Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Update: Will Virginia and New Jersey be Canaries in the 2010 Coal Mine?

Back in early September I urged you to watch the off year elections in VA and NJ very closely, arguing that two GOP victories would indicate a high level of GOP intensity, Independent willingness to vote GOP, and, most deadly, Democratic apathy. Today marks the one week countdown to Election Day 2009 and I think that it is a good time to revisit the states. There appears to be nothing left to do in VA other than ask how large Republican Bob McDonnell's margin of victory will be.  The three most recent polls show McDonnell crushing Democrat Creigh Deeds by 11, 15, and 17 points. Despite (or perhaps because of) high profile help from Bill Clinton, and other leading Democrats, Deeds is in fee-fall. Now comes word that President Obama will campaign for Deeds today (October 27). This could prove to be embarrassing for the president if Deeds goes on to lose by double digits in a state that is central to Obama's reelection plans. As if the news in VA could not get worse for Democrats, Republicans appear poised to win (reclaim) all statewide posts.

New Jersey is bit more complicated. Back in September Republican Chris Christie appeared to be heading for certain victory over the Democrat John Corzine, the state's unpopular incumbent governor. But things began to shift during late September and early October as Independent candidate Chris Daggett gained traction after Corzine launched a scathing barrage of negative ads seeking to discredit Christie - even making multiple (not so veiled) references to Christie's weight problem. As a result, Christie began to lose support as Daggett's support began to rise. Interestingly, Corzine's support has budged little - stuck around 40%. Normally that would be a death sentence for an incumbent, but the presence of a strong third-party candidate meant that Corzine could win with only 40% support. Although Christie's once clear lead over Corzine has evaporated the most recent polls from NJ suggest that Christie has rebounded (slightly) and that Daggett is losing steam. The last three polls have Christie ahead by 2, 3, and 4 points - certainly too close for comfort, but all show a trend back toward Christie, away from Daggett, and absolutely no momentum for Corzine - despite high profile visits from the President and Vice President and reports that Corzine is outspending Christie by a 3 to 1 margin.

At this point - one week out - I predict with confidence that Republicans will sweep VA setting the stage for a tough battle for Obama in 2012. I also predict that Chris Christie will win a very narrow victory in reliably blue NJ (probably a 2% margin). Democrats will argue that the races have no national implications, Republicans will claim that they represent a repudiation of the Democratic agenda - the truth will be somewhere in between. Expect a clear Republican victory in both states to embolden the party and to further depress Democratic enthusiasm and momentum. A clear Republican victroy in both states will also cause many a Blue Dog Democrat to reconsider their support for a range of issues from health reform to cap and trade as the 2010 midterms begin to take center stage.

The wild card to watch next week is the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District. A reliably Republican distrcit where the GOP nominated a liberal Republican, Dede Scozzafava, to run against Democrat Bill Owens. Not pleased with the Scozzafava choice the Conservative Party nominated conservative Republican Doug Hoffman. Initial fears within the GOP were that Scozzafava and Hoffman would split the GOP vote and deliver the district to Owens - but two recent polls (each with small sample sizes) show that Hoffman has pulled into the lead. Though the polls showing a Hoffman lead were partisan polls with small sample sizes a review of polls taken since late September show a clear trend in the race. Democrat Owens has been stuck at about 30%, Scozzafava has been losing support, and Hoffman has been rising. If Hoffman wins this race it will show that conservative voters - many of whom sat out the 2008 election - are re-energized. In mid-term and off-year elections few things matter more than an energized base.

See you next Tuesday night...

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