On an Election Night with a smattering of statewide, legislative and mayoral races on the ballot, voters sent contradictory messages, boosting a Republican governor in blue-state New Jersey, electing a Democrat as mayor for the first time since 1989 and choosing a Democratic governor for Virginia in an unexpectedly close contest. Meanwhile, it was a good night for marijuana advocates and supporters of minimum wage hikes, but a lousy one for those who back new school-directed taxes and restrictions on genetically modified foods.
At the top of the ballot were two gubernatorial races. In New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie won a second term -- as expected -- by a 60 percent to 38 percent margin, a gap wide enough to fuel speculation about a potential 2016 presidential run.
In Virginia, a gubernatorial race between two unpopular candidates -- Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli -- ended with a narrower victory by McAuliffe than some earlier polls had predicted, perhaps due to public displeasure with President Obama's health-care law. Still, powered by a large gender gap, McAuliffe pulled out a 48 percent to 46 percent victory.
In the other two races on the Virginia ballot, the Democrats easily won the lieutenant governor's race, but the attorney general contest remains too close to call. For lieutenant governor, Democrat Ralph Northam defeated Republican E.W. Jackson, a staunchly conservative preacher, by 10 points. In the AG race, Democratic state Sen. Mark Herring and Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain were separated by perhaps 1,000 votes out of 2 million cast.
But neither Christie in New Jersey nor McAuliffe in Virginia had strong coattails in their respective legislatures.
In New Jersey, the two state legislative chambers remained in Democratic hands, with at most minor changes in the seat-by-seat makeup. "Christie won by 20-plus points, but in the end, what looked like developing coattails fell short," said David Redlawsk, a Rutgers University political scientist.
In Virginia, only the state House was contested, and the GOP seemed likely to keep its advantage, with perhaps some minor changes on the margins. Control of the state Senate -- which is currently tied at 20 seats each -- could be shift when a special election is held to fill the seat of whichever AG candidate wins.
A closely watched state legislative contest in Washington state was too close to call, but the Republican candidate had an early lead. That state Senate seat was vacated when Democrat Derek Kilmer was elected to Congress. GOP state Rep. Jan Angel is maintaining a small lead over her appointed Democratic incumbent, physician Nathan Schlicher. The chamber is currently controlled by a 25-24 Republican majority that depends on the backing of two crossover Democrats, a wrinkle that has added significantly to the race's profile. The Bremerton-based district is considered ideologically moderate, so either candidate is a plausible winner. Determining which candidate wins could take a while, since Washington state votes by mail.
Mayoral offices for many of the nation's biggest cities were up for grabs on Election Day.
Democrats flipped Republican-held mayoral offices in New York City, where Bill de Blasio, as expected, cruised to a 74 percent to 24 percent victory, and St. Petersburg, Fla., where Rick Kriseman defeated incumbent Bill Foster, 56 percent to 44 percent. Officially the office is non-partisan, but Democrats backed Kriseman.
Democrats also held onto open seats in Charlotte, N.C., where Patrick Cannon narrowly defeated Republican Edwin Peacock; Cincinnati, where former Council member John Cranley defeated fellow Democrat and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls; Pittsburgh, where Democratic City Council member Bill Peduto won the open seat overwhelmingly; and Boston, where state Rep. Martin Walsh defeated city councilor John Connolly, a fellow Democrat.
"At first glance the Boston mayor's race may not seem to have much national significance -- one progressive beat another progressive in one of the country's most liberal cities," said Jeffrey Berry, a Tufts University political scientist. "Yet what's striking is the vast investment of millions of dollars from outside labor unions on behalf of winner Marty Walsh. This money and the hordes of union field workers is widely credited for giving Walsh the edge in a close race. Have unions turned to municipal elections as a means of flexing their aging muscles?"
