- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003


Rep. Ernie Fletcher easily won the Kentucky governors race yesterday, becoming the first Republican to lead the state in 32 years.

Mr. Fletcher - who got a big campaign assist from President Bush in the campaigns final days - won with 55 percent, or 593,058 votes, to Democratic Attorney General Ben Chandlers 45 percent, or 484,804 votes.

In Philadelphia, one of three big-city mayoral races, Democratic incumbent John Street handily defeated Republican businessman Sam Katz in a rematch of their 1999 contest.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, the Democrat had 58 percent of the vote to 41 percent for Mr. Katz. Minor violence and purported intimidation were reported at polling places across the city.

Mr. Street narrowly defeated Mr. Katz when they first faced off in 1999, and this year, Mr. Katz had a slight lead in polls before Oct. 7, when police discovered an FBI bug during what they described as a routine City Hall security sweep.

The mayor accused the Justice Department of launching the probe for political reasons. Black leaders suggested that the FBI targeted the mayor because of his race.

The campaign remained heated, with the District Attorneys Office receiving 171 calls by the 8 p.m. close of polls charging harassment and interference at polling locations, said spokeswoman Cathie Abookire.

In Kentucky, Mr. Fletcher will replace term-limited Gov. Paul E. Patton, who was dogged by scandals, including an extramarital affair and an assortment of investigations of the states highway agency.

Although Mr. Chandler was no ally of Mr. Patton and sought to convince voters that they could have reform without changing parties, the fallout from the scandals hung over the campaign like a cloud.

“Republicans have very handily hung that noose around every Democrats neck,” said Susan Westrom, state Democratic chairwoman.

A former fighter pilot, Mr. Fletcher compared the feeling of victory to flying in an Air Force jet and seeing the northern lights. “It just doesnt get any better than this,” he said.

Mr. Fletcher got a congratulatory call from Mr. Bush, whom state Republicans credited with giving an enormous boost to Mr. Fletcher by coming to Kentucky to campaign and help raise money.

State Republican Chairwoman Ellen Williams said Mr. Bushs visit to the conservative western part of the state “lit that district on fire.”

“The people in that part of the state are in line with Bushs conservative values,” she said.

Mr. Chandlers campaign tried to rally voters with criticism of Mr. Bush.

“It sends a message to the rest of the country: Were tired of the biggest budget deficit in history,” said former Democratic governor and Sen. Wendell Ford, stumping for the Democrat.

Elsewhere, New Jersey voters could break the 20-20 tie in the state Senate. Voters also chose legislatures in Mississippi and Virginia.

In voting on initiatives around the country, Maine residents rejected a $650 million gambling resort that opponents said would tarnish the states outdoorsy image. In Denver, a “peace initiative” to reduce stress lost by more than a 2-1 margin.

In other mayors races:

[Bullet]Houston businessman Bill White led a field of nine candidates going into the election. Mayor Lee Brown, the citys first black mayor, could not seek a fourth term.

[Bullet]San Francisco was picking a new mayor. Mayor Willie Brown is barred from seeking a third term. Wealthy entrepreneur Gavin Newsom, who sought to get panhandlers off city streets, was considered the front-runner. A runoff was expected.

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