Archive for the 'NJ-Gov' Category

Exit poll nuggets

I don’t have anything fundamental to add to my admittedly too lengthy recap of Tuesday’s results, but a look at the exit polls of some of the night’s most important races did reveal some interesting pieces of information. So here are, in no particular order, a few additional nuggets to help explain what happened on Tuesday night.

Virginia’s turnout differential really was as pronounced as Democrats feared

Over the summer, pollsters like PPP and SUSA found that a majority of likely voters had voted for John McCain in 2009 whereas Obama had won the state by 6% in 2008. That was a sign of trouble for Democrats, and Tuesday’s exit poll confirms that these projections were accurate: 51% of voters said they’d voted for McCain, while only 43% responded Obama. (So we’re clear: These aren’t voters’ presidential preference today but the person for whom they actually did vote last year.)

This huge discrepancy between the composition of last year’s electorate and this year’s electorate does not entirely explain McDonnell’s victory, but it does account for it to a great degree: Based on exit poll results among Obama voters (they went for Deeds 88% to 12%) and McCain voters (they went for McDonnell 95% to 5%), we can easily calculate that, had the electorate’s composition had been the same as in 2008, McDonnell would have only won 51% to 49%.

It’s up to Democrats to ensure the 2010 electorate looks more than 2008’s than 2009’s. That means motivating African-Americans, who made up only 16% of voters compared to 20% last year, and 18-29 year olds, who made up a shockingly low 10% compared to 22% last year.

Measuring New Jersey’s turnout discrepancy

A big surprise in New Jersey’s exit poll, which finds that Tuesday’s electorate had a bigger share of African-American (14%) than that of 2008 (12%). Given reports that part of Corzine’s loss is due to insufficient turnout in minority-heavy counties like Hudson, this is an unexpected finding.

On the other hand, the exit poll clearly points to a big turnout gap at the level of age (9% of Tuesday’s voters were under 29, compared to 17% in 2008) and at the level of voters’ partisan affiliation: While Democrats had a 16% edge over Republicans in 2008, now 41% of the electorate was Democratic and 31% was Republican.

Airing too many attacks can backfire

Corzine used his fortune to swamp Christie under a barrage of attack ads. While that undoubtedly helped fuel his comeback starting in early September, it also might led to a saturation that undermine the governor’s credibility: A very high 73% say that Corzine attacked Christie unfairly, versus 62% who say the same about the Republican. Virginia’s exit poll tells us the same thing, since 65% of voters said Deeds attacked McDonnell unfairly while only 51% thought the reverse; that helps explain the ineffectiveness of the Democrats’ master thesis attack.

Of course, we don’t need to look at exit polls to know Deeds’s focus on McDonnell’s master’s thesis did not get him anywhere; quite the contrary, it made him waste his time when he should have found other ways to motivate the Democratic base. But the exit poll does contain a piece of information that perfectly symbolizes the utter failure of this campaign argument: McDonnell narrowly won among full-time working women, the very constituency Deeds accused him of demeaning in a series of advertisement.

New York City was racially divided

We often see voting patterns that are highly polarized along racial lines, but I am not sure I had ever seen results like that of New York City’s mayoral election. What’s shocking isn’t so much the difference between white and black voters but the difference between blacks and white Democrats. While the former massively voted Bill Thompson (76% to 23%), as did Hispanics (55% to 43%), white Democrats were just as decisive in choosing Mike Bloomberg, who was running on the GOP line (59% to 38%).

Looking back at the 2008 presidential race, the only example I can find of such extreme racial polarization that white Democrats wouldn’t cast a ballot for their party’s nominee is Alabama: On his way to winning 88% of the white vote, McCain got 51% of white Democrats to vote for him, versus 47% who voted for Obama. In South Carolina, on the other hand, Obama got 80% among white Democrats (McCain won 73% of the overall white vote).

Why did the Democratic establishment not treat Thompson seriously despite the signs that were pointing to a potential backlash ever since September? Given how rare it is for white Democrats not to support their party’s candidate, these exit polls certainly suggest that Thompson’s race played a role in his failure to be taken as a legitimate contender. The refrain we’ve been hearing from Democratic officials since Election Day - ‘if only Weiner had run’ - makes this issue all the more urgent to confront, since there’s no obvious reason to me to think that a U.S. representative would have been a brilliant candidate whereas a city comptroller is only a token one.

In New York, a backlash over term-limits and campaign spending

In the quest for explanations for New York City’s tight vote, two obvious reasons emerged within minutes of the results: Voters were angry that Bloomberg was even running for a third-term, and they were found his campaign spending grotesque enough that many were willing to oust him for it.

The exit poll confirms that both factors impacted the results: A full 45% say that Bloomberg’s decision to lift term limits made them less likely to vote for him, and 76% of those chose Thompson. (9% say it made them more likely to vote for Bloomberg, which goes without saying since they wouldn’t have been able to vote for him if he hadn’t changed the law.) Also 42% of voters say that Bloomberg’s campaign spending was an important factor in their choice; Thompson handily won among that group.

The morning after

Election Day wasn’t kind to Democrats. By conquering the night’s two biggest prizes, Republicans broke the spell that kept them from winning nearly any competitive race since Election Night 2004.

Before we even ascribe any national meaning to these results, let’s make sure we state their primary consequence, for it is too often overlooked: Bob McDonnell’s triumph puts Virginia under complete Republican control for the next 4 years, while Chris Christie’s victory hands New Jersey’s executive branch to the GOP. If we forget why this might be important, we need not look any further than the current federal debates over the public option’s opt-in or opt-out mechanisms. This also strengthens VA Republicans hands in the next round of redistricting (NJ uses a bipartisan commission).

Yet, this is first and foremost a national blog, and the GOP’s victories have obvious resonance at the federal level. That Virginia’s gubernatorial race wasn’t considered competitive in the campaign’s final week shouldn’t obscure the fact that it was a far more telling test of the country’s political mood than New Jersey’s.

In the latter contest, the absolutely dominant factor was Corzine’s dismally low approval rating: It takes a series of unlikely miracles for an incumbent to win re-election when he has spent 10 months trailing massively. I spent most of the year insisting Corzine was toast. Only when Daggett jumped in the race did it become possible for the governor to prevail, since he no longer had to top 50%. Had Daggett received between 15% and 20%, a level he reached in mid-October polls, Corzine could have pulled an unlikely comeback. But at the end of the day, undecided voters and Daggett’s supporters decided that their desire to oust Corzine was stronger than their reluctance to vote for a Republican.

In that sense, yes, Christie’s victory reveals that there is a point at which New Jersey’s notoriously Democratic-leaning independents resign themselves to pulling the GOP lever.

The day Obama’s approval rating dips under 40%, he can worry about that - but by then, he’ll have enough problems that Corzine’s defeat won’t look like a very useful harbinger. A more useful parallel is Democratic incumbents up for re-election in 2010 who are facing dreadful approval ratings - the first of which is Harry Reid, whose numbers are no better and who sits in a less Democratic seat. Here again, we did not need the 2009 cycle to teach us that highly unpopular incumbents are in grave danger.

Virginia, however, provides a clearer warning to Democrats. In 2008, it proved one of the most receptive to their ticket: Not only did Barack Obama and Mark Warner win statewide (completing Tom Kaine and Jim Webb’s streak) but their party picked-up 3 House seats - one of them the only surprise Democratic takeover of the night. One year later, state Republicans enjoyed a banner night: They swept the state’s 3 statewide offices by big margins, including a truly massive 59% to 41% triumph for McDonnell, while expanding their legislative majority by picking-up 7 to 8 seats in the House of Delegates.

Such a result goes beyond one’s candidate weakness - though there is a lot to say about the many failures of Creigh Deeds’s campaign; it’s an across-the-board rebuke to the party that has led the state for 8 years. And here, there is no incumbent whose low approval rating can be held responsible: The gubernatorial contest was an open seat race between two candidates who faced each other in one of the state’s tightest elections just four years ago.

It does not take profound analysis to figure out what happened to explain this abrupt halt to Democrats’ Virginia progress. The party’s base did not show up: They did not care about these elections, and they stayed at home. That McDonnell managed to win Fairfax County (!), the state’s Democratic heart, tells us all we need to know about just how wide the enthusiasm differential was.

Some of that is undoubtedly due to Deeds, whose campaign badly miscalculated - over and over again. In what most everyone had figured out would be a tough cycle to turn out the Democratic base, Deeds started by shunning the president, chose to focus on rural issues rather than Northern Virginia, ran ads bashing national Democrats’ environmental policies and absurdly said he might opt out the state of a public option two weeks from Election Day. His strategy to get out the base entirely rested on attacking his opponent’s stance on social issues by harping on the master’s thesis rather than by giving the base any reason to be excited about Deeds himself.

