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Local dynamics, not Bush's popularity, key in most elections

WASHINGTON—Love him or hate him, but don't read too much about President Bush into Tuesday's elections.

Though Bush's name isn't on any ballots, partisans and pundits will use Tuesday's voting in select states to measure whether voters are turning thumbs up or down on him.

But only one election Tuesday—the race for mayor in St. Paul, Minn.—offered a clear referendum on Bush. Elections for governors in Virginia and New Jersey, as well as ballot initiatives in California and other states, hinged on local personalities and issues, not Bush. In Virginia, Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine was declared the winner over Republican Jerry Kilgore. In New Jersey, Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine was declared the winner over Republican Douglas Forrester. And in St. Paul, challenger Chris Coleman defeated Democratic Mayor Randy Kelly.

The St. Paul mayor's race turned on how voters reacted to Kelly's endorsement last year of Republican Bush in his presidential re-election. St. Paul voted for Democrat John Kerry by a ratio of 3-1.

Kelly's heavily Democratic city didn't like Bush then, doesn't like him now and was eager to throw Kelly out because of it. Earlier, polls had showed him trailing by more than 30 points.

"Bush is THE factor in the race," said Larry Jacobs, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

In Virginia, by contrast, the election for governor was more a referendum on popular retiring Democratic Gov. Mark Warner than on Bush. Warner, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, was barred by the state constitution from seeking re-election. Democrats had hoped that his 70 percent approval rating would rub off on Kaine, who based his campaign on a pledge to continue Warner's approach to governing.

Republican candidate Kilgore, a former attorney general, had attacked Kaine as soft on the death penalty, but polls suggested that Kilgore's tough attacks backfired and turned off many voters.

Kilgore shunned Bush during the president's Oct. 28 visit to the conservative state, which went for Bush by 9 points last year but has cooled to him lately. However, trailing in election-eve polls, Kilgore joined Bush at a Richmond, Va., airport rally Monday evening in hope of rousing Republican turnout.

Independent pollster Brad Coker said Kilgore, not Bush, was to blame for Kilgore's weak standing on election eve. And he cautioned against reading any national trend into Virginia voting.

The party controlling the White House has lost every Virginia governor's race since 1977, when a Republican won the year after Jimmy Carter took the White House. Republicans won the presidency in 1980, lost the Virginia governor's mansion in 1981, won the White House again in 1984 and lost the Virginia governor's mansion in 1985.

Democrats won the White House in 1992, lost Virginia in 1993, won the White House again in 1996 and lost Virginia again in 1997. They won again with Warner in 2001, even though Bush was then at the height of his post-Sept. 11 popularity.

"Virginia's never been a trend-setter," said Coker. "It's never said anything about the nation."

In New Jersey, the race between Corzine and Republican businessman Forrester was noted for local issues, such as how to rein in property taxes, and negative campaigning that featured mud, more mud, and then a handful more. The highlight, or low point: Forrester's ad featuring Corzine's ex-wife, who had said in an interview: "Jon did let his family down, and he'll probably let New Jersey down, too."

Finally, several states voted on ballot initiatives Tuesday. Among the most watched were four proposals in California backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The initiatives were all local, aimed at such things as capping state spending or changing how legislative district boundaries are set. Bush didn't campaign for any—Schwarzenegger, in fact, asked Bush to stay away—and none reflected on the president's agenda.

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For in-depth reports on the St. Paul election, go to www.twincities.com

For more on the New Jersey election, www.philly.com

For more on the California initiatives, www.mercurynews.com, www.contracostatimes.com, www.montereyherald.com, and www.sanluisobispo.com

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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