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Kentucky, Mississippi Vote for New Governors - 2003-11-04

Voters in Kentucky and Mississippi are going to the polls to elect new state governors. The two southern races have attracted national attention.

In Kentucky, Republican Congressman Ernie Fletcher and Democratic State Attorney General Ben Chandler are seeking to replace Democratic Governor Paul Patton.

Governor Patton leaves office under a cloud of scandal, after admitting committing adultery with a woman who later sued him for sexual harassment, saying he had used state agencies to shut down her nursing home business after she ended a two-year affair.

President George Bush has visited Kentucky, and Republicans have spent millions of dollars on the race, seeking to win the governor's office after 32 years of Democratic Party control.

Polls show three-term Congressman Fletcher, who is also a medical doctor and a pilot, leading in the race against Ben Chandler, the grandson of a former governor.

Joseph Rose, an expert on Kentucky politics at Murray State University, says most voters are ignoring the national spotlight focused this year on their state.

"I am not sure that the national attention given to the race is all that important to the voters in Kentucky," he said. "It might be in certain locations in the state, but overall I would say no. Kentuckians tend to think of Kentucky politics first, and national politics second."

In Mississippi, former Republican Party National Chairman Haley Barbour is seeking to oust Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove. Polls say the race is too close to call, and in recent days President Bush and other senior Republicans have repeatedly visited Mississippi to boost Mr. Barbour's chances.

John Bruce, an expert on Mississippi politics at the University of Mississippi, says Republicans and Democrats are seeking to claim a mandate from the voters of Mississippi.

"In the sense that it matters politically, it is only that it is sort of the thing that they can use to talk about for the next few months, as they lead into the '04 presidential cycle," he said. "If Barbour wins it is a chance for the Republicans to run around and say our agenda has been embraced by Mississippi. If Musgrove wins, the Democrats can spin it as people rejecting the Bush-Barbour message."

Haley Barbour's chances could be further complicated by a unique feature of Mississippi election law that requires a governor to win not only a majority of the popular vote, but also a majority in Mississippi's 122-seat lower house of the state legislature, where Democrats currently have the majority.

There are also state and local elections across the United States, including mayors races in major cities such as Houston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.