But the motivational challenge preceded Deeds. He failed to remedy it - in fact, he probably made it worse - but he is not responsible for it. In New Jersey, Corzine also failed to get sufficiently high turnout from Democratic strongholds like Essex County and Hudson County. In both states, minority voters and young voters were MIA yesterday: Only 10% of Virginia’s electorate was made up of people between 18-29 yesterday, compared to 21% in 2008!

This is Democrats’ main challenge heading into 2010. Recreating the Obama coalition is most probably impossible in a non-presidential race, but that’s not even what we’re even talking about. If turnout levels among the Democratic base are anywhere near what they were in Virginia yesterday, the GOP will be in for a big night in 2010.

This is why I fail to see how yesterday’s results would justify conservative Democrats insisting that the party needs to move to the center.

For one, Virginia voters approved of Obama’s performance. Second, Deeds was too far to the right to build a winning electoral coalition as a Democrat. 2010 will not feature a presidential race, so it will be up to gubernatorial and Senate candidates to motivate voters. At the very least, Democrats should be able to speak the language of their base - something which will require them to point to recognizable accomplishments. Some conservative Democrats might think their re-election prospects will be hurt if health care reform passes, but it’s hard to see Blanche Lincoln or Tom Perriello winning re-election if they help block a bill.

More base neglect: National Democrats ignore Maine and NYC

While the White House will have to endure a few days of negative coverage due to yesterday’s gubernatorial results, the biggest hit to Obama’s legacy came in two races that progressives could have prevailed had the president taken an even minimal step - local activists were looking for any gesture - towards helping gay marriage in Maine and Bill Thompson in New York City.

Combined with the Democratic establishment’s utter failure to provide Thompson any help whatsoever, this is a further piece of evidence that there’s a disconnect between party officials and base voters - a disconnect that could have dire consequences in 2010.

In Maine, we knew that the same-sex marriage vote would be tight - though, just as in California, gay rights activists were optimistic they could finally score a victory at the ballot box, which makes yesterday’s loss a particularly stinging setback. Unlike its defense for its inaction on DADT or for its judicial defense on DOMA, the White House cannot say that it’s prioritizing other issues right now and will get to gay rights eventually. The moment is past, and it cannot be walked back.

What’s particularly striking about Maine’s vote is that it came on a night that was unusually kind to gay rights. Chapel Hill elected a rare openly gay mayor - a first in North Carolina; in Houston, an openly lesbian woman came out on top of the mayoral race’s first round; in Kalamazoo, MI, voters banned discrimination based on sexual orientation; and in Washington State, RI-71, which expands domestic partnerships, is passing 51% to 49% with half of the vote counted and King County underreporting. If RI-71 passes, it would be one of the first statewide wins for gay right activists.

In NYC, it is true that polls were finding Bloomberg leading by wide margins - nothing resembling his shockingly narrow 5% victory. (I am ashamed to even treat that farce as a legitimate election, considering that Bloomberg spent between $180 and $252 of his own money per vote; that is all the more grotesque considering Bloomberg knew Thompson had nothing resembling that kind of money.) And yet, there were clear warning signs: Back in September, I argued that the unexpected ouster of councilmen who’d voted to overturn the term-limit laws suggests there’s an anger among the New York electorate that could pose a major problem for Bloomberg.

Yesterday’s results proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that a severe backlash was indeed brewing. How New York’s Democratic officials (few of whom did anything to help Thompson, starting with City Council President Christine Quinn, who played a prominent role in helping Bloomberg this year) fail to pick-up tremors of that on the ground when it had been brewing for months is beyond.

While this contest was supposed to be uneventful, Democrats are now left wondering what might have been: What if the media had treated the race a bit more competitively? What if Democratic officials like Quinn had done anything to unseat Bloomberg? What if Obama had done more than have Gibbs give the most pathetic and tepid of endorsements, one that didn’t even mention Thompson by name? What if donors had given a bit more money, just enough to ensure he would not be outspent by a margin hovering around 15:1?

I keep hearing variations of “If only Anthony Weiner had ran” today. In fact, that’s become the White House’s defense: “Maybe Anthony Weiner should have manned-up and run against Michael Bloomberg,” an aide told Politico today. Thompson came within 5% with little money and little help; why would have been better? Thompson isn’t some sort of clown: He’s the city comptroller, and a former member of the Board of Education. Why did the Democratic establishment not take Thompson seriously? I do think that’s a question the party needs to ask itself.

NY-23 ensures the GOP cannot point to 2009 as a sign of rebirth

Republicans were hoping to use yesterday’s votes to prove they were heading towards big gains in 2010. They’ve been insisting for months that they’ll pick-up a large number of seats next year (some are saying north of 30 House seats), and they’ve been so confident that all they need to do is field candidates to have Democratic incumbents fall that the NRCC has been remarkably successful at recruiting contenders against entrenched incumbents.

Had New Jersey and Virginia been the only high-profile races on the ballots yesterday, the GOP would have succeeded in making their confidence conventional wisdom - despite all the caveats to a national reading I listed above. But the special election in NY-23 ruined their plans: Democrats picked-up a House seat in a region they had not represented in 150 years.

While that election came with its own set of bizarre circumstances that make it tough to use as a harbinger of 2010 races, it makes it much harder for Republicans to claim a red tsunami is coming if they just lost a House district they should have been able to keep - especially when it comes in the heels of an unlikely Democratic save in NY-20 back in March. The fact that NY-23 had reverted back to being a two-way race in the final days of the campaign make it harder for the GOP to argue they only lost because they were divided: Owens got 49% of the vote, that’s more than Al Gore or John Kerry received in the district.

At the end of the night, Republicans might have seized two governorships, but Nancy Pelosi got two new congressmen, since John Garamendi was easily elected in the special election in CA-10. At a practical level, that provides her two additional votes on matters like the public option, which both Owens and Garamendi support. At the level of the chamber’s control, yesterday’s results solidify Democrats’ majority: They’ll now need to pick-up 41 seats in 2010 to regain the House.

Of course, NY-23 was first and foremost a test for the GOP’s internal rift - and here, I am hard pressed to tell you what the results might mean considering most everyone in the Republican Party is likely to feel emboldened by the results.

For conservatives, the special election marked one of the first times they so clearly triumphed over the establishment; that Scozzafava was a centrist to quite an uncommon degree undoubtedly helped them, but the national movement’s willingness to get whole heartedly involved in an upstate New York contest certainly puts politicians like Charlie Crist on notice.

On the other hand, moderate Republicans and establishment types like Newt Gingrich will point to Hoffman’s final defeat as proof that the party will drive itself into a wall if it moves further to the right; while it’s very unfair to compare Marco Rubio to Hoffman, contenders like him will have to argue harder for their electability than if Hoffman had pulled it off last night.

For now, the mood of the GOP electorate should allow Sarah Palin and the Club for Growth to continue putting their mark on the party: John Cornyn just announced the NRSC would not spend any money on any contested Senate primaries, and given the pressure they’ll face he’ll probably have to hold himself to that promise. But neither side is likely to yield an inch and establishment contenders will surely be very well financed. As such, this intra-GOP rift, which will be one of the next year’s most fascinating dynamics. Will conservatives be successful at beating establishment-backed candidates? Will Hoffman’s example fuel third-party bids nationwide?

Election Night: McDonnell & Christie victorious, Dems pick-up NY-23 & keep CA-10, Maine rejects gay marriage

Recap: With very few states still counting votes, it’s time to attempt a little recap of the night’s results. The night’s first theme, which is sure to dictate coverage, was gubernatorial races: the GOP decisively picked-up two large states. one, defended another. A second theme was House races: Democrats picked-up one, defended another. On these ones, more extensive analysis will have to wait until tomorrow.

A third theme were down-ballot races: Democrats got a major victory in Charlotte, but they suffered important defeats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, in Stamford, in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, in Westchester County. While NYC wasn’t expected to be tight (I had repeatedly warned that we might see a repeat of September’s term-limit backlash), the small margin by which Bloomberg prevailed is bound to add the race to Democrats’ disappointment list, leaving Thompson’s camp wondering what might have been had Thompson been taken more seriously.

A final theme was gay rights. On the one hand, this has been as friendly a night for gay rights as any Election Night I can think of: Chapel Hill elected a openly gay mayor, an openly lesbian candidate came out on top in Houston’s mayoral race (the contest goes to a runoff), Kalamazoo, MI adopted a discrimination ban, and a referendum to ratify a domestic partnership law is ahead in Washington (it’s still too close to call). On the other hand, there’s Maine, where gay marriage suffered a fairly decisive defeat. This will fuel a lot of anger among the gay rights community towards the White House, which resisted pleas that the president get involved in even a minimal way. On this one, Obama can’t say he’ll get to it later, since the moment might well have already passed.

12:50am: AP calls the “yes” victorious in the Maine referendum, so Maine overturned a law legalizing gay marriage - a stinging loss for gay rights advocates.

