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Gary Strauss ,USA TODAY

Voters headed to the polls Tuesday to elect governors in Virginia and New Jersey and mayors in several of the nation's biggest cities, capping months of often acrimonious campaigning that could have implications for the 2014 congressional midterm elections and beyond.

Nowhere has the political backbiting been more intense than in Virginia - a key battleground state during the 2008 and 2012 national elections. Former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe and Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have battered each like piƱatas in a series of debates and negative advertising.

McAuliffe, comfortably ahead in state polls and fortified by a campaign war chest nearly twice as large as Cuccinelli's, brought in President Obama, former president Bill Clinton and former secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the final days of the campaign to garner support.

Cuccinelli, a favorite of Tea Party conservatives, hoped to draw support from Virginians angry with the Obama administration, last month's protracted federal government shutdown and the flailing debut of the president's health care insurance website.

McAuliffe's get-out-the-vote strategy is out of Obama's playbook, focusing on minorities and young voters as well as women. Quentin Kidd, a political scientist at Virginia's Christopher Newport University, predicts the model would be used nationally in 2014 if McAuliffe wins. No one in a sitting president's party has won a Virginia governor's race since 1977.

In New Jersey, popular incumbent Chris Christie appears to have a commanding lead over state Sen. Barbara Buono. Polls showed Christie had a 20-plus point advantage over Buono, and he's aiming to be the first Republican running statewide to break 50% since George H.W. Bush in 1988.

A strong showing in a traditionally Democratic-leaning state would burnish Christie's potential run as the Republican's presidential candidate in 2016.

Christie voted at a firehouse in Mendham Township and said this is his last race for elected office in the state. Buono also voted early Tuesday, at a school in Metuchen.

In a New York City's mayoral race noted for the early implosion of sexting Democratic contender and former congressman Anthony Weiner, front-runner Bill de Blasio is heavily favored against Republican Joe Lhota, former chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The winner replaces 12-year incumbent Michael Bloomberg.

De Blasio, who as the city's elected public advocate acts as an official watchdog, ran on a sweeping liberal agenda that includes a tax increase on the wealthy to pay for universal pre-kindergarten and improved police-community relations. Though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 6 to 1 in New York City, de Blasio could be the first Democrat to become mayor since David Dinkins' election in 1989.

In financially strapped Detroit, a former write-in candidate once thought to have little chance of surviving Detroit's primary election is favored to become the white mayor in the majority-black city in 40 years. The job has limited power as the city moves toward the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history under a state overseer.

Front-runner Mike Duggan, a former health care executive, and opponent Benny Napoleon, the Wayne County sheriff, both oppose Michigan's takeover of city finances by Kevin Orr, appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in March to be Detroit's emergency manager.

Duggan said he wants to persuade Snyder to craft a plan to resuscitate the city's fiscal condition.

Atlantans will choose between incumbent Mayor Kasim Reed and challengers Al Bartell, Fraser Duke and Glenn Wrightson. Reed, seeking a second term, is a strong supporter of Obama but has also been lauded for his working relationship with Republican Gov. Nathan Deal on issues including economic development and transportation.

In San Diego, 11 candidates are running to replace Bob Filner, who resigned as mayor after nearly 20 women accused him of unwanted sexual advances. If no candidate wins a majority of the votes, the two top finishers will meet in a runoff.

There are three times as many mayoral candidates in Minneapolis, where in a process known as "ranked choice voting,'' residents rank their top three choices among 35 candidates to replace retiring incumbent R.T. Rybak.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn faces off against fellow Democrat Ed Murray in the race to lead the Pacific Northwest's biggest city. Both support a $15 minimum hourly wage, new taxes and legalized marijuana.

Bostonians are also choosing a new mayor - and for the first time in two decades Thomas Menino isn't on the ballot. The candidates, state Rep. Martin Walsh and City Council member John Connolly, are both Democrats.

Walsh, a former union official before his election to the House in 1997, is leaning on support from labor organizations. Connolly tried to make education his core issue and was hoping an army of "moms" would help propel him into the top office in New England's largest city.

Voters are also considering more than 30 ballot measures in several states, ranging from raising the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour from $7.25 in New Jersey to an effort in Washington state that would require the labeling of all foods containing genetically modified ingredients.

A key ballot issue in Colorado will determine taxes on legalized recreational marijuana sales, which begin in January. Proposition AA asks voters whether to approve a 15% pot excise tax to pay for school construction, plus an extra 10% sales tax to fund marijuana enforcement. The taxes could bring in $70 million annually, although marijuana proponents say the drug should be taxed at lower rates, like beer.

Proponents of the tax, which include pot legalization advocates, argue it's a chance to prove the marijuana industry can benefit communities. They also see it as honoring the will of voters who approved the recreational use of marijuana last year with the assurance that there would be a tax to fund school construction.

Voters in 11 northern Colorado counties will also vote on whether they want to secede from the state. The measure would form a 51st state, Northern Colorado. But even if approved, it would require state and federal approval.

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