Republicans Gain in US State Elections

Republican Party candidates won two key governorships Tuesday in U.S. state elections widely seen as a referendum on President Barack Obama’s administration and its policies.

Statewide issues dominated campaigns in both Virginia and New Jersey, but political analysts said the vote in the two populous eastern states indicated a shift in voters’ preferences, away from Democrats and toward Republican candidates.  That would reverse the trend established in last year’s presidential race and indicate trouble ahead for Democrats nationwide in 2010, when all seats in the House of Representatives will be on the ballot.

Independent voters were a key to Republican Bob McDonnell’s victory in the Virginia governor’s race.  He won by a big margin over longtime Democratic rival Creigh Deeds and will become Virginia’s first Republican governor in eight years.  Last year the same bloc of independents heavily favored Mr. Obama in his presidential campaign against Arizona Senator John McCain.

In New Jersey, a Democratic Party stronghold, incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine was unseated by Republican Chris Christie.  Christie, a former federal prosecutor, is the first Republican elected to statewide office in New Jersey in 12 years.

Virginia and New Jersey were among a group of states where local elections were seen by some as a referendum on President Obama’s policies.

Exit polls in several states found that the issue of greatest concern to voters was the economy – both the cost of the Obama administration’s economic-recovery plans and the continuing high national unemployment rate.  

In a closely watched special congressional race in New York state, Democrat Bill Owens defeated Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in a race that exposed tensions between moderates and conservatives within the Republican Party.  

Hoffman was strongly supported by prominent national Republican conservatives such as Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate.  The moderate Republican opponent, Dierdre Scozzafava, withdrew from the race just days before the election and endorsed Owens.

The seat, which had been held for decades by Republicans, became vacant when incumbent John McHugh resigned to become Secretary of the Army.

In New York City, incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg has won a third term in office by a surprisingly narrow margin.  The wealthy Bloomberg defeated Democrat William Thompson, the city’s chief financial officer, by a margin of just over four percentage points, despite spending over $90 million of his personal fortune.

Bloomberg was initially limited by law to just two terms in office, but persuaded the New York City Council to amend the law to allow him to run for re-election.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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