12:35am: Republicans win a number of close mayoral races, starting with Stamford’s (previously held by a Democrat who was not running for re-election) and St. Petersburg’s. Also, a GOP candidate came out of nowhere to win the position of Westchester County Executive in the NYC suburbs. In Nassau County, potential statewide candidate Tom Suozzi is holding on by just 400 votes with 10 precincts left - a totally unexpected result.

Democrats did get some good down-ballot news from New Jersey, however: Republicans were hoping to post some meaningful gains in the state Assembly, but they were kept their pick-up was kept a minimal level (possibly as low as 1).

12:25am: California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi is elected to Congress: CA-10 is called in his favor. This was of course entirely expected, but given the bad news Democrats received elsewhere tonight, it’s surely good for them to be able to point to these two House special elections. If nothing else, Nancy Pelosi can count on two more congressmen in the coming debate on health care.

12:20am: This time, it’s official: Owens wins NY-23, Hoffman concedes and Democrats increase their House majority. It looked quasi-certain that he could hold on, but this will spare us having to spend days following absentee ballot counting and recount proceedings. Back in mid-October, I wrote that New York’s Republican infighting “is all the more tragic for Republicans because a Democratic victory in NY-23 would make it tough for the GOP to point to New Jersey and Virginia’s governorships (assuming they pick-up both) as a harbinger of a coming red wave.” And that’s exactly what happened.

12:05am: Now, Fox News is calling NY-23 for Owens. OpenLeft makes an excellent point about absentees in this district: Most were mailed in before Scozzafava withdrew, so that very seriously limits the margin Hoffman can hope to gain among absentees. Meanwhile, there’s been almost no new counting for 45 minutes in California and Washington. Remember that a lot of the voting takes place via mail in those states, so it could take days before we get anything approaching final results - even if the contests aren’t competitive.

midnight: CNN notes that Bloomberg spent $170 per vote. I’m speechless. That’s all the more grotesque since he knew just how under-financed Thompson would be.

11:55pm: McDonnell won Fairfax County! Could there be bigger evidence that Virginia’s Democratic base did not go to the polls at all; the same is true in New Jersey, but to a far lesser degree. I don’t see anything as shocking in New Jersey returns as McDonnell’s victory in Fairfax. As such, I hardly think the night’s results will be taken as a sign the public option has to be killed or health care reform has to be abandoned (if anything, House Democrats look like they’re going to gain two new members who are in favor of the public option), but just as further evidence that a bill better pass Congress if Democrats want to avoid big losses next year.

11:50pm: What Maine voters might take away, Washington voters might give: RI-71, which would create an extensive domestic partnership system, is currently ahead 52% to 48% with 43% reporting. Looks like that will be another nail biter though; the state’s other big initiatives, a fiscally conservative TABOR-style proposal, is going down by a more decisive margin.

11:40pm: It’s still looking tough for gay marriage in Maine, as the 12,000 vote margin is holding with 65% of precincts reporting (live results are available here). Something I failed to mention now: The anti-tax initiative went down to a big defeat.

11:35pm: Are we back to 2000? Races keep being uncalled, first Bloomberg’s and now Owens’s. NBC had called it for Owens, but is now also saying that the Democrat is leading. Here’s why that might be: 10,000 absentee ballots have yet to be counted, which is far larger than Owens’s 2,600 victory (with 78% precincts reporting). In better news for Democrats, it looks like there won’t be any big surprise in CA-10: John Garamendi is ahead 56% to 40% with 22% reporting.

11:25pm: Gay marriage is not in the best of shapes in Maine: The “yes” has opened a 11,000 vote lead. (On the other hand, voters in Kalamazoo, MI voted to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation… and we’re now waiting for results out of Washington.)

11:22pm: NY-23 is being called for Bill Owens, so Democrats pick-up a House seat in NY-23. A huge upset both by the standards of the campaign’s beginning (Scozzafava was favored) and of the final days (it looked like Hoffman would benefit from Scozzafava’s withdrawal). While this is bound to relieve some Republicans who’re afraid of a proliferation of third-party bids, it’s also a huge relief for Democrats who will have something to spin: For all the Republican confidence that they’ll post big gains in 2010, they’ve lost two seats since the beginning of the year.

11:20pm: It looks like most of the remaining votes in NY-23 are from a Democratic county, so the race looks good for Owens (he leads by 4% with 74% reporting). In Maine, however, supporters of the ‘no’ are now mentioning the possibility of a recount, which is never a good sign when 46% of the precincts are still out (a 6,000 vote difference with 56% reporting).

11:15pm: The GOP has secured a majority on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, as the race was just called for Joan Orie Melvin. Not the highest-profile race, but an important one nonetheless. Combine this with other low profile results I have failed to mention - Michigan Republicans picked-up a state Senate seat in a special election - and there aren’t a lot of good news for Democrats tonight. Picking-up Charlotte’s mayorship can only get them so far.

11:10pm: Maybe I should stop looking at Maine for a while, since the lead is quite literally changing every time I press refresh. The “yes” now leading by 2,000 votes with 49% reporting. In NY-23, we are getting near the finish line (71% reporting), with Owens still ahead 49% to 45%. One election that is getting away from Democrats is the race for Pennsylvania Justice; after trailing big early, the Republican has been increasing her lead (85% are now reporting).

11:00pm: The polls have now also closed in CA-10, but eyes are more than ever turned on New York and Maine. The “no” and the “yes” are exchanging leads every time new votes are released. The “no” is currently leading by 2000 votes, with 41% of precincts reporting. In NY-23, there’s been little movement, with Owens ahead 49% to 46% (68% reporting). The county-by-county situation is getting a bit more clearer, and it looks like Hoffman is underperforming in counties he needed to do well in.

10:55pm: Mike Bloomberg is once again called the winner in New York City. As you might have gathered from prior updates, I think this “election” was a disgrace and a farce. It looks like the final margin will settle around 4%.

10:50pm: For those who are interested in New Jersey even though it’s been called, an interesting tidbit: Corzine is ahead in Bergen County with 91% reporting, which could mean that Christie becomes the first Republican to win statewide without carrying the state’s most populous county. That goes to show that Corzine’s defeat is first and foremost due to insufficient turnout in his base counties (Essex and Hudson, for instance).

10:45pm: Votes are coming in quickly in NY-23: We are already at 63% reporting, and Owens is holding on to his 49% to 45% lead; with Scozzafava at 5%, it looks like her supporters did follow her endorsement after all. But it’s still way too early to say how this might end. As for Maine, the “yes” is now ahead by… 37 votes (37% reporting).

10:40pm: It looks like Bloomberg will win a third-term (he’s leading by 3% with 89% of precincts reporting). But Thompson got little media coverage, little Democratic involvement, less than token Obama support, no contributions - any of these factors had changed, and we might be talking about Mayor Bill Thompson right now. I can find no other reason to the fact that no one treated Thompson seriously than Bloomberg’s money.

10:35pm: Maine will be a roller coaster, and the “no” is back up - this time by a more decisive 4,000 votes. 32% are reporting, so there’s still a long way to go.

10:30: I haven’t been spending a lot of time covering NY-23, though that’s arguably now Democrats last chance to spin the night as a good one. With 39% reporting, Owens is holding on to his 50% to 45% lead - the margins have been remarkably consistent all night. There are some big variations per county in this district, but I haven’t come across a county-by-county breakdown for now.

10:25pm: With 28% reporting in Maine, the “yes” is now ahead; I am unable to figure out where votes are coming from, nor why the state is so much slower at counting votes. Let’s follow that up with bad for Democrats: Virginia Republicans are having a big night, as they’ve picked up 7 seats in the House of Delegates (with an 8th potentially coming) while Bloomberg is slightly pulling away in New York - to the extent that we call a 2% victory pulling away.

10:20pm: Christie’s lead is down to 4,7%, but now that Hudson and Mercer are nearly done reporting there’s aren’t that many more obvious places from which Corzine can get votes. So all eyes now on New York’s two races (whatever happens in NYC, it was silly to call it: goes to show how Bloomberg’s 120 millions convinced everyone there was nothing to see) and Maine, where we now have a dead heat: The ‘no’ leads by just 75 votes with 26% reporting.

10:10pm: New Jersey’s Governor’s race is called for Chris Christie by the AP. This was the night’s biggest prize, and it’s the one that will dominate headlines tomorrow. Corzine mounted a very strong comeback, but he was counting on Chris Daggett siphoning votes away from Christie. That did not happen, as Daggett’s voters chose to go to Christie in the final hours. With 74% reporting, Christie is up 49,7% to 44%.

10:05pm: Owens is leading by 7% with 15% in. Wherever these voters are coming from, we already have an answer to one of our questions: Very few voters chose to stick with Scozzafava, since she’s only getting 5%. Might they have listened to her plea that they vote for Owens? Two races in which progressives’ margin is declining: The ‘NO’ is now leading by only 2% in Maine (though counting is still surprisingly slow), while Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court race is now a dead heat.

