Republicans and Democrats waged a series of local skirmishes in off-year elections across the nation yesterday, with the GOP scoring a historic victory in Virginia and Democrats picking up two Midwestern mayoral offices, easily holding on to the governor's mansion in Kentucky and fending off a strong Republican challenge in Philadelphia.
Republicans picked up the seats they needed in the Virginia House of Delegates to take total control of the state legislature for the first time this century.
In a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 4 to 1, former City Council president John F. Street (D) defeated businessman Sam Katz after Katz led in polls leading up to election day.
Outgoing Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell attributed Street's win to a late campaign visit by the president. "You can't underestimate President Clinton's visit," Rendell said. "It really galvanized the African American community."
Republicans hoped to hold off a stiff challenge in Mississippi, as Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) narrowly led former representative Mike Parker (R) in the race to succeed Gov. Kirk Fordice (R), who by law could not seek a third term and spent most of the campaign as a spectral figure on the sidelines following revelations of an extramarital affair. The race remained too close to call hours after polls closed.
In the day's other gubernatorial contest, Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton (D) cruised to a second term. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Patton had 62 percent of the vote to 22 percent for Republican Peppy Martin and 15 percent for Reform Party-backed candidate Gatewood Galbraith. Patton was the first Kentucky governor eligible under state law for reelection to a successive term since 1800.
Democrats pointed to two Midwestern mayoral contests in cities that have been under Republican control for a quarter-century as evidence of their appeal to swing voters going into the 2000 elections.
In Indianapolis, developer Bart Peterson (D) defeated Secretary of State Sue Anne Gilroy (R) in an expensive race to succeed outgoing Republican Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, who did not seek a third term.
"Winning in a city that has had a Republican mayor for 32 years in a state that is traditionally Republican is a great win for us," said Democratic National Chairman Joe Andrew in a telephone interview from a celebration in Indianapolis. "Democrats winning in traditionally Republican areas is a good trend."
Voters in Columbus, Ohio, elected the first African American mayor in city history, breaking a Republican lock dating to 1972 as City Council President Michael Coleman defeated Republican Dorothy Teater, a former teacher who spent heavily on television advertising.
In Richmond, Republican National Committee Chair Jim Nicholson congratulated the state GOP. "The president came into Virginia and campaigned for [Democrats] and he said to you Virginians, 'I think this ought to be a referendum on the accomplishments of the Clinton-Gore administration.' And you know what? You agreed with him.' "
In Mississippi, Democrats had hoped to continue a southern resurgence that began last year with gubernatorial wins in Alabama and South Carolina. Parker ran a solid, folksy campaign but tonight was trailing Musgrove, a conservative Democrat who started as the favorite.
A Parker win would solidify Republican control in Mississippi, where the party broke through in 1991 after more than a century of Democratic dominance.
Overall, the three 1999 governor's races--Republican Mike Foster in Louisiana easily won reelection last month--did not appear likely to shift the gubernatorial balance of power. Before the voting, Republicans held 31 governor's mansions to 17 for Democrats. There is one independent, Angus King of Maine, and one Reform Party governor, Jesse Ventura of Minnesota.
In San Francisco, flamboyant Mayor Willie Brown was in a tough reelection battle and appeared headed toward a runoff amid a crowded field of four.
Several other state legislatures were in play yesterday. Democrats looked to narrow the GOP advantage in the New Jersey state house and had hoped to take over in Washington state, where a win would have turned the house in Democrats' favor, but a Republican won a special election in a traditionally Republican district. Democrats already control the state senate and the governor's office.
Voters weighed in on a handful of ballot questions across the country yesterday with much of the attention focused on Maine, where voters approved a measure legalizing medicinal marijuana and where a measure to outlaw a late-term abortion procedure opponents call "partial-birth abortion" failed. San Franciscans voted on an ATM fee ban and several states voted on new taxes to support sports stadiums.
In other mayoral races, Houston Mayor Lee Brown won a second term and Democratic nominee Martin O'Malley won easily in Baltimore.