. House seat worked against the GOP in upstate New York. The contest to fill the seat sparked a vicious internal fight between GOP conservatives and moderates. The struggle was viewed as a proxy for a national struggle between activists arguing the GOP slipped by betraying conservative values and officials warning a rightward move would further alienate an increasingly independent-minded electorate.

The split resulted in the election of Bill Owens — the first Democratic congressman from that region since the late 1800s. In New York City, voters re-elected independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to CNN estimates. The billionaire mayor is believed to have spent well over $100 million of his own money in his quest for a third term, shattering the record for personal spending in any American campaign.

It also appears hotly contested mayoral races in Atlanta, Georgia, and Houston, Texas are headed for runoffs. In Atlanta, Kasim Reed and Mary Norwood will face off in December to determine who will lead the city. If elected, Norwood would be the city’s first white mayor since 1973.

City Controller Annise Parker and former City Attorney Gene Locke will enter a runoff to be the next mayor of Houston.

If Parker wins, she would be the city’s first openly gay mayor.

Voters in nearby Maine — not generally noted for their hard-edged, ideological politics — tackled an emotional hot-button issue as voters decided whether to overturn a recently enacted law legalizing same-sex marriage.

With 87 percent of the vote counted early Wednesday, the same-sex marriage law was being rejected 53 percent to 47 percent, according to the Bangor Daily News Web site.

Washington state voters went to the polls in part to decide whether to uphold a law granting same-sex domestic partners the same rights as heterosexual married couples.

In overnight results posted by The Seattle Times, the referendum was narrowly passing 51 percent to 49 percent.

It was the two races for governor, however, that appeared to attract the most interest at the White House. Obama personally campaigned for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in both states.

A plurality of voters in both states cited the economy as their top concern, according to exit polls. Majorities in both states said Obama’s job performance was not a factor in their vote.

In Virginia, McDonnell beat Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds, a state senator from the rural western part of the state, by 21 points among critical independent voters. Last year, in contrast, Obama edged out GOP presidential nominee John McCain by one point among Virginia independents.

“I pledge to you over the next four years action and results,” McDonnell told a gleeful audience at his victory party in Richmond. “We will leave Virginia better than we found it,” he said, invoking the old Boy Scout adage.

African-Americans, as expected, voted overwhelmingly for the 51-year-old Deeds. Their total share of the vote, however, dropped from 20 percent from last year — when Obama topped the ballot — to 16 percent.

McDonnell benefited from a Virginia electorate that, according to the exit poll, was slightly more conservative Tuesday than it was in 2008. Conservatives were also more unified in their support for McDonnell than they were for former GOP presidential nominee John McCain.

McDonnell himself is a staunch conservative, but stressed bipartisan solutions to problems relating to job growth and transportation. Deeds sought to peel social moderates and political independents away from McDonnell in part by highlighting McDonnell’s graduate school thesis, in which the Republican was critical of homosexuals and women in the workplace.

The attacks appeared to backfire on Deeds. Almost two of every three voters said Deeds attacked McDonnell unfairly; those voters broke for McDonnell by a 21-point margin.

McDonnell’s expected victory is in keeping with Virginia’s tradition of backing candidates from the party that most recently lost the White House. Republican George Allen was elected in 1993, one year after Bill Clinton won the presidency. Democrat Mark Warner won in 2001, a year after George W. Bush’s first presidential victory.

In 2008, Obama became the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry an increasingly diverse Virginia in more than four decades. Fewer than one in five voters on Tuesday, however, said their vote was meant to express support for the president. Almost one in four said their vote was meant to express opposition to Obama.

Further north in New Jersey, Corzine had pulled even in the final surveys before Election Day with the help of a virtual 2-to-1 spending advantage. Many analysts believed independent candidate Chris Daggett, a socially moderate former Republican, was digging into Christie’s support.

Obama, who carried New Jersey by almost 16 points in 2008, campaigned for Corzine three times, most recently this past Sunday. The president’s help, however, was not enough to save Corzine, who was saddled with burden of seeking reelection in the midst of a steep economic downturn. Almost one-third of New Jersey voters cited the economy as their top concern in early exit polls, with another 25 percent citing the state’s high property taxes. One in five voters said their top concern was the state’s ongoing struggle with corruption.

Independent voters broke even more heavily for Christie in New Jersey than for McDonnell in Virginia. Corzine was able to keep the race somewhat close, however, due to New Jersey’s political landscape. New Jersey voters were both more Democratic and more liberal than Virginia voters.

Last year, the president also managed to carry New York’s sprawling 23rd congressional district, a traditional GOP stronghold running along the Canadian border. The area has sent Republican representatives to Congress since Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant occupied the White House. But this year it was the scene of a GOP civil war when local GOP leaders tapped moderate state assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava as their nominee to replace 9-term Rep. John McHugh, who resigned to become secretary of the Army.

The decision to pick Scozzafava sparked a revolt among conservatives. They instead backed Doug Hoffman, an accountant, who ran on the state’s Conservative Party line. Republican leaders were fractured by the choice. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich backed Scozzafava. Gingrich’s one-time deputy, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, backed Hoffman.

Scozzafava eventually dropped out and backed Democratic nominee Owens. The victory by Owens may bolster the belief among other Republican leaders that a continuing grass-roots effort to defeat moderate officeholders in party primaries is accelerating a GOP decline in the Northeast and elsewhere.

Source: CNN

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