10:02pm: The New York City mayoral race is uncalled! As I noted two minutes ago, the race was tied with a third of the vote… this is fairly incredible. Might the Working Families Party and the anti-term limit repeal backlash actually cause a truly humongous upset? If Bloomberg wins narrowly, his massive overspending will look all the worse.

10pm: Burlington County went for Obama by 20%, but Christie is winning by 6% with 30% reporting… Obviously not the kind of result Democrats are hoping for right now. On the other hand, something strange might be happening in New York City? With 34% reporting, Bloomberg is only up by 1,500 votes (that’s 0,4%). I imagine outlets based themselves on exit polls, but 34% is quite a substantial share of the vote.

9:55pm: Anthony Foxx will be Charlotte’s next Mayor, the first African-American to lead the city in 22 years and the first Democrat in 16 years. This is Democrats’ first big win of the night, and while it’s clearly not on the same level as New Jersey’s governorship, it’s an important position to hold in North Carolina politics.

9:52pm: Corzine closes gap to 6%, but turnout looks to have been lower than he was hoping in places Northern Jersey counties like Essex and Hudson. But all is not lost for Democrats, since Bill Owen is leading by 11% with a non-negligeable 8% of precincts reporting. Also, one state in which Democrats appear to have had a good night is New Hampshire, though I don’t have much detail about that.

9:50pm: Maine is counting far slower than other states, and is still at 17% reporting: The “no” is holding on 52% to 48%, though the state capitol (Augusta) voted to overturn the law.

9:45pm: As a commenter very rightly pointed out, the numbers that were being reported out of Sussex County were wrong. They’ve now been reversed in Christie’s favor, which helps him increase his lead: It’s 7% all over again, with 58% reporting. Also: Bergen County has just massively reported (79%), and Christie is ahead in that key county (49% to 48%). In recent history, a Republican has never won statewide without winning Bergen.

9:42pm: Bloomberg bought himself won a third-term. No miracle for Bill Thompson, who never managed to get himself in the race. As for NY-23, I haven’t forgotten about it; it’s just that results are very slow (still 1% reporting).

9:40pm: We now have more than 53% of New Jersey reporting, and Corzine is up at 44,7%. He’s got to be disappointed at the small margin he’s getting out of Camden County, however. The fact of the matter is that some of Corzine’s strongest counties (Hudson, Essex) are also reporting faster than the statewide average, albeit less than Monmouth and Ocean. Also: Three counties have yet to report anything. One is small and the two others (Mercer and Burlington) gave Obama big victories.

9:30pm: Let’s take a look at non-NJ and non-ME races: Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino has won a fifth-term, Foxx is still ahead by 3,000 votes in Charlotte with 12% remaining, the Democrat is leading Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court race by 10% (with 30% remaining) and the GOP has scored its second pick-up in Virginia’s House of Delegates, though Democrats are holding on to some vulnerable seats as well.

9:25pm: We now have 44% of New Jersey reporting, and the margin has tightened: 49% to 44%. It’s in great part due to Sussex County starting and finishing its counting, and going to Corzine 64% to 26%. But it’s also now Ocean’s turn to reach 91% reporting: Christie’s entire lead right now is based on the margins he build up in Ocean and Monmouth, which is to say Corzine has room to close the gap with places like Essex. That greatly depends on turnout, which isn’t something we can judge just yet.

9:20pm: Foxx is now up by 2,000, which could end up being significant if Charlotte’s the highest-profile victory for Democrats… Another good news for progressives: The “no” is increasing its lead in Maine, 53% to 47%.

9:15pm: Monmouth is now almost done counting (91%) and Ocean is getting there (73%). The rest of the state is at 29%. Corzine will have the rest of the night to close a gap that isn’t that wide (51% to 43%).

9:10pm: Charlotte’s mayoral race is a nail biter, with Democrat Foxx back on top by 120 votes (66% are reporting). Another tight race at the moment is developing in Maine, with the “no” leading 51% to 49% with 7% reporting; I’m unable to figure out where those voters are coming from. And another race that I forgot to mention earlier that is worth keeping an eye on is an race to be on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court; the contest will determine the Court’s majority, which is important for all sorts of reasons, some of them electoral (the Court plays in role in redistricting).

9:05pm: Daggett keeps going down, now at 5.5%. It will be quite remarkable if Corzine pulls it off with Daggett that low, though he’s closing the margin: We’re now at 49,6% to 44% with 28% reporting. Also: Deeds is winning Fairfax by a single percentage point right now. Talk about Democrats just not caring at all.

9:01: Polls have closed in NY-23!

9:00pm: The good news for Corzine: The GOP’s biggest counties are Monmouth & Ocean, and they’re reporting at 41% and 51%, respectively so that explains Christie’s big early lead. The bad news for Corzine: I’d read that Christie would need to clear 60% in those counties, and right now he’s at 66% and 62%, respectively.

8:55pm: Republican John Lassiter has taken a narrow lead in Charlotte’s mayoral race. As for New Jersey, GOP stronghold Ocean County is over-reporting for now, which explains part of Christie’s 52% to 42% lead with 14% reporting. In Maine, the “no” has taken back the lead with 5% reporting: 55% to 45%.

8:50pm: Small illustration of Deeds’s underperforming in the counties he should be running big margins in: Obama won Arlington 73% to 27%; Deeds, 66%-34%. In Portsmouth, 70%-30% while Deeds is 60% to 40%. In New Jersey, we are now at 12% reporting with Christie leading by 9% and Daggett down to 6%…

8:45pm: As of 8:45pm, Virginia’s Board of Election says McDonnell leading 85% to 15% with 66% reporting. I don’t think it was quite that bad for Deeds but… In New Jersey, Republican counties are reporting for now, which allows Christie to take a 55% to 38% lead with 4% reporting. In Maine, my sense is that progressives seem cautiously optimistic looking at early results.

8:40pm: We’re still waiting for count to heat up in New Jersey and Maine. The only thing we can say is that early indications that Daggett is falling short of his goal are still looking true, though he might hover somewhere around 8%; that would require Corzine to receive at least 46% of the vote to clinch victory. Based on all the polling evidence, it’s hard to see him rise that high - unless his ground operation was really stronger than Christie’s.

8:30pm: Very early results show the “no” and Christie leading, but we’re talking about very early numbers. In Virginia, Democrats are avoiding a catastrophe for now in House of Delegates races but it could still come.

8:25pm: No results yet in Maine, but an almost definitive results from Chapel Hill: Mark Kleinschmidt (the de facto Democrat in a nonpartisan race) is close to winning the mayorship, which would make him a rare openly gay official in North Carolina. In Virginia, McDonnell is still above 60% with 56% of the vote reporting; the margin should decrease once Fairfax reports, but this should be a blowout.

8:15pm: GOP sweeps Virginia: Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General races called for Bolling and Cuccinelli. Except to hear these names in 4 years, when McDonell can’t run for re-election (Cuccinelli has a particularly conservative profile). In New Jersey, exit polls haven’t budged: tight race, with Daggett weaker than polls had predicted (that makes a Corzine victory more difficult); I haven’t seen anything about Maine.

8:10pm: We’re already getting some chaos out of upstate New York (NY-20 repeat, here we come). The results could be delayed in some counties due to machine malfunctions. (Polls don’t close before 9pm in New York.)

8:00pm: Virginia got done just in time for New Jersey and Maine to come in focus. Polls just closed in both states.

7:55pm: Virginia’s gubernatorial race has been called for McDonnell (at least by ABC News). Given that he leads 62% to 37% with a third of the vote in, I don’t see any reason to disagree so the GOP has as was expected regained the governorship for the first time in 8 years, breaking a long streak of Democratic victories in the Old Dominion. The GOP has also scored its first pick-up in the House of Delegates. (Democrats are worried Deeds’s weakness will cost them many seats tonight.)

7:45pm: New Jersey exit poll has Christie leading by 25% among independents; that’s not insurmountable for Corzine, but it’d be very tough, especially since Daggett’s looks to be a non-factor even among this group. In Virginia, we’re now at 20% reporting and McDonnell is still leading 64% to 35%. Republicans are leading just as big in the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor race. It’s going to be a red sweep in Virginia.

7:35pm: With 12% of precincts reporting in Virginia, McDonnell is up 63% to 36%; most counties that are reporting are in conservative territory, but there’s nothing for now to indicate Deeds should have any hope. Another sign of the turnout gap between the two parties’ base: Exit polls project that just 15% of the electorate is African-American; in 2008, it was 20%.

