WASHINGTON – Across the country, wary voters this week said no, no, no to politically charged initiatives and other efforts to re-order their lives via the ballot.

Voters also may have sent warnings to Republicans seeking to keep control of Congress next year. Democratic governors were elected in Virginia and New Jersey by comfortable margins.

Perhaps no message in Tuesday’s off-year election was clearer than the peril of being closely aligned with President Bush.

In the Virginia governor’s race, polls had showed Tim Kaine, the Democratic lieutenant governor, and Republican Jerry Kilgore locked in a close race on the eve of the election. Kaine won the election by 6 percent after Bush campaigned in Virginia on Monday trying to rally cultural conservatives lukewarm on Kilgore.

In Minnesota, St. Paul’s Democratic Mayor Randy Kelly was bounced from office a year after breaking ranks and endorsing Bush for president.

“There is no doubt in any way, shape or form that President Bush is a liability, not an asset,” said Del Ali, an independent pollster based in Maryland.

But Ali and other experts stressed the local nature of gubernatorial elections.

In New Jersey, where Democrat Sen. Jon Corzine easily defeated GOP candidate Doug Forrester, just 2 of 10 voters said Bush was a factor in their choice, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos survey.

Nonetheless, Michigan pollster Ed Sarpolus said his surveys leading up to the election showed restless voters blaming Bush rather than state leaders for job losses in Michigan.

Sarpolus added that the GOP vulnerabilities wouldn’t necessarily carry over to next year when Democrats will be bidding to recapture the Senate and House.

He noted that in Virginia, Kaine, the Democrat, won after breaking with standard Democratic practice of avoiding values issues and speaking often about his Catholic religion and his past work as a missionary.

“What it says to Democrats in Congress is that they must decide who they are, what they stand for and what there issues are,” Sarpolus said.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had problems of his own on Election Day – starting when he showed up at his polling place in a Los Angeles suburb and election officials told him records showed he already had voted. (They were mistaken, and he was permitted to vote.)

For the first time since the 1930s, Californians rejected every statewide ballot referendum, among them Schwarzenegger’s initiatives to reshape state government and a separate proposal require parental consent for abortion.

In his bold ballot plan, Schwarzenegger was attempting to redraw California’s political map, constrain public employee unions and lengthen the time required for teachers to receive tenure.

“It’s almost unprecedented to have that kind of a wipeout in California. It could be a signal that voters are less inclined at this moment to use direct democracy to constrain spending and taxes,” said Ken Miller, a government professor and ballot initiative expert at Claremont McKenna College near Los Angeles.

On the local level, Californians in the wine country trounced a ballot initiative aimed at making Sonoma County the fourth California county to impose a ban on genetically modified crops.

In Texas, voters approved amending the constitution to ban same-sex marriages, making it the 19th state to take such action.

But elsewhere, an anti-referendum mood prevailed. In Ohio, voters turned down efforts by would-be reformers to rein in what they regarded as “a culture of corruption” in that politically pivotal state.

One of the defeated measures would have lowered limits on political contributions.

In Maine, voters rejected an effort to repeal a new law banning discrimination on the basis of sex – in effect a vote for gay rights.

Susan MacManus, a government professor at the University of South Florida, said that people might be growing weary of efforts to create public policy with ballot propositions.

“The public has become tuned into the fact that many of these referenda are far less about policy than politics,” she said.

Meanwhile, proponents of teaching “intelligent design” – which critics label a form of creationism – suffered a setback in rural Dover, Pa., when voters ousted eight school board members who had pushed a policy requiring ninth-grade students to receive instruction on intelligent design in biology class.

(c) 2005, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-11-09-05 1931EST

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