Election Preview: United States 2009

Odd-numbered years are generally not very big election years in the United States, with only a few races and the like, but this year’s been a bit more interesting. The major races to watch in the November 3 off-year elections in the US are two gubernatorial races: New Jersey and Virginia, a mayoral race in New York City (practically a gubernatorial election), various referendums and initiatives including on gay issues-related votes in Maine and Washington State, and finally two special elections in two congressional districts: NY’s 23rd and California’s 10th. Here’s a preview of the races to watch on Tuesday.

New Jersey (Governor)

New Jersey, despite the negative stereotypes, is an affluent state (second most affluent after Maryland) including some very affluent New York suburbs. However, certain areas of New Jersey are poorer, are the stereotypes stems from poorer areas such as Newark, Trenton and Camden. Despite its wealth, New Jersey is not a right-wing stronghold and has a strong Democratic lean since the ’90s, due to the moderate nature of upper-middle-class suburbanites (out of touch with a Republican Party which is more and more of a Christian right Southern party), student towns (Princeton) and an ethnically diverse population, around 14% Latino and 15% black; with large minority enclaves in Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, Trenton and Camden. Obama won New Jersey by a 15.5% margin in 2008, and the last Republican candidate to carry the state was George HW Bush in 1988.

New Jersey last elected a Republican Governor, Christine Todd Whitman, who held office from 1994 till 2002. Jim McGreevey, a Democrat, won the 2001 election but resigned in 2004 following a scandal, but he resigned later than planned to prevent a special election in 2004. Jon Corzine, a former US Senator and businessman, won the 2005 election defeating Republican incumbent Doug Forrester.

Jon Corzine (D) 53.47%
Doug Forrester (R) 43.02%
8 Others 3.51%

Faced with rising unemployment and the endemic corruption of New Jersey (in particular the NJ Democrats), Jon Corzine faces a tough race for re-election. He faces Republican Chris Christie, a former US Attorney and Independent centrist candidate Chris Daggett, former head of the EPA in New Jersey. Christie, although socially conservative, has made ‘change’ and economic reform the hallmark of his campaign. He was also the more moderate candidate in the Republican primary, in which he defeated conservative-libertarian (especially on economic stuff) candidate Steve Lonegan. Chris Daggett, a former liberal Republican and former regional head of the EPA, has achieved significant success in polls as a centrist-environmentalist Independent. It is thought that most of Daggett’s support in polls is ‘soft’ and is a protest vote for people dissatisfied with Corzine but uneasy with Christie, who has also had his share of controversy (some of it silly, like his obesity).

Christie had a commanding lead throughout the summer, but questions over the substance of his plans and also a massive campaign by Corzine including an event with Obama (still popular in the state) have allowed Corzine to close the gap, but have allowed Daggett to poll double-digits, up to 14% or so. Daggett has fallen off a bit, down to 6-10% recently, and the race between the top two contenders remains very close. Pollster’s rolling average of all polls shows a narrow Corzine lead, which I have adjusted to be 41.3% vs. 40.4% for Christie (Daggett: 12.6%) after exclusion of partisan polls. CQPolitics rates this as too close to call.

New Jersey’s first ever Lt. Governor will be elected, as a running mate for the Governor-elect. Christie’s running mate is Kim Guadagno, Corzine’s running mate is Loretta Weinberg while Frank J. Esposito is Daggett’s running mate.

All 80 seats in the NJ General Assembly, the lower house, are up for re-election. The Democrats hold 48, the Republicans 31 and there is one vacancy. There are 40 districts, each electing 2 Representatives. Amusingly, none of these districts have split their Representatives 1-1 this session. The Republicans will pick-up atleast 1 or 2 seats. Two State Senate by-elections are being held in safe Democratic districts.

Virginia (Governor)

Virginia has seen some important political movements since the 1960s. Like most of the South, it used to be dominated by the conservative (and racist) Dixiecrat organization (the Byrd Organization in Virginia, named for Dixiecrat Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr.). However, it was never the Democratic stronghold like the Deep South states were, though the only post-Reconstruction presidential elections in Virginia won by the Republicans were 1928 (anti-Catholic vote against the Catholic Democratic nominee), 1952 and 1956 (Eisenhower’s victories). The Republicans first broke through in the rural areas of the Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia and rural non-mining area in southwestern Virginia. The most Dixiecratic/Deep Southern areas were in south-eastern Virginia (which also have significant black populations), though these areas switched to the Republicans in response to the Republican’s southern strategy. The state has been won in presidential races by Republican candidates in all elections since 1964, helped by a Republican base in rural, white Virginia and affluent exurban areas in Northern Virginia (NoVA). However, Obama won the state by a 6.3% margin, due mostly to the growth of NoVA and NoVA’s movement towards the Democrats in response to the Republican’s rightwards drift.