7:20pm: The 18-29 group made up 21% of Virginia’s electorate in 2008; this year, they make up only 10%! Talk about a generational turnout gap. If this holds in Maine, gay marriage is toast. The good news for Democrats is that, if a majority of Virginia voters approve of Obama’s performance, it might mean the partisan turnout gap is not as huge as some polls had predicted. In other exit poll information, McDonnell is crushing Deeds among independents - 63% to 36%.

7:10pm: These are preliminary exit polls, so take them with huge grain of salt, but here it goes: We could be in for a long night in New Jersey, with Corzine and Daggett tied at 47% and Daggett well under even his lowest poll levels. In Virginia, McDonnell is ahead by 10% - a big margin which would be a relief for down-ballot Democrats. Once again, these numbers are preliminary exit polls, so they could be widely off, but that’s all we’ve got for now (well, that’s not true: with 2 precincts reporting, McDonnell leads 70% to 30%).

Original post: It’s 7pm ET, which means polls have closed in Virginia. Of course, the Old Dominion is hosting the least competitive of the day’s elections, so it will still take a while before we get any interesting information.

We do have some turnout tidbits. In NY-23, an early report suggests that voting is far heavier in conservative precincts than it is in Owens’s home base - good news for Republicans. In Maine, turnout is reportedly far heavier than expected - good news for gay marriage. Also, early exit polls find that Barack Obama’s approval rating is above 50% in both Virginia and New Jersey (51% and 57%, respectively); that will make it hard for commentators to blame Deeds and Corzine’s potential defeats on the president.

On Election eve, Christie eyes undecided voters & Corzine banks on superior ground operation

That Jon Corzine would find himself in a position to secure re-election would have been unthinkable just 3 months ago. Yet also gone are the mid-October days during which conventional wisdom too quickly held that the race had become Corzine’s to lose. The GOP panicked, some Democrats breathed a sigh of relief; but the incumbent, who seemed to be edging ahead, failed to open a consistent lead.

The best illustration of Chris Christie’s ability to stop the bleeding: Quinnipiac, which just last week had given Democrats hope Corzine was putting the race away by finding him leading 43% to 38%, found a substantial 7% swing towards the Republican in the survey it released today, with Christie up 42% to 40%. What I find more interesting in this survey isn’t the trendline (no other pollster found either candidate posting a statistically significant gain) but the fact that most pollsters now agree that Corzine and Christie are locked within the margin of error.

Unfortunately for Democrats, that doesn’t mean they are as likely to win. Undecideds rarely end up voting for the incumbent - especially when we’re talking about an incumbent who’s (still) as unpopular as Corzine - so a governor who is tied with his challenger on the eve of Election Day faces a tougher road than his opponent.

The bottom line is that Democrats are in a more difficult position going into Election Day. Corzine is certainly not out of the running, but Christie should be considered the (slight) favorite.

One way to put this: In the 8 most recent polls, Christie’s support has oscillated from 36% to 47% while Corzine’s support has oscillated between 40% to 43% - not enough to score victory. Another way to put it: The large number of undecided voters in some polls might be making Corzine look stronger than he is.

Of those 8 polls, the 3 that show Corzine ahead are those that have the largest number of undecided voters. Monmouth has Corzine leading 43% to 41%, with 7% undecided; Democracy Corps has him up 41% to 36%, with 8% undecided, and YouGov has him leading 41% to 43%, with 8% undecided. By contrast, polls with fewer undecided have Christie ahead  - including a 47% to 41% out-of-the-MoE lead in a PPP poll (that leaves only 2% undecideds), a 45% to 42% lead in SUSA (which leaves 3% undecideds) and a 46% to 43% lead in Rasmussen (which leaves 3% undecided).

Corzine’s two hopes: A superior ground operation and undecideds breaking for Daggett

The major - huge! - caveat to this analysis is, of course, Chris Daggett’s presence on the ballot: The independent is no longer at the high levels he had reached mid-October, but he has remained a factor. This means that undecideds (who are unlikely to go to Corzine) have another candidate they could break towards than Christie. Incumbents don’t typically have this luxury, and this could very well save Corzine tomorrow if he can also pull off a strong turnout operation.

After all, it would make sense for undecideds to choose Daggett by a larger proportion than the 8-14% he is receiving in polls might indicate: After such a long and tense campaign, for a voter to still be unable to choose indicates that he is fundamentally uncomfortable with the two candidates that have been dominating headlines for most of the year. While in most races, such a voter has to choose the lesser of two evils, here he’ll also be able to go for an independent - and a fresher face at that.

As such, a key question is just how much Christie managed to damage Daggett’s image when he turned his attack ads against the independent last month. Polls suggest his unfavorability ratings have risen considerably, but do these swing voters really distrust Daggett more than they distrust Christie (or Corzine, for that matter)?

I’m aware that recent polls suggest Daggett might be drawing more votes from Corzine than from Christie; but if it wasn’t for the independent, I’m not sure we would even be discussing whether the governor could win re-election. Stuck in the low 40s in all but a few polls all year, Corzine would have been hard-pressed to attract enough voters to rise above 50%.

Corzine’s second hope rests in turnout. Now, I realize it might be counter-intuitive to say that a Democrat might benefit from tomorrow’s turnout patterns considering that a large reason the party might be hours away from a tough Election Day is the wide difference in motivation between partisan Democrats and the Republican base.

Yet, this gap has by now been incorporated in the surveys we are seeing. By most accounts, Corzine has a superior campaign infrastructure (partly thanks to his superior financial abilities) so he can hope to reduce the differences in turnout relatively to what we’ve been seeing in polls. Democrats are also hopeful that Barack Obama’s last-minute visit over the week-end will help motivate their base, especially in inner-cities in which turnout threatens to be very low tomorrow.

Democrats are hoping: Scozzafava endorses Owens, Obama campaigns for Corzine

Bill Owens got himself a powerful ally today: Dede Scozzafava, who just 48 hours ago was the GOP’s standard-bearer, endorsed the Democratic nominee.

To conservatives, that will prove that Scozzafava was as much as of a RINO as they claimed throughout the campaign, but to Democrats this is most welcome news: Since NY-23’s special election now comes down to which candidate can recuperate Scozzafava’s voters, that’s as good a development as Owens could have gotten out of the day.

I am perplexed by what Scozzafava is thinking. Her withdrawal made the math very tough for Bill Owens (voters who had remained faithful to her were more likely to be partisan Republicans than independents); even for those who argue more of her supporters will go the Democratic side, it seems hard to argue that Owens’s road to victory got any easier with Scozzafava’s decision to suspend her campaign. As such, why would Scozzafava abruptly drop out if she wanted to prevent Hoffman from winning?

That’s all the more the case because her endorsement has more unpredictable consequences than her withdrawal. Endorsements do not tend to move a substantial numbers of voters: Scozzafava does not control her supporters (her campaign manager has announced he’s going with Hoffman), many of whom were backing her out of party affiliation; and it’s not like there is enough time before Election Day for her to beat the trail on Owens’s behalf.

On the other hand, circumstances here are atypical. Thousands of voters who have suddenly been left candidate-less a few days from an election are looking for a sign as to where they should go. Because of how much the race is in flux, then, her endorsement could influence a far larger number than is common.

Furthermore, Scozzafava’s move could be influential because it inscribes itself directly in the Democrats’ goal in the closing hours: Make Hoffman look isolated. At the moment, Hoffman is looking strong among independents and among Republicans. Might that not change if voters see that the Democratic and Republican nominees (who are also running on the Working Families Party and Independent Party lines) have allied themselves against the Conservative Party nominee?

Democrats will do what they can for that, but they have to remember that Hoffman and the Club for Growth have long been running ads premised on the argument that Owens and Scozzafava are too similar: That Hoffman managed to dominate among independents suggests this claim resonated among nonpartisan voters, who might now be all the more attracted by Hoffman’s heightened outsider status.

Owens’s camp will at least get some help. The Watertown Daily Times, which had endorsed Scozzafava, wrote today in strong terms that it was backing Owens (Watertown is Scozzafava’s home base). Also, a number of union groups were supporting Scozzafava due to her labor-friendly record - and they are now committed to pushing Owens across the finish line, which should help him get out the vote.

Also helping Democratic GOTV: Joe Biden is scheduled to travel to NY-23 tomorrow to hold an event to Owens. That should dominate media coverage on the final day, ensuring the candidate gets a chance to remind voters of the high esteem in which he now holds Scozzafava. (There was some noise last week that Obama might record a robocall, but I have not heard any more about that.)

Take all of this to mean that the next 48 hours should be so chaotic to make any clear prediction impossible. PPP is hours away from releasing a survey with Doug Hoffman leading by double-digits, but the bottom-line is that the contest is so much flux that polling it seems as useless a exercise as polling New Hampshire in the 5-day window separating it from the Iowa caucuses. Hoffman’s dominant success among independents makes him the favorite, but we won’t know for sure how the dust of Scozzafava’s moves has settled until Tuesday night.

