Democrat Jon S. Corzine last night won the New Jersey governorship, after surviving a wild hazing from Republican Douglas Forrester and a bitter ex-wife in the closing days of a free-spending contest.
Emerging triumphant in a Garden State battle of multimillionaires, Corzine will leave the U.S. Senate just five years after winning it in another lavishly self-financed campaign. As the new governor, he will get to appoint a successor to finish his term.
With 95 percent of precincts counted, Corzine had 54 percent of the votes (1,120,272) to Forrester's 43 percent (908,796).
Unlike this year's other major off-year race, in which Tim Kaine won Virginia's governorship in a Republican-leaning state, Corzine relied on his state's natural Democratic edge -- with the result that his victory carries less of a clear message about the political strength of President Bush or the national parties.
Still, the surprisingly emphatic margins reaped by Democrats in both states will be analyzed closely by strategists in both parties. Some said it may vindicate the concerns of some Republicans that the GOP base -- beset with internal rifts and with some conservatives demoralized by Bush's recent poor approval ratings -- was simply not as energized as its Democratic counterpart heading into Election Day.
Corzine, who made a fortune on Wall Street and spent at least $43 million of it on this race, evidently did not win the vote of his ex-wife, Joanne Corzine. Her quote to a newspaper about how Corzine might "let New Jersey down" the same way he "let his family down" with an adulterous affair was featured in Forrester's TV ads.
Across the Hudson River, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- another tycoon turned politician -- coasted to a second term by a margin of 59 percent to 39 percent over former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer, after spending at least $65 million of his own money.
The deck looked likely to be shuffled in two other big cities. In St. Paul, Minn., the mayor was beaten by a fellow Democrat, and the same was on track to happen in Detroit.
If Democrats generally had a good night, would-be reformers did not.
Ohio and California were offering voters the chance to remove the power to draw legislative and congressional districts from politicians in state legislatures and give it to independent boards. Reformers said the change would reinvigorate politics by ending the practice of partisan gerrymandering, which tends to produce far fewer competitive races.
The Ohio measure went down to a surprisingly resounding defeat -- losing by more than 2 to 1. The redistricting proposal was part of a package of measures pushed heavily by Reform Ohio Now, a coalition of liberal interest groups, in response to several ongoing scandals afflicting state Republicans. All of the measures, which would have broadened absentee voting eligibility, lowered campaign contribution limits, and handed election oversight to an independent board, were defeated -- a disappointment to national Democrats who saw the proposals as a vehicle for capturing voter unrest in the Buckeye State. As for California Proposition 77, by 1:30 a.m. today, with about 42 percent of the vote in, 56.5 percent of voters had voted against it and 43.5 for it. Proposition 77 is one of four measures backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), turning yesterday's voting into a de facto referendum on his first two years in office and a possible harbinger of his reelection prospects next November. At 1:30 a.m., only one of the Schwarzenegger-backed initiatives -- one that would curtail the use of union dues for political activities without consent from individual members -- was running ahead.
Although polling in the days leading up to the election showed all four measures failing, Schwarzenegger promised a come-from-behind victory and put more than $7 million of his considerable fortune behind that pledge. All told, the forces in support of the four propositions raised and spent more than $50 million; opponents spent double that total.
In Texas, voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, the 19th state to do so. But voters in Maine rejected an attempt to repeal a law passed by the state legislature that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick -- at 35, one of the country's youngest urban mayors -- was trailing Freman Hendrix, a fellow Democrat and former deputy mayor by nine percentage points with approximately half of the votes counted. Kilpatrick, who would be the first Detroit mayor to lose a reelection bid in more than four decades, struggled to turn about his troubled city, and was beset by charges of misspending city dollars on a luxuryLincoln Navigator and $200,000 in credit card charges.
The transgression of St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly was different: He offended partisans last year by endorsing Bush for reelection. Kelly was routed last night by former city councilman Chris Coleman, another Democrat.
In a surprise with possible echoes for 2008 presidential politics, the three-term mayor of Manchester, N.H., Democrat Robert Baines, was defeated by Alderman Frank Guinta. Baines had a moment in the spotlight every four years during New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.
Other incumbent mayors fared far better, including Thomas M. Menino in Boston, Bill White in Houston and Patrick McCrory in Charlotte. All were easily reelected.
In Cincinnati, four years after rioting broke out in the city, voters elected a black mayor for the first time. State Sen. Mark Mallory defeated Councilman David Pepper, another Democrat, in a nonpartisan runoff to lead Ohio's third-largest city. With all precincts reporting, Mallory had 52 percent of the vote.
Yesterday's gubernatorial election in New Jersey ended a wild 15 months in state politics that began with then-Gov. James McGreevey's August 2004 announcement that he was having a gay relationship with a state government employee, who critics said had no qualifications for his job.
With McGreevey's departure, state Senate President Richard J. Codey (D) became acting governor. Codey seemed interested in running for a full term, but Corzine -- and his bankroll -- effectively ended that thought.
Last night's victory is the latest breakthrough in a five-year ascendancy for the former Goldman Sachs executive.
Corzine emerged on the political scene in 2000, crushing former governor James Florio in the Democratic primary and narrowly defeating an underfunded Republican House member, Bob Franks, to claim the open Senate seat.
Two years after his victory, Corzine became a member of his party's leadership team -- chairing the Senate's campaign arm. After Democrats lost four Senate seats in the 2004 elections, Corzine announced his intention to seek the governorship.
Although New Jersey voters last night approved creation of a lieutenant governor -- it had been one of the eight states without such a post -- Corzine will enjoy almost unquestioned power over the state government.
His first major decision will be selecting a Democrat to fill out the year remaining on his Senate term. Codey is the preferred choice of many Washington Democrats to fill the remaining year of Corzine's term, although he has said publicly he is not interested. Several Democrats in the New Jersey House delegation are also contenders, with Rep. Robert Menendez widely regarded as the leading candidate, but Rep. Rush D. Holt, a friend of Corzine's and five-time winner on the game show "Jeopardy!," also winning considerable support. Republicans have coalesced behind state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. as their 2006 Senate nominee.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee expressed confidence his party will hold Corzine's seat. "A [Corzine] victory by 11 points and the fact we will have a strong incumbent is a pretty good stepping-off point for keeping the Senate seat in 2006," Schumer said.
Cillizza is a staff writer for washingtonpost.com. His online political column appears daily at www.washingtonpost.com/thefix.