Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a Republican whose lone term was dogged by a hiring scandal, lost badly Tuesday despite an election-eve effort to woo conservative voters by displaying the Ten Commandments in the state Capitol.
In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour, practically the only politician to come out of Hurricane Katrina looking good, easily defeated a Democratic challenger Tuesday to win a second term.
In other races, Philadelphia elected Michael Nutter as the new mayor on his promises to reduce gun violence and clean up the city, Baltimore made Sheila Dixon its first black woman elected mayor, and Pittsburgh decided to keep the youngest big-city mayor in the nation, 27-year-old Luke Ravenstahl.
Kentucky's governor's race marked an unlikely political comeback for Democrat Steve Beshear, a former attorney general and lieutenant governor who hadn't held office in two decades and only ran for governor because he couldn't recruit another candidate.
Beshear cruised to a 20-percentage-point victory in Kentucky after a campaign in which he repeatedly reminded voters of accusations that Fletcher directed the hiring of political allies for jobs protected by the state's merit system.
"Tomorrow begins the time when I call on every person in this state to come together with us, join hands with us, because together folks we can make Kentucky a much better place to call home," the 63-year-old Beshear told supporters.
Beshear made faith a centerpiece of his campaign, citing his religious upbringing and running television ads showing him in front of a church in western Kentucky.
Fletcher, who had been trailing in the polls for weeks, made a last-minute religious overture of his own Monday by ordering that the Ten Commandments be displayed alongside other historical documents in the state Capitol.
But Fletcher, the state's first GOP governor in more than 30 years, was never able to overcome his indictment on misdemeanor charges that were later dismissed in a negotiated deal after a judge said he could not be tried in office. The grand jury later issued its findings, saying Fletcher had approved a "widespread and coordinated plan" to skirt state hiring laws.
In Mississippi, Barbour won by nearly 20 percentage points over John Arthur Eaves Jr. after a race in which the Republican incumbent stressed his successful management of the hurricane recovery, job growth and rebuilding.
Katrina did in other candidates on the Gulf Coast. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, for instance, came under such widespread criticism for her response to the hurricane that she did not seek another term.
Barbour, a former Washington lobbyist credited with using his connections to help his home state, said he wants to "complete the rebuilding and renewal of the coast bigger and better than ever."
"I want to continue and accelerate the record job creation that we've had the last couple of years, replacing low-skilled, lower-paying jobs with high-skilled higher-paying jobs," Barbour said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press before appearing at his victory party.
Eaves got little traction with his largely self-funded campaign that seemed to emphasize religion at every turn. He clutched a Bible in his television ads, cited Scripture frequently and criticized Barbour's connections to "moneychangers" big oil, tobacco and insurance companies.
In a typically slim ballot for an off-year election, voters also chose mayors in San Francisco, Houston, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
No serious challenger threatened San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's bid for a second term, even though the mayor admitted just eight months ago that he had a drinking problem and an affair with a close aide's wife.
In Philadelphia, former Democratic councilman Michael Nutter became the city's next mayor on his promises to reduce gun violence, crack down on no-bid contracts and offer $10,000 tax breaks to companies that hire convicts. But first Nutter wants to declare a citywide litter cleanup and rid the City of Brotherly Love of its less-flattering nickname: Filthadelphia.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, now 27, became the youngest mayor of a major U.S. city last year following the death of the incumbent, overcame a challenge from Republican Mark DeSantis.
In Baltimore, Sheila Dixon became the first black woman elected to that office as Democrats maintained their decades-long grip on City Hall. Dixon was appointed to the job in January after then-Mayor Martin O'Malley became governor.
In the lone congressional race, voters in northwest Ohio were choosing among five Republicans and two Democrats in a primary for the nomination to succeed Rep. Paul Gillmor, who died in September from a fall at his Washington apartment. The general election will be Dec. 11.
Several states were voting on ballot measures.
Oregon voters considered a measure to raise the cigarette tax by 84.5 cents a pack to $2.02 to fund health insurance for about 100,000 children now lacking coverage. Tobacco companies spent nearly $12 million fighting it.
In New Jersey, a referendum authorizing the state to borrow $450 million over 10 years to finance stem cell research was trailing in early returns.