New Jersey, Democrats’ other hope of salvaging the 2009 cycle

While Biden is traveling to upstate New York, Obama was in New Jersey today, trying to pull Governor Jon Corzine across the finish line in what is the only one of Tuesday’s two gubernatorial races Democrats have a chance of winning.

In any election, the final week-end is all about motivating the base - and that’s all the more the case for Democrats this year, since they are facing the prospect of going down due to a substantial turnout gap. So for the president, the urgency was to frame the race in partisan terms so as to make sure Democratic voters actually go to the polls. “This crisis that we are getting ourselves out of came about of because of the same theories, the same lax regulation, the same trickle-down economics, that the other guy’s party has been peddling for years,” he said.

Christie is looking to fire up his own base since he got… South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson to campaign with him. What better confirmation that Wilson acquired a national following ever since he screamed “you lie!” at Obama? He is now so well known among conservatives that he is invited to travel hundreds of miles away - a development that’s particularly fascinating considering Christie kept Sarah Palin at arm’s length.

After two months during which Corzine steadily gained, the past few weeks have shown a trend that is worrisome for the Democrat: Chris Daggett’s support is declining. The independent reached 19%-20% in mid-October polls, but he is now more often than not in single-digits: The last three polls have him at 8%. Since Corzine is still having trouble breaking out of the 40-42% range, that makes it more difficult to envision him winning re-election. And don’t forget undecideds don’t tend to break for incumbents.

Most of the latest polls all have the race within the MoE. Christie is up 43% to 42% in Monmouth (the previous survey had a tie), Rasmussen finds the Republican up 46% to 43%, YouGov finds Corzine with a 43% to 41% edge; Research 2000 finds Daggett holding on at 14%, with Christie up 42% to 41%. Two polls with larger margins find opposite results - and they both come from partisan pollsters: Democracy Corps has Corzine leading 43% to 38%, and while I had mentioned that poll before it was conducted at the same time as a Neighborhood Research poll, which finds Christie up 42% to 35%.

New Jersey is as difficult to predict as NY-23, but for different reasons. While the latter race is in chaotic flux, the former has looked pretty stable for a while; but the candidates are so close that the determinant factor will be turnout - and that’s something we won’t know for sure until Tuesday night.

For the first time, a public poll shows Scozzafava in 3rd place

I’ve spent the past two days wondering whether conservatives are bluffing in acting like Dede Scozzafava had become irrelevant: are they genuinely convinced that Bill Owens is their only worthy opponent or are they trying to convince the media of that?

We didn’t have to wait that long to get a response: Earlier today, we learned about the very first poll to find the Republican nominee falling in third position - and not just by a small margin: Research 2000 has Scozzafava at 21%, trailing both of her rivals by double-digits! Just as shocking is that Hoffman is now almost tied with Owens: the Democratic nominee gets 33%, the Conservative Party nominee 32%.

That’s quite a turnaround from the Research 2000 poll released last week: Owens was at 35%, Scozzafava at 30% and Hoffman at 23%. The poll’s internal give a clear picture of what’s happening: While Scozzafava was still ahead among Republicans last week (46% to 27% for Hoffman), the conservative now leads 41% to 36%. And it will be hard for Scozzafava to recover: Under a deluge of attack ads, the once popular Assemblywoman’s favorability rating is now very negative (32-46) - including among Republicans.

Hoffman, meanwhile, has positioned himself ideally: He is using his conservative message to become the de facto Republican while also riding his third-party status to dominate the independent vote (he gets 47%, to 28% for Owens and 11% for Scozzafava). The DCCC now has to hope it can fire ads quickly enough to lower Hoffman’s popularity among both groups - and consider that he has a higher favorability rating among independents (53/14) than among Republicans (48/16)!

Now that NY-23 has become a showdown between Owens and Hoffman, the time has come to wonder who of those two will be more damaged by Scozzafava’s presence on the ballot! For now, the answer still seems to be Hoffman since Owens has a far stronger hold on the Democratic vote; whether the conservative can win next week will thus partly be determined by whether he can make Scozzafava a bigger burden for Owens.

That is confirmation to me that yesterday’s Common Sense in America ad is a dirty trick first and foremost aimed at the Democratic candidate - and not at Scozzafava, as most analyses are suggesting. What conservatives now need is for Owens to lose support, but that won’t be easy to do: That he’s only gathering a third of the vote means that a huge share of his supporters are partisan voters who would go for the Democratic nominee no matter what. The best way to damage him would thus be to convince some of his liberal supporters to vote for Scozzafava - and that’s where an ad that seems to praise her progressive credentials and tie her to Barack Obama comes into play.

But then why is Doug Hoffman’s campaign airing an ad tying Owens to Nancy Pelosi? “Nancy Pelosi hand-picked Bill Owens for Congress and bankrolls his campaign. You know what that means,” warns the ad. “So when Pelosi wants Owens’ vote for her massive energy taxes, government-run medicine and a trillion dollar deficit, where would Bill Owens stand: With you or with her?”

Such attacks might be useful to prevent Hoffman from reaching 50% - but they will do nothing to keep him under the 35%-38% range, quite the contrary: They will only solidify Owens’ identification as the Democratic nominee and ensure that many voters who approve of Barack Obama’s action vote for Owens rather than get confused about which of the 3 candidates best represents them. That’s all the better for Owens considering we’re talking about a district that voted for Obama by 5%. Research 2000 finds Obama’s approval rating in NY-23 is solid: 50% to 42%.

The good news for Owens is that he can spend more of his time appealing to independent voters if Hoffman takes care of instructing Democratic voters that Owens is their guy. Don’t forget that at the beginning of this race it was absolutely not obvious that Owens would be a factor or whether Democratic-leaning voters would join Scozzafava’s camp because she had emerged as Hoffman’s main liberal alternative.

That threat failed to materialize, Owens solidified his position as liberals’ champion and that allows him to dream on. Had he fallen in third position, the DCCC would not have lifted a finger to help him at this late juncture. But now that national Democrats know they have a clear shot at victory, it is no longer foolish of them to get involved: Obama held a fundraiser for Owens last week, and Democratic officials are telling Politicker that the party is “going all in.” That will include some heavy last-minute spending and perhaps even a robo-call recorded by Obama.

A final note: Scozzafava still has enough support that it wouldn’t be shocking for her to storm back - at the very least to climb back enough to endanger Hoffman’s momentum: The Watertown Daily Town just endorsed her, which could at least help her retain strong support in her home county.

Also for the first time, Corzine reaches 47%

With only 5 days to go, the two gubernatorial races are more stable than NY-23’s roller-coaster - though the trendlines we have been observing are getting sharper.In Virginia, a Roanoke College Poll is the latest to find Creigh Deeds plunging: He trails 53% to 36%. In New Jersey, Democratic Corps confirms Quinnipiac’s result from yesterday: Corzine is ahead by 5%, 42% to 37% if Daggett is included (he gets 12%) and 47% to 42% if he is not.

That two-way match might not reflect what we’re going to see next Tuesday, but the results are still fascinating.That 47% of respondents would as much as consider voting for Corzine is the best evidence we have yet gotten that something fundamental has changed in the electorate.

According to Pollster.com’s compilation of all New Jersey surveys, never before had Corzine gotten more than 44% - even in the 10-month of polling during which Daggett was not included since he wasn’t running yet. Democracy Corps has been friendlier to Corzine than other pollsters, but this is undoubtedly the trace of a significant shift in voters’ willingness to vote for the incumbent - a mark of Corzine’s ability to move the race away from a referendum on his record and turn the spotlight on Christie.

Poll watch: Corzine’s rise, gay rights’ strong support and Specter with dismal re-elect

6 days to go: Corzine grabs significant lead while Deeds sinks

If PPP and Rasmussen had brought some worrisome news to Jon Corzine’s camp yesterday, today’s Quinnipiac poll all but takes cares of their worries. The reputable pollster, which has been polling the contest monthly since August 2008, finds Corzine ahead for the first time since last November - and we’re not talking about a tiny edge: Corzine leads 43% to 38%, outside of the poll’s margin of error. Chris Daggett is at 13%.

If we forget about the recent Suffolk poll’s bizarre results, this is the largest lead Corzine has enjoyed since the first week of January. What is just as important as the margin of his advantage is the level of support he reaches: Corzine is finally able to rise above the 42% ceiling he’s been stuck under for months, with Rasmussen and Quinnipiac now both showing him at 43%. That doesn’t look like much but it should be enough for him to clinch victory as long as Daggett stays in the 12%-14% range.

