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Republicans win key governor races in blow to Obama's Democrats
Barack Obama's Democrats have lost two key state governorships, Virginia and New Jersey, in a stinging blow to the party one year after Obama's historic election as US president.
The Republican Party has won two governors' seats in off-year elections, dealing Barack Obama's Democratic Party a significant blow one year after its clean sweep of the White House and Congress.
With most votes counted, Republican Chris Christie prevailed over Democrat incumbent Jon Corzine in New Jersey while Bob McDonnell scored an easy victory over Democrat Creigh Deeds in Virginia.
The results are a big setback for Obama, who had campaigned actively for his candidates, and are a shot in the arm for the Republicans, who are still reeling from the scale of the Democrat landslide in November 2008.
Virginia, a pivotal state, last year helped propel Obama into office; the first time it had backed a Democratic presidential contender in more than four decades.
The loss in New Jersey was likely to hurt Obama even more since he campaigned heavily there on behalf of Jon Corzine, appearing at a rally before a crowd of 11,000 people at the weekend.
New York up for grabs
Congressional seats are also up for grabs in upstate New York, where the right of the Republican Party backed a member of the tiny Conservative Party, rather than the official Republican candidate.
Voters in major cities including New York, Atlanta, Houston, Detroit and Pittsburgh were also called upon to elect their mayors.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, won a third term in a tight contest with his Democratic challenger Bill Thompson.
With mid-term nationwide elections to Congress due next year and Obama bogged down in confrontations over the economy, health care reform, and the war in Afghanistan, the results of Tuesday's three off-year races were under close scrutiny.
The Republican Governors Association quickly congratulated McDonnell in Virginia, saying his victory gave the party "tremendous momentum heading into 2010."
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs earlier played down the wider significance of the three races, saying: "I don't think the president is looking at these and believes that they say anything about our future legislative efforts or our future political efforts."
Obama still ahead
FRANCE 24's Washington Correspondent Guillaume Meyer said Obama was still way ahead of his rivals, despite the setback.
"Obama is still very popular with Americans, with approval ratings of between 53% and 55%," he said. "Nationwide he remains popular, but if he doesn't secure some clear victories in the months ahead on issues such as healthcare, there may be more trouble ahead for Barack Obama and his Democratic Party."
Despite the Republican victories, the gains have nevertheless laid bare significant rifts in the party over how to rebuild after last year's losses in presidential and congressional elections.
In the New York special congressional race, the official, moderate Republican candidate withdrew in the face of the insurgent Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman.
Although he was not running on the Republican ticket, Hoffman had the backing of senior Republican conservatives, including former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
This has made him a standard bearer for the wing of the the party which organised nationwide "tea party" protests against Obama in recent months.
Other Republicans, however, are arguing for a more moderate position aimed at attracting independent voters.
The official Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, endorsed her Democratic opponent Bill Owens, rather than Hoffman, when she withdrew from the race.