There is always the tendency to over-interpret election results, especially in a cycle where very little is at stake. The few statewide races that appear on the ballot the year after a presidential contest – as is the case this year – get exaggerated coverage for that very reason.
But sometimes the results are seen as a harbinger for something or the other, be it the following year’s midterms or the next presidential campaign. In 2009, for example, Republicans ended Democratic control of the two governorships up for grabs, in New Jersey and Virginia, a signal to some that the aura of President Obama was wearing off. Sure enough, the following year, the GOP took control of the House, netting an eye-popping 63 seats.
Twenty years earlier, in 1989, things went the Democrats’ way, with abortion rights playing a huge role in their victories in the two gov. races. In addition to Douglas Wilder’s win in Virginia – which made him the first black governor in the commonwealth’s history – David Dinkins broke the racial barrier in winning the mayoralty in New York. The combination of pro-choice and minority voting strength resurfaced in Bill Clinton’s taking the White House in 1992.
Sometimes we try a tad too hard in making these election results more than they really are. And given the fact that a party split in this year’s two gov. races appears to be the likely outcome – a Republican victory in New Jersey, a Democratic one in Virginia – it’s hard to say with any certainty what 2013 will mean.
Not that everyone won’t try.
But for now, here’s a brief look at what’s at stake on Tuesday.
New Jersey – The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy may not have guaranteed Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election, but it didn’t hurt. His in-your-face approach to governing, as well as his baiting of Democrats, labor unions and journalists, have struck a chord with Garden State voters, who rarely pull the GOP lever. His Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono, is getting no traction at all; a Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday has the governor up 33 points. That Christie is positioning himself for 2016 is beyond question. Still uncertain: whether he can top the 70% of the vote Gov. Tom Kean (R) got in 1985 … and whether he can pull in a decent amount of Republican candidates to make any kind of dent in Democratic control of the state Senate and Assembly.
Virginia – This is an election between two flawed candidates. But whatever reservations voters have about Democrat Terry McAuliffe and questions about his business dealings pale by comparison to what they don’t like about Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican state attorney general. Cuccinelli is a tried and true conservative: he opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest, he is against same-sex marriage, he was one of the leaders of a national effort by GOP attorneys general to stop Obama’s Affordable Care Act. But the McAuliffe campaign and groups aligned with him are blanketing the airwaves portraying Cuccinelli as an extremist who is out to make life difficult for women. Those on the right who said Mitt Romney lost to Obama in 2012 because he was insufficiently conservative cannot make the same claim about Cuccinelli. But it’s one thing to satisfy his Tea Party base; it’s another to win centrist voters in the general election, and that doesn’t look like it’s happening; a recent Washington Post poll has McAuliffe up by double digits; among women the spread is 24 points. Adding to the Republican’s woes is that the term-limited GOP governor,Bob McDonnell, has been enmeshed in a financial scandal that has ended any role he might have played in anointing a successor. Once upon a time, McDonnell was seen as a rising star in the party. No longer.
Perhaps the only thing worth paying attention to in the Old Dominion – and the only chance for the Republicans – is the battle for attorney general. In that contest, state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) is trying to thwart the Democrats’ hopes of taking all three statewide contests, but he is no better than even against the Democratic nominee, fellow state Sen. Mark Herring. That other statewide race, for lieutenant governor, has been a disaster for the GOP from the get go. The evangelical-dominated Republican nominating convention selected a right-wing African-American minister, E.W. Jackson, as its nominee, and in the months since he has uttered one controversial comment (about gays, abortion, etc.) after another. The all-but-certain winner is state Sen. Ralph Northam (D). Worth watching is what impact, if any, a statewide Democratic sweep might mean in the elections for the state House, which has a solid GOP majority.
New York – Once, we were talking about Christine Quinn and the chances of her becoming NYC’s first female mayor. Then we were, senselessly, discussing Anthony Weiner and his hopes of redemption. That ended convincingly in the September Democratic primary, which was won by city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and he hasn’t looked back. He holds a humongous polling lead over Joe Lhota (R), a former official in the administration of Rudy Giuliani. (Latest New York Times survey among likely voters: de Blasio with a 68-23% lead.) New York is overwhelmingly Democratic, but no Democratic nominee has been elected here since David Dinkins in 1989. That will change on Tuesday. De Blasio will succeed Michael Bloomberg, the Democrat-turned-Republican-
Boston – The big news here is about who won’t be on the ballot. Thomas Menino, the city’s longest-serving mayor in history, is retiring after 20 years. Before he was first elected in 1993, Boston had a streak of Irish mayors dating back to 1930. That will resume no matter who wins on Tuesday: state Rep. Martin Walsh, who is the favorite of organized labor, or city Councilor John Connolly, a former teacher who is stressing education.
Detroit – This is a city in deep trouble, both financially – Detroit has declared bankruptcy and is currently being run by an emergency manager – and spiritually. Crime is out of control, and a previous mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, is currently in prison. The current mayor, former NBA great Dave Bing, decided not to seek re-election. The candidates in Tuesday’s election are Mike Duggan, the former head of the Detroit Medical Center, and Benny Napolean, the sheriff of Wayne County (which includes Detroit). Duggan has a huge lead. The sub-headline here: Duggan is white and Napolean is black. And Detroit hasn’t elected a white mayor since 1969. (Listen to Jerome Vaughn, the news director of station WDET, talk about the contest in this week’s Political Junkie show.)
Others – Mayors Kasim Reed in Atlanta, Frank Jackson in Cleveland, Annise Parker in Houston, Tomas Regalado in Miami and Chris Coleman in St. Paul are generally considered odds-on favorites for another term. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is seen as struggling in his bid for re-election. Close/interesting races in Charlotte and Minneapolis, among others.
Trick or Treat. With Halloween approaching, we’re reminded of these great buttons from mayoral campaigns of the past. From left to right:William F. Buckley Jr. (NYC, 1965); Louise Day Hicks (Boston, 1967); Mario Procaccino (NYC, 1969).
Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week — some serious, some not — on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin.
Political Junkie segments on the radio. Check out my schedule to see/hear where I’ll be yakking next.
And Don’t Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton,
ON THE CALENDAR:
Nov. 5 – ELECTION DAY. Highlights: Gov. races in New Jersey and Virginia. Mayoral races in New York City, Detroit and Boston, among others. GOP runoff in Alabama’s 1st CD, which was vacated by Jo Bonner (R) in August.
Nov. 16 – Runoff in Louisiana’s 5th CD to fill the vacancy left by Rodney Alexander (R), who resigned to join the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Nov. 19 – Special mayoral election in San Diego to fill the post vacated by Bob Filner (D), who resigned after a sexual harassment scandal.
Dec. 17 – Special election in Alabama’s 1st CD.
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This Day In Political History: The House Judiciary Committee meets for the first time to discuss procedures for a potential impeachment investigation of President Nixon. The Nixon Administration has been under fire for alleged illegal actions involving the aftermath of a 1972 break-in at the Watergate building in Washington that housed the Democratic National Committee. In the Senate, California Democrat John Tunney becomes the second senator to call for Nixon’s resignation, following Daniel Inouye (D) of Hawaii (Oct. 30, 1973).
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