One caveat: Quinnipiac’s poll was conducted from the 20th to the 26th, so it’s more dated than the two surveys released yesterday (Rasmussen’s was conducted on the 26th only, PPP’s from the 23rd to the 26th). That period corresponds to the intensification of Chris Christie’s attacks against Daggett, and both PPP and Rasmussen found that those attacks were succeeding in hurting the independent and by extension helping the Republican. Quinnipiac has Daggett still more popular than not (21-16), so we shall see what polls say in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Virginia polls are all finding the same result: Bill McDonnell leads Creigh Deeds by double-digits. The SUSA poll that had him up 19% two weeks ago looked like an outlier at first, but it doesn’t look far-fetched anymore. At this point, I’ll do little else than relay the latest numbers. First, Rasmussen has McDonnell up 54% to 41%; the Republican’s favorability rating is so high (62/30) you wouldn’t guess he just went through a heated campaign. Second, Virginia Commonwealth University has McDonnell crushing Deeds, 54% to 36%.

6 days to go, and good news for gay rights in Maine and Washington

Most surveys of Maine’ have found the slightest of edges for the “no” - certainly nothing large enough to reassure gay rights defenders that same-sex marriage will be upheld. (Many California polls had Prop 8 failing in the run-up to the 2008 vote.) But a poll released a few days ago by Pan Atlantic SMS found the largest lead yet for the pro-gay marriage vote: 53% to 42%. That’s a lot of undecided voters for gay marriage opponents to convince, especially given that those who make up their mind at the last minute tend to break towards the “no” in referendum votes.

But that rule of thumb is not that useful for high-profile issues like this one. While it is a cliche to say that an election comes down to turnout, this is one contest in which it is no overstatement: This referendum is the highest-profile vote on Maine’s ballot, so it’s the main issue that will drive voters to the polls. So which group is most motivated by gay marriage will have an outsized importance - and this is one metric on which social conservatives have tended to have an edge.

Another important gay rights vote is occurring in Washington State, which is set to vote on a referendum to establish expanded domestic partnerships (R-71). Two new surveys released this week find the “yes” in the lead: The University of Washington has it easily passing (57% to 38%) while SUSA finds a tighter margin (50% to 43%, with the 40% of respondents who’ve already voted approving partnerships 53% to 42%). Here again, the gay rights-position is favored going into next week’s vote, but referendums are hard enough to poll that this could go both ways.

Note that the White House has ignored gay rights activists’ pleas to take any stance on either states’ votes - let alone an active one.

2010: Worrisome numbers for Specter and Strickland

By now, we are used to seeing Arlen Specter suffering from ugly numbers but it’s hard to overstate how dismal it is for such a longtime incumbent’s re-elect to stand at 23%; 66% of respondents in a new Franklin & Marshall poll say it’s time for something new. His favorability rating (28/46) is barely better.

It’s only because his rival are so little-known (only 26% have an opinion of Toomey, 16% of Sestak) that he manages to still lead direct match-ups. And given the wide name recognition gap, his 33-31 edge over Toomey and his 30-18 lead over Sestak isn’t impressive, especially when you consider that Sestak has closed the gap by 14% since F&M’s prior poll. Sestak does trail Toomey 28% to 20%, but that survey has such a huge number of undecided respondents that it’s not worth discussing much. (Don’t forget that two mid-October polls had Sestak over-performing Specter in the general election.)

Another state, another endangered incumbent: A University of Cincinnati poll finds Ohio Governor Ted Strickland holding on to a 49% to 46% edge against former Rep. John Kasich; among all registered voters, the lead is smaller still (48-47). We haven’t heard that much about this contest, mostly because there hasn’t been much primary or recruitment drama on the side of the challenging party (Kasich signaled he’d get in the race early, and his hold on the nomination hasn’t been contested) but it’s sure to be one of the year’s highest-stake battles.

Corzine’s and Owens’s momentum threatened by Daggett’s decline and Hoffman’s rise

For the past few weeks, the conventional wisdom has shifted in both New Jersey and NY-23: Democrats are now considered more likely than not to pull off come-from-behind victories. Yet, not only was that excessive expectation never quite in sync with the information we were getting from the ground, it is now all the more exaggerated due to yet another change in momentum: The two independent candidates, who for weeks looked like they would help Jon Corzine and Bill Owens clinch plurality victories, are now seeing their fortunes evolve in ways that complicates Democratic prospects.

With just 7 days to go, the situation in both races is entirely unpredictable - a stark contrast to Virginia, where it would be a gigantic stunner if Bill McDonnell were to lose. Just over the past 24 hours, 3 polls show McDonnell marching towards a landslide: 58% to 41% for SUSA, 55% to 44% for the Washington Post, 55% to 40% for PPP. Also, PPP finds that a shockingly low 31% of LVs are Democrats: The question isn’t whether Deeds loses, but whether he takes his party’s down-ballot candidates down with him!

New Jersey: Rise in Daggett’s unfavorable changes dynamics

Since early September, we have gotten used to seeing Jon Corzine progress from poll to poll. Once some surveys started showing him ahead for the first time of the year in mid-October, many people expected the governor’s lead to expand as it usually does in the final stretch for New Jersey Democrat. Yet, two new polls released today show a trendline favoring Christie. While the movement is slight, it does seem to mark a halt in Corzine’s momentum:

Rasmussen has Christie leading 46% to 43% while Daggett falls from 11% to 7%. PPP has Christie leading 42% to 38%, up from a 1% edge two weeks ago; while Daggett remains at 13%, PPP suggests he is now drawing more votes from the Democrat than the Republican. PPP’s most interesting finding: The independent’s unfavorability rating has risen sharply in just two weeks, from 24% to 36% - a dynamic that also explains why he might have fallen to single-digits in Rasmussen’s survey.

(A poll that was released yesterday found very different results: Suffolk, testing the race for the first time, had Corzine leading 42% to 33%. Since that’s unlike anything we have seen all year and it’s contradicted by surveys taken over the same period, I think it’s safe to file that away in the outlier column for now.)

There is an obvious explanation for the the change in Daggett’s ratings: Christie’s campaign recently started airing ads against him, which marked the first time of the campaign he faced any attacks. Voters’ impression of Daggett is so undefined that these negative ads will be a major part of what they’ve heard about the independent - and that spells trouble for Daggett, and by extension for Corzine: One week from Election Day, there is still no evidence whatsoever that Corzine can possibly rise high enough to clinch victory if Daggett doesn’t get more than 13-14%.

Has NY-23 become a Hoffman-Owens showdown?

For months, Democrats were excited that the division of GOP votes between Dede Scozzafava and Doug Hoffman would allow Bill Owens to clinch victory. But Hoffman has been gaining so much strength that the contest’s dynamics have changed, making him a real threat to win the election by combining the vote of enthusiastic conservatives and independents looking to vote for a third-party candidate.

While the most recent public polls, conducted last week, found Scozzafava in second position and slightly ahead of Hoffman, conservative groups released two different surveys today finding Hoffman on top, with Scozzafava far far behind. Club for Growth’s survey has Hoffman at 33%, Owens at 29% and Scozzafava at 20%; Neighborhood Research, polling for the Minuteman Project, has Hoffman up 34% to 29% for Owens and… 14% for Scozzafava! Take both of these polls with a grain of salt, obviously, as they find results that are completely different of any public poll we have seen.

The Club for Growth is now indeed treating the GOP nominee as irrelevant - putting only Bill Owens in the cross hair of their latest ad. “It comes down to two very different candidates,” says the spot. This would certainly seem to suggest that the Club doesn’t seen Scozzafava as a factor anymore.

Similarly, the DCCC recently released a new ad that also ignores Scozzafava and goes straight after “millionaire Doug Hoffman” for having a “waterfront island home — even a classic car collection.” This again looks like a clear sign that Democrats are getting worried enough about Hoffman’s rise that they want to take him down a notch.

But another analysis is possible of these ads, one that still allows that the race is a 3-way race and that Scozzafava remains viable. The DCCC’s ad could easily be reverse psychology, by which I mean that DCCC numbers still have Hoffman third and Democrats want to make sure he still rises to further divide the GOP vote; as for the Club’s ad, Hoffman insisting that his main rival is Owens might not be a consequence of Scozzafava fading but a strategy to make her fade by framing the issue as a 2-way race, present himself as the de facto GOP nominee, get the media to cover him as such and thus asphyxiate Scozzafava.

That said, there is one basic reason to take the possibility of a Hoffman victory very seriously: Conservatives are motivated by this race beyond everyone’s expectations.

Today’s New York Times article is a must-read for its illustration of just how pumped the right is. That so many Republicans who have nothing to do with New York have felt the need to weigh on the race confirms that NY-23 has become a stand-in for all of the conservative frustration with the Republican establishment - a frustration some establishment figures are doing their best to recuperate: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is the latest to endorse Hoffman, while former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson took the time to cut an ad for Hoffman this week!

Endorsements by Minnesota and Tennessee politicians won’t win anyone a race in upstate New York, but this outstanding level of conservative excitement should be a huge factor in a low-turnout special election.

