US votes on nitty-gritty of daily life

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Americans vote tomorrow, not for a president (that was last year), nor for Congress (next year), but for state governors, mayors and statutes in ballots that are the very stuff of local democracy.

The West and South lead the way in referendums, with a number of contentious issues to be decided. In Oregon, voters must decide whether they stand by their vote three years ago to support euthanasia, while the neighbouring state of Washington will consider the medical use of marijuana. Houston, Texas, will become the first big city to vote whether to scrap its policy that gives preference to women and members of ethnic minorities for public- service jobs and grants.

In New York, Rudolph Giuliani, the Republican mayor, is expected to be given another four-year term for bringing safety and new life to a city seen in the past as ungovernable. His Democratic challenger, Ruth Messinger, is seenas offering no viable alternative.

As so often, New York is the exception here. Many other contests are seen, even at this late stage, as too close to call. The races are especially close in the two states where the governorship is at stake.

President Bill Clinton stopped in New Jersey yesterday to rally support for the Democratic challenger, Jim McGreevey. He is hard on the heels of the present - and first female - governor, Christine Todd Whitman, by dint of tapping into popular discontent over high property taxes and car-insurance rates. Ms Whitman's major achievement - cutting state taxes by 30 per cent in her first two months of office four years ago - has proved less of a vote-swinger than her camp hoped, even though it made her a model for Republican governors across America. The race for state governor is just as tight in Virginia, where local taxes - this time an unpopular state tax which assesses cars as taxable personal property - are also the main issue.