Despite the state’s Republican lean nationally, Virginia has elected two Democratic Governors in a row. Mark Warner, now a US Senator, won in 2001 and he was succeeded in 2005 by Tim Kaine, now DNC chairman. Virginia also elected the first African-American Governor in the nation, Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, in 1989. Virginian Governors are term-limited, so Tim Kaine isn’t eligible to run for re-election (and neither was Warner, despite his massive popularity). The 2005 results are below:

Tim Kaine (D) 51.72%
Jerry Kilgore (R) 45.99%
Russell Potts (I) 2.22%Write-ins 0.08%

The Democrats face a tough fight to retain Virginia. State Senator Creigh Deeds, the most conservative candidate in the Democratic primary, defeated former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe and former State Delegate Brian Moran, the most liberal candidate, by a large margin in the primary. Attorney General Bob McDonnell, who defeated Deeds in a very close race for Attorney General in 2005, won the Republican nomination without opposition. There are no third party candidates.

Deeds has led a pretty poor campaign, a far cry from Corzine’s campaign in NJ and has been massively outspent. He has trailed McDonnell by an ever-increasing margin since early June. While Deeds had a brief upswing when he leaked a controversial thesis written by McDonnell when he was attending university, this has pretty much backfired on Deeds with McDonnell successfully killing the issue and spinning it to blame Deeds of negative campaigning. Deeds trails around 54-42 and is likely to lose by a large margin. CQPolitics rates this race as Republican favoured. I could even say Safe Republican myself.

Incumbent Republican Lt. Governor Bill Bolling (VA’s Lt. Governor is elected separately) and Republican Attorney General candidate Ken Cuccinelli are favoured to win their respective races. All 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for grabs: as of dissolution, the Republicans held 53, the Democrats 43 and there were two Independents (caucusing with Republicans) and two Democratic-held vacancies. The Republicans are favoured to increase their majority by a few seats.

New York City (Mayoral)

New York City, with its population of 8,363,710 is larger than a lot of states, so it’s Mayor is obviously a major political player and the office holds prestige. New York City, with its large multi-cultural population, its liberal-artsy population and its affluent liberals in Manhattan, is a Democratic stronghold with the only Republican holdouts being Orthodox Jewish, Italian or Russian areas in Queens, and more conservative white-Italian Staten Island. Obama won NYC by a large margin, breaking 70% in Queens and Brooklyn and 80% in the Bronx and Manhattan. John McCain won Staten Island.

However, New York has elected a Republican Mayor since 1993, when it elected liberal Republican Rudy Giuliani. Democrat-turned-liberal Republican Michael Bloomberg, the very wealthy incumbent Mayor narrowly won the 2001 election against Democrat Mark Green and was re-elected in a landslide over Democrat Fernando Ferrer. Bloomberg’s winning coalition in 2005, by view of a map, appears to be the traditional Republican base, in addition to traditionally Democratic-voting whites and a good showing with blacks (who didn’t like Ferrer). Bloomberg has since registered as an Independent, leaving the Republican Party.

Bloomberg was successful in removing the two-term limit in favour of a three-term limit, allowing him to run for a third term, which he is favoured to win. Since New York’s election law allows fusion, aka a candidate appearing on the ballot under two party etiquettes, Bloomberg won the nomination of the Republican Party and the centrist Independence Party. In 2005, he had won the Republican, Independence and Liberal (the Liberal Party is now dead)  ballot lines. He faces African-American City Comptroller Bill Thompson, the Democratic candidate as well as a flurry of minor candidates including Conservative candidate Stephen Christopher and Green candidate Billy Tallen.

Bloomberg leads Thompson by a large margin: Bloomberg has around 53% against 38-42% for Thompson. While Bloomberg’s margin will probably be slightly smaller than his 2005 margin, there’s no doubt that he’ll probably win a comfortable victory.

New York’s 23rd CD special election

New York's 23rd CD

A special election is being held in New York’s 23rd congressional district following the nomination of incumbent Republican Representative John M. McHugh as Secretary of the Army by President Barack Obama. NY-23 covers most of northern upstate New York, touching the Canadian border and Lake Ontario and including the cities of Watertown, Plattsburgh, Oswego, Oneida, Massena and Ogdensburg. The district is largely rural with a few outposts of small industry, mostly struggling paper mills along the St. Lawrence waterway. Tourism is also an important source of income for Watertown, close to Ontario, as well as the tourist spots in the Adirondack Mountains. The district is largely Republican, though the brand of Republicanism in upstate New York is largely old moderate Yankee Republicanism. The Democrats tend to be strong at the federal level in the district’s northernmost counties, bordering Canada. It gave George W. Bush 51% of the vote in 2004 against John Kerry, and Obama carried the district  with 52% against 47% for John McCain. Representative John M. McHugh won 65% of the vote against token Democratic opposition in 2008, and this area hasn’t elected a Democrat since the 1870s. Normally, one would expect the Republicans to hold this district easily and making this special election a typical boring done-deal. But no. It’s now one of the most interesting races.

