Saturday, July 04, 2009

2009 Governor Races

Happy Independence Day Weekend!

Much of the political talk currently centers on a surprising decision by a leading Republican 2012 Presidential potential candidate. In addition to that, the personal behavior of a couple others of the early GOP names might have already winnowed the field long before a vote is cast. In fact, the party might already have a clear front runner.

But before the Presidential sweepstakes begin, and before the national campaign year of 2010 is officially underway, this off-year of 2009 once again provides us with two Gubernatorial contests in the states of New Jersey and Virginia. Since they are the location of the main action this year, you can expect both parties and the media to devote much attention to the results. Sometimes, as in the years of 1993 and 2005, these results can portend a strong showing for a particular party in the next year's midterm elections. Other times though, such as in 2001, a party can win both offices from the opposition party and still do poorly the next year.

Republicans hopes are up though in regards to these two states. For one thing, both of them have a tradition going back to the 1980s in New Jersey and the 1970s in Virginia, of the party that does not hold the White House winning these Governorships. For the GOP, it would be a great psychological victory to take over both Governorships, one Eastern, and one Southern, from Democrat rule, which also both happen to be in states won by Barack Obama.

Let's start in New Jersey where wealthy first term Democrat Governor Jon Corzine is trailing his Republican opponent, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie in the polls. While some have shown the Corzine deficit in double digits, one other this week has shown about a six point difference with more undecided. One thing that remains consistent though is that Corzine is unable to poll over the 40% mark. Since Christie, who defeated a more conservative opponent in this year's GOP primary, has already surpassed the 50 percent mark in some polls, that seems to be a strong sign for him.

While Christie is considered the type of moderate Republican who can achieve statewide victory in the Garden State, Democrats like to point out that Republican hopes of victory have been dashed before in the state as undecided voters ultimately broke late for Democrats. A couple differences from those elections though involve the fact that those were primarily in U.S. Senate elections, where a national trend for Democrats on the federal level might have been more difficult to stop than running against an unpopular incumbent at the statewide level. While Democrats have won the last two, Republicans are certainly not adverse to winning the Governorship of New Jersey.

Additionally, Corzine's deficit seems to be more significant than any perceived Democrat weakness of the other candidates at this stage in the game. Of course, the number of undecided voters will matter, but they would be more likely to break against the incumbent at this point, and if the polls that show Christie already flirting with 50% are accurate, it will be very hard for Corzine to hold on.

While Corzine's job approval and popularity numbers have been low for quite a while, Democrats still hold on to hope that his personal wealth can once again be used to his political advantage, by outspending Christie, particularly on negative ads. They also hope that a Presidential appearance by Barack Obama in the liberal leaning state might also help. It might be for those reasons that this race is not considered a foregone conclusion, and that it bears watching, but still, Corzine has found himself in a hole very similar to the 2007 situation of the then unpopular Republican Governor of Kentucky.

We will examine where this race stands in August, and in particular when the first ever Lt. Governor running mates are selected for both candidates in this state. As for this month-

July Rating: Leans Republican

Moving on to Virginia, we find a traditionally conservative state, but one where Democrats have shown increased strength in some recent elections, in large part due to the increasing population in the Washington D.C. suburban areas.

With incumbent Democrat Tim Kaine limited to just one four year term, and now primarily focused on his duties as DNC Chair, the party has nominated State Senator Creigh Deeds to face off against Republican Bob McDonnell in a rematch of 2005 race for Attorney General, which was very narrowly won by McDonnell. The Republican has since followed the recent political tradition of resigning the office of Attorney General to focus on a campaign for Governor.

Democrats are seen to have received a break when Deeds was the solid victor in a contentious primary over two more liberal opponents. Deeds is said to fit the statewide mold of Kaine and former Governor and now U.S. Senator Mark Warner. If anything, Deeds may even be more conservative than them on issues such as guns. That has caused some left-wing blogosphere grumbling about Deeds and some talk that some prominent Democrats in the state might be reluctant to support him. Still though, most believe that Deeds' nomination easily gives the Democrats their best chance against the politically formidable McDonnell.

While pre-primary polls showed McDonnell leading Deeds (and both other Democrats) by double digit margins, the new Democrat nominee definitely received a post-primary boost in some polls, showing him a few points ahead of McDonnell to more recently being in a virtual tie. Whether that lasts though remains to be seen as the internals of those polls showed more Republican leaning claiming to be undecided at this point. If McDonnell can solidify that support in the debates and throughout the remainder of the campaign, he should still be in good shape for a very competitive victory.

One potential downside for Democrats is that Deeds has the potential to raise and spend less money than the others the party could have put up and in that regard, McDonnell should have the advantage in this race. That was the case four years ago, in McDonnell's narrow victory over Deeds in the down ballot race as well, in the same year where the Democrat candidate for Governor was dispatching his Republican opponent at the top of the ticket by a surprisingly large margin. It is believed a large part of the reason Deeds came as close as he did four years ago was that he had the strong support of the National Rifle Association in the state. Perhaps because of the national political attention paid to this race and the changing political atmosphere, Deeds will probably not be able to count on NRA support this time.

In 2005, the Democrat nominee, who happened to have won a previous statewide campaign managed to defeat another recent Republican Attorney General of Virginia in large part because of much stronger debate performances and a better speaking style. This time, McDonnell is seen as being a little "smoother" than Deeds and that could be a factor, as the Republican seems anxious for several debates with his opponent.

It will be worth watching polls over the next couple of months in this state to see if the race will truly be a tossup in the end, or if as I suspect, because of historical trends, campaign cash, and the fact that he already defeated his opponent before for a lesser office, the edge still belongs to McDonnell for a GOP pickup.

July Rating: Leans Republican