Polls Close in Tight Gubernatorial Races Voters in two states went to the polls Tuesday to elect new governors in highly contested elections: New Jersey and Virginia. After the polls closed, early balloting results show the Democratic candidates leading in both states.
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Polls Close in Tight Gubernatorial Races

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Polls Close in Tight Gubernatorial Races

Polls Close in Tight Gubernatorial Races

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And we're starting to see some results on this Election Day 2005. Around the country today, voters made picks in two races for governor and some big-city mayoral races and said yea or nay to a variety of ballot measures. In the Eastern US, polls have closed. We're going to check in with two states electing new governors, New Jersey and Virginia. And in Virginia, a close race pits Democrat Tim Kaine, the lieutenant governor, against the state's former attorney general, Republican Jerry Kilgore. NPR's Brian Naylor has been in Virginia today. He joins us now.

Brian, what do we know so far?

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

Michele, the returns are starting to come in, and so far the Democrat, Tim Kaine, the lieutenant governor, leads the Republican former attorney general, Jerry Kilgore, by about 50,000 votes; that's with about a million votes counted, about half of the state's precincts reporting.

NORRIS: Brian, both parties have been closely watching this race. What's at stake here?

NAYLOR: Michele, it's been a race without much in the way of overarching issues. The focus has been more on the candidates' character and personalities. The Republican, Jerry Kilgore, has stressed his support for the death penalty, his opposition to illegal immigration. He's attacked Democrat Tim Kaine, saying Kaine won't enforce the state's death penalty laws. Kaine has made a lot of his Catholic faith, which he says leads him to personally oppose capital punishment, but says, yes, he will enforce the death penalty. In many ways this race is seen as a harbinger of national politics, by the pols, at least.

NORRIS: In many ways, this race is all about coattails. Jerry Kilgore is riding, in some respects, on the coattails of President Bush and Tim Kaine on the coattails of the outgoing governor, Mark Warner.

NAYLOR: Right. And it'll be interesting to see how this plays out, because while the president handily won the state four years ago, his popularity has been sagging in Virginia. He did appear for Kilgore at a last-minute rally last night in the state capital. Polls show actually a majority of Virginia voters say the president's support for Kilgore is a reason to vote against him.

And then you have, if Kilgore's Bush's surrogate, Kaine is Governor Mark Warner's. Warner can't run again because of--the state Constitution forbids governors running for re-election. Warner's thought to be mulling a run for president, and if Kaine wins, it will give Warner some momentum.

NORRIS: NPR's Brian Naylor.

Thank you, Brian.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: Now to New Jersey, where Democrat Jon Corzine, the state's senior senator, is running against businessman Doug Forrester. Nancy Solomon is watching things from the Forrester campaign party in Princeton. She joins us now.

Nancy, what are you hearing about turnout in this race?

NANCY SOLOMON reporting:

Well, we don't have any real numbers yet on turnout, but I visited several polls today and this evening, and I heard from poll workers that they were pleasantly surprised, that they were seeing more people than they expected for a statewide election, that it was more comparable to a presidential election. So it's looking like there's pretty decent turnout.

NORRIS: There was a lot of mud slung in this campaign. How was it that things turned so negative?

SOLOMON: Well, we're talking about two very, very wealthy men who spent a lot of money on television advertising, and it turned nasty very quickly. And so we had the Republican, Doug Forrester, trying to link Corzine to various scandals and political corruption cases that happened in the state in the past few years, and then you had Corzine trying to link Forrester to President Bush and--who is not particularly popular in the state at the moment. So there wasn't a whole lot of substance in the campaign. It was a lot of negative ads.

NORRIS: Now remind us how we ended up with no incumbent in this campaign.

SOLOMON: Well, a little moire than a year ago, Governor James McGreevey abruptly announced, just on the eve of this being disclosed publicly, that he was having a gay affair, that he had cheated on his wife, and that the man that he had had an affair with, he had given a plum job in his Homeland Security Department which the man was not qualified for. So he resigned abruptly. We got the leader of the state Senate, Richard Codey, who wanted to run for governor, but when Corzine jumped into the race with all of his money, Codey backed out. So we have Corzine and Doug Forrester running.

NORRIS: We're now in the final hours of what turned out to be a very tight race, Nancy. What's the mood at the Forrester headquarters there?

SOLOMON: The mood here is very upbeat. People are just starting to file in. It's not really all that crowded. And we only have the first 11 precincts counted. Corzine is leading, but it's way too early to be making any kind of guesses about the outcome for tonight.

NORRIS: NPR's Nancy Solomon in New Jersey.

Thanks so much, Nancy.

SOLOMON: Oh, you're welcome, Michele.

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