Gizzi on Politics: Nov. 12-16

Election Night
Much of the national election news last week focused on the Democratic capture of the Virginia senate. But there were other key elections on November 6…

Connecticut: Still More Republican Mayors

Connecticut—the state where George W. Bush was born—is almost always listed as a “blue state.” It has had two Democratic senators since 1988, four out of its five U.S. House members are Democrats and about 70% of the seats in the state house and senate are in Democratic hands. But, hard as it may be to believe, a majority of voters in the 169 towns in the Nutmeg State are governed by Republican mayors or Republican majorities on town councils or boards of selectmen.

The most interesting local Democratic contest last week took place in Waterbury, where voters had grown sick of corruption and machine politics in ’05 and re-elected Mayor Michael J. Jajura as a write-in candidate after he was dumped for renomination in the Democratic primary. This year, the maverick Jajura was carrying the Democratic standard and easily won a fourth term over Republican and independent opponents.

Indianapolis: Democratic Farm Team Shut Out

Indianapolis Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson was supposed to win by a landslide and, as Indianapolis magazine predicted earlier this year, go on to great things, even the governorship or a U.S. Senate seat. But it didn’t happen that way. The brightest star among Hoosier Democrats lost last week to Republican Greg Ballard, a former U.S. Marine who was a first-time candidate. Ballard hit hard at the increase in property taxes and rise in the city’s crime rate under Peterson’s watch.

Kentucky: Blue Grass GOP Has Its Triumphs

The defeat of Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher at the hands of Democrat Steve Brashear last week was no surprise. Fletcher, the Bluegrass State’s first Republican governor since 1967, had been wounded badly by a protracted court battle over whether he could fire state officials from the previous administration and an exhausting primary fight against former Rep. (1994-2006) Anne Northup. A number of Republicans—notably former Rep. (1978-92) and 1991 gubernatorial nominee Larry Hopkins—actually endorsed Brashear, a former lieutenant governor who rolled up 59% of the vote.

The Democrats also brought down Republicans in other statewide offices. State Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, the Democratic nominee for U.S. senator in ’04, won the lieutenant governorship over Republican Robbie Rudolph, the state finance director. However, State Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, a onetime University of Kentucky basketball great who is considered a Republican to watch for the future, was re-elected with 64% of the vote over Democrat David L. Williams. Republican Trey Grayson was also re-elected secretary of state. As Republican State Sen. Damon Thayer put it, “This election was not a repudiation of the Republican Party but, as our two statewide victories show, a reaffirmation that this is a two-party state.”

Mississippi: The Barbour Shop

Coupled with Haley Barbour’s smashing (62% of the vote) re-election as governor over Democrat John Arthur Eaves, Jr., Magnolia State Republicans rolled to victory in many other races, including State Auditor Phil Bryant’s handily winning the office of lieutenant governor. When I met Bryant at the Mississippi Leadership Forum luncheon in Jackson early this year, he was adamant in his hard-line position against illegal immigration and in his view that Sen. Trent Lott (R.-Miss.) was “killing the Republican Party here” by supporting the Bush Administration-backed comprehensive immigration package that included a guest-worker program.

As lieutenant governor, Bryant will preside over the senate and appoint committee chairman and committee members. However, since Democrats narrowly took back a majority in the senate, there could be a move to strip him of those powers when the legislature convenes in January. Along with the new speaker of the state house, who has yet to be decided, Bryant will be one of the two players who will determine how much political success the 60-year-old Barbour has in his second term and how legislative and congressional districts will be drawn in 2011 after the next census.

Other Republicans who won statewide office last week include Jackson lawyer Delbert Hoseman as secretary of state and Michael Chaney as state insurance commissioner.

Ohio: A Latta Day

One of the nastiest races in the country last week was the Republican primary for the seat of Rep. (1988-2007) Paul Gillmor, who died earlier this year. The winner with 43% of the vote was State Rep. Bob Latta, son of former Rep. (1958-88) Delbert Latta (R.-Ohio). The younger Latta, who lost the primary to Gillmor in 1988 by a slim 27 votes, defeated State Sen. Steve Buehrer. Both Republicans ran as strong social and economic conservatives, but because of the vote Latta cast for a temporary sales tax increase supported by disgraced Republican Gov. (1998-2006) Robert Taft, the conservative Club for Growth slammed him hard in a media campaign. Latta, in turn, fired back at Buehrer with a mailer charging that he opposed prayer in schools and posting the Ten Commandments—accusations Buehrer not only denied but filed charges over with the Ohio Elections Commission.

Latta should win the seat in the special election next month in a district that is 67% Republican and covers 16 rural counties. However, as columnist Joe Hallett noted in the Columbus Dispatch, “The short campaign has ruined a friendship between Buehrer and Latta.…The campaign has been so ugly that the Ohio Republican Party took the unusual step Friday of sending the candidates letters asking them to stop the ‘mudslinging and nasty attacks.’”

Pennsylvania: There Goes the Judge(s)

In races that were covered on the front page of the Washington Post two weeks ago, Democrats won the two contested seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. One Democratic winner was Shamus McCafferty, former Marine and Philadelphia policeman, who, as a municipal court judge, became famous for holding court hearings at Veterans Stadium during Philadelphia Eagles games and meting out justice to drunken rowdies. McCafferty had strong labor-union backing. The other Democratic victor was Debra Todd of Butler County.

City Councilman Michael Nutter had been considered the certain winner for mayor of Philadelphia after capturing the Democratic nomination earlier this year. The real action, however, was in the race for the two minority party positions on the city council. To no one’s surprise, Republican incumbent Frank Rizzo, Jr., namesake-son of the legendary former mayor and police chief, was the top GOP vote-getter and thus got one of the spots. The other apparently went to Republican David Oh, a lawyer who now becomes the first Asian-American on the city council. Coming on the heels of Republican Bobby Jindal’s election as governor of Louisiana last month, Oh’s triumph could be a signal that Asian-Americans will be a major constituency for the GOP in ’08 and beyond.

By only 48 votes, Oh beat out a fellow Republican with one of the city’s best-known names—Jack Kelly. As Philadelphia “superlawyer” and longtime leading city politico James Baumbach told me: “Kelly is not related to those Kellys [the Main Line family that included the late Princess Grace of Monaco]. In fact he’s the antithesis. His campaign was being directed by John Dougherty of the electrical workers union, an ally of [outgoing Democratic Mayor John] Street. He ran newspaper ads touting his support for the arts—something the real Kellys were obviously known for—that never showed him. Cleverly diabolical, eh? But not diabolical enough, it turns out.”