Glimpse into battle over GOP's future
UNDATED — Governor’s races today in Virginia and New Jersey have been anticipated as barometers of next year’s midterm congressional elections. A U.S. House race in upstate New York may prove more meaningful.
The New Jersey campaign has been a referendum on the Democratic incumbent, Governor Jon Corzine, 62, and his record on property taxes, roads and other local issues. In Virginia, where Republican Bob McDonnell, 55, leads Democrat Creigh Deeds, 51, the race has turned on traditional concerns of taxes and transportation.
The New York election, in contrast, is a window onto a battle between moderate and conservative Republicans over the party’s future.
Republicans including former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin endorsed Doug Hoffman, a Conservative, over the choice of local party leaders, Dede Scozzafava, 49. Scozzafava, who was criticized for her support for abortion rights, dropped out over the weekend, leaving Hoffman to face Bill Owens, 60, the Democratic candidate. Scozzafava endorsed Owens.
Hoffman’s rise also reflects the emerging ability of grassroots activists to push a candidate that is more aligned with conservative positions on fiscal and social issues.
“Within the Republican Party it remains quite clear the strategy is to remain on the right,” said Julian Zelizer, a politics expert at Princeton University in New Jersey.
‘Don’t Move To The Center’
"The GOP sends a strong signal to other candidates ahead of 2010 with this: don't move to the center," Zelizer said.
At the same time, he said, “New Jersey and Virginia are like any off-year election; it’s very hard to see what the meaning is.”
Also in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a 12 percentage-point lead over the Democratic candidate, William C. Thompson Jr., according to a poll by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University released Nov. 2. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Voters in Boston, Houston, Miami, Detroit, Seattle and Atlanta also will select mayors.
In Maine and Washington state, opponents of same-sex marriages will attempt to roll back rights extended to gay and lesbian couples. Voters will decide whether to reject marriage laws that granted the same rights to gays as those given to heterosexual marriages.
The New York congressional seat held by Republican Representative John McHugh since 1993 became empty when he was named Army secretary.
Scozzafava, a state Assemblywoman chosen by local Republican leaders to compete in the special election, also was targeted because of her support for same-sex marriage and President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed her, saying the party needed to be more inclusive. Palin and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty lined up behind Hoffman.
David Carney, a former political director for President George H.W. Bush, said Scozzafava was pressured out by voters, not party leaders.
“The political elite missed the point,” he said. “It’s the voters having a say.”
The Virginia race has centered primarily on local concerns, not Obama, said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington.
In a Washington Post poll conducted Oct. 22-25, 70 percent of Virginia voters said Obama, who has campaigned for Deeds, wouldn’t determine their vote. McDonnell has led every poll of Virginia voters since July.
New Jersey’s race is much closer, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Nov. 1.
“It’s going to be cliffhanger,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
The Virginia contest has been regarded as the most likely to reflect national sentiment, with no incumbent running on a previous record.
The state also has a 30-year history of electing governors from the party outside the White House. “For whatever reason, they always vote thumbs down on the president’s party,” said Rhodes Cook, editor of a nonpartisan political newsletter in Virginia.
Deeds, a state senator, has been criticized by White House officials frustrated with his strategy, which they said focused too much on a thesis paper McDonnell wrote in graduate school in which he called working women “detrimental” to the family.
Obama campaigned for Deeds last week in Virginia and the president’s grassroots campaign network, Organizing for America, also is working for the Democratic candidate.
“These turnout efforts obviously depend on enthusiasm for the candidate himself,” said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington.
In New Jersey, Corzine in the final weeks of the campaign has closed a polling deficit with Republican Christopher Christie, who had an initial lead of as much as 12 percent in a July 12 Quinnipiac poll. Christopher Daggett, an independent, is running third.
Obama traveled to the state on three occasions to stump for Corzine, including a Nov. 1 trip that included appearances at voter rallies in Camden and Newark.
Patrick Murray, a professor of political science and pollster at West Long Branch, New Jersey-based Monmouth University, said Christie’s support dropped as he was unable to convince voters he was a credible alternative to the incumbent. A Republican last won a statewide election in New Jersey in 1997, when incumbent Governor Christine Whitman defeated challenger James McGreevey.