Election 2009: Economic woes challenge incumbent mayors
Incumbent mayors are facing tougher-than-usual reelection bids due, in part, to a struggling national economy.
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Atlanta. The struggling economy in Atlanta has hampered candidates' ability to distinguish themselves, says William Boone of Clark Atlanta University. "Any solution any candidate comes up with really raises the question, ‘Where are you going to be getting the money from?' "
Race has also been a factor. The city has had an African-American mayor since 1974. This year, three African-Americans are running. But it's Mary Norwood, a white woman from the suburbs, who's leading current polls.
Houston. Undecided voters are a prominent force in Houston, where 36 percent of voters say they are unsure whom they will vote for.
Four candidates are battling to replace Mayor Bill White, who cannot run again due to term limits. City Controller Annise Parker had been leading, but a new poll shows city councilman Peter Brown may have surpassed her. Mr. Brown – who is favored by 24 percent of likely voters, to Ms. Parker's 19 – has spend $2.4 million of his own fortune on the campaign. Ms. Parker, who is openly gay, has enjoyed the support of Houston's gay and lesbian community but has been targeted by conservative groups.
Generally, "candidates are playing it safe and hoping to get in the runoff," says Marc Campos, an independent political analyst in Houston. "Nobody thinks anyone can win it without a runoff."
Some analysts caution against reading too much into mayoral elections nationwide.
Though "perceptions of the president and national economy impact how voters feel about incumbent mayors," ties to political parties and perceptions of city conditions carry greater weight, says Tom Holbrook, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
Boston. Challenger Michael Flaherty is hoping Bostonians have had enough of incumbent Thomas Menino, who has been mayor since 1993. On a recent fall day, he and a handful of supporters gathered outside a local cafe, targeting residents of a trendy Boston neighborhood with promises of more funding for the arts. But Mr. Flaherty is at a huge disadvantage against Mayor Menino, who can boast both name recognition and well-established fundraising networks.
"Typically, mayoral races aren't very competitive if there's an incumbent in the race," says Professor Holbrook.
Yet Mr. Cochran, of the US Conference of Mayors, sees deeper trends at work in this election, which could have an effect on congressional midterm elections next year.
"If I was a congressmen in the urban or suburban area of Seattle or Albuquerque, with these mayors that are being defeated, I'd have to take note of it," he says. "The people that vote for the mayor and defeat him, they're the same people that vote for the congressmen."
Bid to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford begins
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