Several Governor Races Decided

Wednesday, November 7th 2007, 7:09 am
By: News On 6

Cyclist Lance Armstrong and Kentucky's new governor were among the few people who could get voters to embrace change on a day they seemed inclined to re-elect incumbents and reject ballot measures calling for new proposals.

Democrat Steve Beshear easily bested Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a Republican whose lone term was dogged by a hiring scandal. But Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, one of the few politicians to come out of Hurricane Katrina looking good, handily defeated a Democratic challenger Tuesday to win a second term.

In other races, Houston, San Francisco and Pittsburgh re-elected their mayors. Philadelphia elected Michael Nutter as the new mayor on his promises to reduce gun violence and clean up the city, and Baltimore voters elected Mayor Sheila Dixon to the office she has held since her appointment to it in January.

Even Beshear's election as Kentucky's governor and the passage of an Armstrong-backed measure hardly upended their states' status quos. Beshear is a former attorney general and lieutenant governor whose opponent was the first GOP governor in more than 30 years in predominantly Democratic Kentucky.

Texans authorized up to $3 billion in bonds over 10 years to create a cancer research center pushed by Armstrong, a cancer survivor and Texas-bred sports hero.

But voters rejected proposals in other states, including a cigarette tax increase to cover children's health insurance in Oregon, a Utah school vouchers program, and a New Jersey referendum that would have authorized the state to borrow $450 million over 10 years to finance stem cell research.

Beshear cruised to a nearly 20-percentage-point victory in Kentucky after a campaign in which he repeatedly reminded voters of accusations that Fletcher directed the hiring of political allies for jobs protected by the state's merit system.

``Tomorrow begins the time when I call on every person in this state to come together with us, join hands with us, because together, folks, we can make Kentucky a much better place to call home,'' the 63-year-old told supporters.

He made faith a centerpiece of his campaign, citing his religious upbringing and running television ads showing him in front of a church in western Kentucky.

Fletcher, who had been trailing in the polls for weeks, made a last-minute religious overture of his own Monday by ordering that the Ten Commandments be displayed alongside other historical documents in the state Capitol.

But Fletcher was never able to overcome his indictment on misdemeanor charges that were later dismissed in a negotiated deal after a judge said he could not be tried in office. The grand jury later issued its findings, saying Fletcher had approved a ``widespread and coordinated plan'' to skirt state hiring laws.

In Mississippi, Barbour won by nearly 20 percentage points over John Arthur Eaves Jr., who got little traction with his largely self-funded campaign that seemed to emphasize religion at every turn. He clutched a Bible in his television ads, cited Scripture frequently and criticized Barbour's connections to ``moneychangers'' _ big oil, tobacco and insurance companies.

The Republican incumbent won by stressing his successful management of the hurricane recovery, job growth and rebuilding.

``I want to continue and accelerate the record job creation that we've had the last couple of years, replacing low-skilled, lower-paying jobs with high-skilled higher-paying jobs,'' Barbour said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press before appearing at his victory party.

Barbour, a former Washington lobbyist credited with using his connections to help his home state, said he wants to ``complete the rebuilding and renewal of the coast bigger and better than ever.''

Barbour's Gulf Coast neighbor, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, came under such widespread criticism for her handling of the disaster that she did not seek another term.

But Houston Mayor Bill White, who gained national recognition in 2005 for organizing the unexpected arrival of 250,000 evacuees, easily won a final, two-year term Tuesday as leader of the nation's fourth-largest city.

In Philadelphia, Michael Nutter became the city's next mayor on his promises to reduce gun violence, crack down on no-bid contracts and offer $10,000 tax breaks to companies that hire convicts. But first Nutter, a former Democratic councilman, wants to declare a citywide litter cleanup and rid the City of Brotherly Love of its less-flattering nickname: Filthadelphia.

In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom eclipsed a field of candidates that included a colorful cast of characters but no serious rivals. He did it just eight months after admitting a drinking problem and an affair with a close aide's wife.

In Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl fended off a Republican challenger to remain the youngest mayor of a major U.S. city. He got the job last year following the death of the incumbent.

In Baltimore, Dixon was elected to the city's first black woman mayor. She was appointed in January to replace Martin O'Malley when he became governor.

In the nation's lone congressional race, in northwest Ohio, Democrat Rovin Weirauch and Republican state Rep. Bob Latta won their primaries in the race to succeed Rep. Paul Gillmor, who died in September from a fall at his Washington apartment.

The general election will be Dec. 11.