The Republicans nominated State Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava (Dede), who represents AD-122 (parts of Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties). Scozzafava is a far cry from the Republican Party of 2009: not only is she pro-choice but she also supports gay marriage. She received, due to fusion voting, the endorsement of the Independence Party. The Democrats, originally tapped to nominate State Senator Darrel Aubertine nominated Plattsburgh attorney Bill Owens, who is pretty much a Blue Dog conservative Democrat, and probably to the right of Scozzafava, atleast on social issues. The Conservative Party, a semi-relevant third party which operates in New York thanks to fusion voting and it’s usual endorsement of Republicans (given that they’re right-wing enough for them, the CPNY is quite right-wing), obviously were not pleased at Dede’s nomination and businessman Doug Hoffman, defeated by Dede in the Republican primary, won the Conservative nomination.

Hoffman’s candidacy got off the ground with the endorsement of the staunchly neoliberal Club for Growth and he received the endorsements of a number of Republican big-wigs, including the crazy contingent (Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Steve King, Jim DeMint, Rick Santorum and all the talk radio guys) and saner conservatives including Rick Perry and George Pataki. He went from 19% in polls in September to 35% in late October. At the same time, Dede fell to third in polls while Owens gained from the division of the right to win a plurality first place in most independent polls.

Then today. Scozzafava announced that she was suspending her campaign without making an endorsement. While she’ll remain on the ballot and still pull a respectable share, like 5-10% or so, this race is effectively a Democratic vs. Conservative race. It is suspected most of Dede’s support will flow to Hoffman, making him the new favourite to win. He will caucus with the Republicans if elected.

A Twitter status update from PPP (a pollster)  just now has said that they’re finding that Hoffman is now polling 45-46%.

California’s 10th CD special election

California's 10th CD

A general election will be held in California’s 10th congressional district after the nomination of Democratic Representative Ellen Tauscher to the office of Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security by President Barack Obama. CA-1o is located in San Francisco Bay area, including the cities of Fairfield, Antioch, Livermore and a part of Concord. It is a largely old affluent suburban district, with a population split between older suburbanites and young professionals. Although slightly economically conservative, its social liberalism and environmentalism makes it a Democratic-leaning district, and Obama won 65% of the vote in the district. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did win the district with 56% in his 2006 re-election bid. As per California law, a free-for-all open primary was held in September in which Lt. Governor John Garamendi won the Democratic nomination. He faces Republican attorney David Harmer, Green candidate Jeremy Cloward, American Independent (yes, George Wallace’s party) candidate Jerome Denham and Peace and Freedom candidate Mary McIlroy. The Peace and Freedom Party is a socialist party operating only in California, and the AIP, George Wallace’s party in 1968, maintains ballot status only in California as a right-wing conservative outfit.

While Tauscher won 65% of the vote here in 2008 and the Democratic candidates won a combined 65% in the open primary; Garamendi is having a tougher time due to a controversy over his residence, which has been judged to be outside of CA-10. In addition, while this district is socially liberal, favouring the Democrats, it is closer to the Republicans on fiscal issues and Harmer’s campaign, focused on fiscal issues is a smart bet. A SurveyUSA poll, the only independent poll here, shows a 10-point lead for Garamendi: 50-40, with 6% for other candidates (Green, AIP, PF) and 4% undecided. Still, Garamendi should have an easy win though with a smaller margin than Tauscher had in 2008.

Maine’s Question 1 and Washington’s Referendum 71

Two homosexual-related issues are up for a vote on November 3. In Maine, voters will be asked whether or not the new law recognizing same-sex marriage should be rejected (A Yes vote would reject gay marriage, a No vote would keep it). The race seems rather close, but No has been leading very narrowly in most polls, probably due to their better campaign. The Yes campaign has been mostly scaremongering, and dominated by the idea that a No vote would mean that ‘they’ would ‘teach’ gay marriage in Maine schools, whatever that means.

Washington holds a referendum on Referendum 71, which asks voters to approve or reject the new law expanding domestic partnerships, which is pretty much gay marriage without the word marriage. A vote in favour would approve the law, and a vote against would reject the law. So, the opposite of Maine. The Approve R-71 has had a pretty safe lead, and Washington will probably approve the law. Maybe a large part of the reason the vote in Washington is having a easier time is because it doesn’t include the hot-button words ‘gay marriage’, which makes a large number of people flip out.

Other local elections and initiatives are on the ballots in a number of states on November 3 in the US, but there are the main issues.

Posted on November 1, 2009, in California, Election Preview, Maine, New Jersey, New York, U.S.A., Virginia, Washington. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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