In Detroit, which has been struggling with a severe fiscal crisis, hospital executive Mike Duggan defeated fellow Democrat Benny Napoleon in an open-seat race. Duggan's victory was notable because he is the first white mayor of Detroit in four decades. "I had predicted that the Detroit mayoral race would be close toward the end," said Bill Ballenger, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, "and it [was], to about 10 points. Still, that's a remarkable win for a white candidate in a city that's nearly 85 percent African-America."
The contest to fill an open Democratic mayoral seat in Minneapolis remains unsettled due to the city's use of a ranked-choice voting system. However, Council member Betsy Hodges appears poised to edge a field of three dozen competitors as soon as the second- and third-place votes are counted. Steve Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College, said the Minneapolis voting system seemed to work well. He added that since the city has a "weak mayor" system, "perhaps the more important outcome was the election of seven newcomers to the city council, a majority. Among those newcomers is Abdi Warsame, now the highest elected Somali in the country."
And in Seattle, state Sen. Ed Murray ousted the incumbent, fellow Democrat Mike McGinn, by a double-digit margin.
Meanwhile, mayoral incumbents were re-elected in Atlanta (Kasim Reed), Cleveland (Frank Jackson), Houston (Annise Parker), Miami (Tomas Regalado) and St. Paul, Minn. (Chris Coleman). All are Democrats except for Regalado, who's a Republican.
Republicans fared better in some key county executive races in New York state.
In Nassau County on New York's Long Island, the incumbent county executive Ed Mangano, a Republican, defeated the Democrat he narrowly ousted four years earlier, Tom Suozzi, by a surprisingly wide margin.
In Westchester County, Republican incumbent Rob Astorino defeated Democrat Noam Bramson. And in Rockland County, where there was an open GOP-held seat, Republican county legislator Ed Day defeated David Fried, a Democratic county legislator, for county executive.
Voters also weighed in on a number of significant ballot measures on Election Day.
In Colorado, Amendment 66, backed by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, was trounced by a 2-to-1 margin. It would have sought nearly $1 billion in tax increases to support school reform and changes in how the state distributes money to school districts.
"It was just too confusing, and I think the electorate is getting tired of the patchwork that has become education policy in Colorado," said University of Colorado political scientist Scott Adler. "It's just one constitutional amendment after another without any comprehensive overhaul."
In Washington state, voters followed the lead of California voters in 2012, soundly rejecting an initiative that would have "required most raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, and seeds and seed stocks, if produced using genetic engineering as defined, to be labeled as genetically engineered when offered for retail sale." Observers said the high-spending affair led to confusion among voters.
Washington state voters also turned down a measure that would have eased certain restrictions on ballot measures.
Minimum wage proposals fared better. New Jersey voters approved a statewide minimum-wage increase by a 3-to-2 margin, while voters seemed to be close to approving a wage hike to $15.00 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
New York state voters approved a casino expansion by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin, but they soundly rejected a bid to raise the retirement age of judges.
Marijuana advocates notched several victories on Election Day. Colorado approved a tax on legal marijuana sales; Portland, Maine, easily voted to legalize pot for adults; and Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale, Mich., approved decriminalizing marijuana by wide margins.
In Colorado, the marijuana industry supported the tax proposal. "It's real revenue through a sin tax," Adler said. "Most people didn't see a problem."
In Texas, voters, by a 2-to-1 margin, approved a ballot measure to allow seniors to purchase homes using reverse mortgages, making it the last state in the nation to allow the practice. Texas voters, by a 3-to-1 margin, also approved a proposition to create two funds to support water projects in the state.
Also in Texas, voters rejected a plan to turn the aging Houston Astrodome into a convention complex; it will likely be demolished.
In the most obscure, yet also one of the most important, political battles in the nation on Election Day 2013, each member of the "Bellingham Four" jumped out to a lead for seats on the council of Whatcom County, located in Washington state near Canada and the Pacific Ocean. The four are backed by environmentalists and are expected to oppose the proposed $600 million Gateway Pacific Terminal, which would transport Wyoming coal to Asia. The project is raising climate change fears.