Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie looked for a big re-election victory Tuesday night amid talk of a 2016 presidential run, and Democrats hoped for a sweep of top offices in Virginia topped by Terry McAuliffe in the governor's mansion. New Yorkers chose a new mayor for the first time in a dozen years.
In other, widely scattered odd-year balloting, Colorado was setting a tax rate for marijuana, Houston was deciding the fate of the Astrodome and Alabama Republicans were choosing between two of their own — from different wings of the party — in a special congressional runoff election in a conservative state.
Across the country, voters also were choosing sides in a host of local elections and ballot initiatives. Turnout was expected to be relatively light — even in the most hard-fought races — given that it was not a presidential or congressional election year, and voters were primarily hard-core partisans.
Not on the ballot, President Barack Obama took a pass on wagering any guess on outcomes, saying: "Never predict elections. That's a losing proposition."
Taken together, the results in individual states and cities were expected to yield no broad judgments on how the American public feels about today's two biggest national political debates — government spending and health care — which are more likely to shape next fall's midterm elections.
Even so, Tuesday's voting had local impact, and it mattered in ways big and small.
In Virginia, Democrats were pushing to control all major statewide offices for the first time since 1970, a rejection of the conservatism that has dominated for the past four years. But Republicans were expected to hold the Legislature.
The state's two U.S. senators already are Democrats, and McAuliffe was favored to win the governorship, a one-term limited office, four years after voters elected conservative Republican Bob McDonnell. Both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton made appearances for McAuliffe in the final weeks, and so did Barack Obama over the weekend.
Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinnelli was hoping for a late-game rally that would prove that a tea party-backed conservative could win the governorship of a swing-voting state. He brought big-name supporters to the state, too, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — all potential presidential contenders.
Democrats also were expected to win the lieutenant governorship, and had a strong shot at the attorney general's office. They also could break through Republicans' veto-proof majority in the state House, and all that could set the stage of a presidential battleground ahead of the next White House race.
In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Christie was relishing the possibility of a big victory with support from across the political spectrum that would send a message to the GOP that a Republican with an inclusive message could win in Democratic territory.
In that sense, his expected win had implications for the 2016 presidential race.
A big victory could show his ability to draw support from Democrats, independents and minorities. This would be much as George W. Bush did in his re-election race as governor in Texas in 1998 — positioned to argue that he was the most electable in what might well be a crowded presidential primary field.
Later this month, Christie assumes the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association, giving him another platform for a possible national campaign.
A Christie victory would make him the only Republican governor considering the presidency and serving with a Democratic Legislature, and he could use that to argue for pragmatism over ideology as a divided GOP seeks a path forward. He was opposed for re-election by state Sen. Barbara Buono.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, the party's internal squabbles played out in the special congressional runoff primary election in Alabama. It featured veteran politician Bradley Byrne, the choice of the GOP establishment, against tea party favorite Dean Young.
The race was the first test of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's promise to try to influence primaries. The group has pumped at least $200,000 into supporting Byrne, who has almost two decades in politics. Young argues that the Chamber endorsement is evidence that Byrne is the choice of big Washington interests.
Other races to watch:
—Big city mayors: In New York, Democrat Bill de Blasio was expected to cruise to victory over Republican Joe Lhota after Michael Bloomberg's dozen-year tenure. Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle and other cities also chose mayors.
—Washington state: Voters weighed in on a ballot issue over mandatory labeling of genetically modified food, a contest that has drawn hefty financial contributions in opposition from the likes of PepsiCo., Monsanto and General Mills, which last year spent $46 million to defeat a similar measure in California.
—Colorado: Colorado voters determined whether to tax marijuana at 25 percent and apply the proceeds to regulating the newly legalized drug and building schools. Voters in 11 rural counties were asked if they wanted to approve secession from the state. One county was talking about joining Wyoming.
Associated Press writers Bill Barrow and Christina Almeida Cassidy in Georgia, Kristen Wyatt in Colorado, Chris Grygiel in Washington state, Corey Williams in Michigan and Nedra Pickler in Washington contributed to this report.