Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a Republican whose lone term was dogged by a hiring scandal, lost badly Tuesday despite an election-eve effort to woo conservative voters by displaying the Ten Commandments in the state Capitol.
In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour, practically the only politician to come out of Hurricane Katrina looking good, easily defeated a Democratic challenger Tuesday to win a second term.
In other races, Philadelphia elected Michael Nutter as the new mayor on his promises to reduce gun violence and clean up the city, Baltimore made Sheila Dixon its first black woman elected mayor, and Pittsburgh decided to keep the youngest big-city mayor in the nation, 27-year-old Luke Ravenstahl.
Kentucky’s governor’s race marked an unlikely political comeback for Democrat Steve Beshear, a former attorney general and lieutenant governor who hadn’t held office in two decades and only ran for governor because he couldn’t recruit another candidate.
Beshear cruised to a 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.
Beshear 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a last-minute religious overture of his own Monday by ordering that the Ten Commandments be displayed alongside other historical documents in the state Capitol.
In Mississippi, Barbour won by nearly 20 percentage points over John Arthur Eaves Jr. after a race in which the Republican incumbent stressed his successful management of the hurricane recovery, job growth and rebuilding.
Katrina did in other candidates on the Gulf Coast. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, for instance, came under such widespread criticism for her response to the hurricane that she did not seek another term.
In a typically slim ballot for an off-year election, voters also chose mayors in San Francisco, Houston, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
No serious challenger threatened San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s bid for a second term, even though the mayor admitted just eight months ago that he had a drinking problem and an affair with an aide’s wife.
In Philadelphia, former Democratic councilman 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 wants to declare a citywide litter cleanup and rid the City of Brotherly Love of its less-flattering nickname: Filthadelphia.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, now 27, who became the youngest mayor of a major U.S. city last year following the death of the incumbent, overcame a challenge from Republican Mark DeSantis.
In Baltimore, Sheila Dixon became the first black woman elected to that office as Democrats maintained their decades-long grip on City Hall. Dixon was appointed to the job in January after then-Mayor Martin O’Malley became governor.
In the lone congressional race, voters in northwest Ohio were choosing among five Republicans and two Democrats in a primary for the nomination to succeed Rep. Paul Gillmor, who died in September from a fall at his Washington apartment. The general election will be Dec. 11.
Several states were voting on ballot measures, including a Utah proposal that would create the nation’s first statewide school voucher program open to all, even affluent families in well-performing districts.
Oregon voters were defeating a measure to raise the cigarette tax by 84.5 cents a pack – to $2.02 – to fund health insurance for about 100,000 children now lacking coverage. Tobacco companies spent nearly $12 million fighting it.