Democrats take heart from local election victories

PRESIDENT CLINTON travelled to Newark in New Jersey yesterday on his second anti-poverty tour, visiting cities and districts bypassed in the wave of prosperity that has engulfed the rest of the US.

This week's local election results suggest Mr Clinton is addressing a theme that could give the Democrats an edge in next year's presidential elections, especially in the big conurbations.

The Democrats did well in several city mayoral contests, especially in the industrial north-east and mid-west, and the Republicans were disappointed in many of the key city battlegrounds.

Indianapolis elected its first Democratic mayor in nearly four decades, as Bart Peterson beat Republican Ann Gilroy. In Columbus, Ohio, Michael Coleman ended nearly three decades of Republican control, becoming the city's first ever black mayor. And in Philadelphia, John Street beat off a stiff challenge from Republican Sam Katz, avoiding an upset that would have severely embarrassed the party.

The previous mayor of Philadelphia, Edward Rendell, is the new chairman of the Democratic national Committee, and the Republicans will hold their national convention in the city next year.

In Baltimore, a Democratic fiefdom, Martin O'Malley beat Republican challenger David Tufaro, to become the city's first white mayor for 12 years. In San Francisco, embattled Mayor Willie Brown will now face a run-off to retain his job.

The Democrats claimed the results as a sign of their forthcoming victories. "These elections are precursors to the most important election in a generation in 2000," said Democratic National Committee chairman Joe Andrew.

The Republicans were equally upbeat. In Virginia, they captured both houses of the state legislature for the first time, a sign of their hegemony in the south.