On the other hand, now that Owens can count on the support of the Working Families Party and of SEIU, he is unlikely to have any problems competing with Hoffman at an infrastructural level. Scozzafava, on the other hand, might have trouble being as organized as her two rivals since she is now facing a big fundraising problem.

Poll watch: Daggett reaches 20%, Rubio’s on fire and MI Dems are in trouble

Three New Jersey polls, all within the margin of error

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Chris Daggett would need to receive around 20% of the vote in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race for Jon Corzine to envision clinching victory with the maximum level of support he reaches in polls - about 42%. It’s difficult for any independent candidate to reach such a level, so that didn’t sound the likeliest scenario - but a Rutgers just found Daggett at 20% for the very first time.

Unsurprisingly, it is Corzine who benefits: He remains at 39%, a number that reflects the fact that a large share of New Jersey voters are loyal Democrats, and thus grabs a lead over Chris Christie, who receives 36%. A 3% lead is nothing to celebrate, but remember that Corzine went 9 months without leading in a single poll.

Last night, another pollster (Democracy Corps) released a survey finding Corzine in the lead, albeit just as narrowly: 42% to 39%, with 13% for Daggett. Note that this poll is in my view less positive for Democrats than Rutgers’: Corzine has long been stuck at the 42% level, which is why I continue to think Daggett needs to receive more than 13% for the governor to win re-election. Not that it is enough for Daggett to receive a large percentage: A new SUSA poll, also released last night, finds Christie narrowly ahead 41% to 39% even though Daggett is at 19%.

That speaks to the two conditions that need to be met: Corzine needs to mobilize loyal Democrats enough to reach 42% - and he needs Daggett to receive a high enough percentage for 42% to be enough.

Florida’s Senate race will be competitive

When I wrote earlier this week that Marco Rubio had become a major headache for Charlie Crist, I did not expect two polls to be released within days confirming just how much the political situation has changed in Florida. What a few months ago seemed like it could be an easy hold for the GOP is now bound to become a far more competitive Senate race.

Within one day, Quinnipiac and Rasmussen both found Crist’s primary lead melting. For the former, it’s now 50% to 35% (down from a 30% lead in August); for the latter, it’s now 49% to 35% (down from 22% in August). Those may look like healthy leads, but the trendlines are atrocious for the governor - especially when you consider the big notoriety gap that still separates the two men. There’s no denying that something (the economic crisis, continued attacks on Crist’s conservatism or increased activism among the GOP base) has damaged the governor’s aura of invincibility.

Of course, Democrats are very interested in what occurs in the GOP primary: While Rubio would certainly be difficult to defeat, he would be easier to defeat than Crist, who is still highly popular among independents. And that is confirmed by Quinnipiac’s survey: Crist crushes Meek 51% to 31%, while Meek leads Rubio 36% to 33%.

But here is where things get complicated: For the very first time in any poll, Rasmussen finds Rubio performing better in the general election than Crist! Rubio leads 46% to 31% while Crist leads 46% to 34%.

What is bizarre is that the governor’s lead is not fundamentally different in the two surveys while Rubio results are incomparable: 33% in one survey, 46% in the other? Can Rubio be well known enough that roughly as many voters say they’re undecided as in the match-up with Crist? Quinnipac’s finding that there are far more undecideds when respondents are asked about two men they don’t know well (Meek and Rubio) makes more sense.

But the two pollsters interviewed very different samples: Quinnipiac is testing registered voters, and Rasmussen is testing likely voters. As such, the difference in Rubio’s support is a testament to how the conservative base is far more committed to voting in 2010 than other constituencies. And here is the bottom line: If other polls also find that Rubio performing as well as Crist in the general election, the governor’s electability argument - his strongest primary asset, since Rubio is undoubtedly closer to the median GOP voter - will evaporate.

Both Florida polls have McCollum in the lead

Over on the gubernatorial race, Republican Bill McCollum continues to lead Alex Sink in most surveys that are released - though Quinnipiac and Rasmussen find widely differing margins, reflecting the widely differing samples they interviewed (see above): McCollum leads 36% to 32% in Quinnipiac’s poll, 46% to 35% in Rasmussen’s poll.

As we’ve seen over and over again, there is a name recognition gap between the two contenders: 50% have no opinion of McCollum while 68% have no opinion of Sink in Quinnipiac’s poll. The difference is even larger among their base (41% of Republicans don’t know McCollum, 61% of Democrats don’t know Sink), which is bound to affect how much support they receive from their base in a head-to-head match-up.

Michigan Republicans lead John Cherry

Democrats saved themselves in Michigan in 2008, but it will be hard for them to keep the governorship in 2010: A new EPIC-MRA poll finds Lieutenant Governor John Cherry, the front-runner in the Democratic primary, widely trails against three Republicans: 40% to 33% against Rep. Peter Hoekstra, 45% to 30% against Attorney General Mike Cox and 39% to 30% against Sheriff Mike Bouchard. He does lead 34% to 32% businessman Rick Snyder.

Cherry’s one hope is the certitude that the GOP primary will be highly competitive, and the hope that the late date at which it will be decided (August 3rd) could give him a heads-up. The poll finds Hoekstra and Cox ahead, with 29% and 28%, with Bouchard at 14% and Snyder at 3%. But this will not be enough for Cherry to overcome the obvious problem he’ll face: Michigan is suffering more than most states economically, which is driving down not only the popularity of Barack Obama (the president’s approval rating sank from 57% to 48% in two months) but also that of Jennifer Granholm’s state administration, to which he is necessarily tied as Lieutenant Governor.

3 more weeks: Christie still suffers weight of damaging stories, Deeds still preoccupied with NoVa

Virginia and New Jersey’s increasingly divergent trendlines were confirmed this morning, with two surveys released encapsulating the conventional wisdom about what to expect on November 3rd - the GOP is clearly favored to pick-up Virginia but New Jersey has become a toss-up. In fact, an avalanche of new revelations surrounding Chris Christie’s should make it even tougher for the Republican to recapture his lead in the Garden State.

New Jersey

Monmouth University has Chris Christie and Jon Corzine tied at 39%, with 14% for Chris Daggett. 3 weeks ago, Christie led by 3% with Daggett at just 8%. The survey’s internal provide one of the clearest pictures yet of the two factors that are fueling the governor’s comeback.

1. Anti-Corzine Democrats and independents are moving from Christie to Daggett.

From August to October, Corzine’s level among both groups has held steady while Christie’s has gone down (17% to 8% among Democrats, 56% to 45% among independents) and Daggett’s has substantially risen (2% to 11% among Democrats, 7% to 22% among independents). To win, Christie needed to overcome left-leaning voters’ reluctance to vote for a Republican; he was able to do that for months, but no longer once an independent candidate - no Corzine, but no Republican either - emerged.

The poll shows that Daggett has managed to quickly introduce himself to the public in a positive way. 83% of voters did not recognize his name in September; now, that number has fallen to just 56% - and Daggett’s favorability stands at 28-15. Why this is worrisome for Christie: Daggett still has a few weeks to improve his standing by introducing himself to the 56% of likely voters who are still unfamiliar with him.

2. Christie’s popularity has collapsed under the weight of scandals

Corzine was never going to win this race on the strength of his popularity, which has been stuck at dismal levels all year, but he has done a remarkable job at sinking Christie’s reputation: Christie’s favorability stood at 50-26 in July, 49-33 in August, 48-30 in September and 40-41 in the most recent poll.

That’s quite a dramatic drop, fueled partly by Corzine’s very consequential ability to self-fund his campaign and partly by the continual avalanche of news stories damaging to Christie. Conversations with Karl Rove, a bizarre driving record and undisclosed loans - all stories that sank the Republican through August - were just the beginning.

The past few days alone brought three new revelations that are bound to dominate media coverage in the upcoming days, hurt the Republican and help push Daggett’s numbers upwards.

First: The Corzine campaign unearthed a video yesterday in which Christie details his admiration for George W. Bush before saying, about his appointment as U.S. Attorney: “I am a political appointee, there’s going to be some measure of politics involved with that appointment.” Remember, at the core of Corzine’s summer attacks was the charge that Christie politicized his office; House Democrats even forced Christie to testify about his practices in front of a Judiciary subcommittee investigating potential prosecutorial abuse. This latest quote could work itself into that narrative.

Second: Christie quasi-systematically exceeded federal guidelines on business travel, for instance billing taxpayers $400/night for stays at luxury hotels; and we’re not talking about small excesses but sums that are double the guidelines’ maximum.

Third: In what is the toughest hit on Christie’s ethics, and thus potentially the most damaging revelation, The New York Times reported this morning that Christie’s former aide Michele Brown twice this year improperly used the U.S. Attorney’s office to help the Republican’s gubernatorial campaign. (Read the article for details about those two damning incidents.) That much would be enough to create a scandal, but the story is made all the more exlposive by the relationship between Christie and Brown.

In August, we learned that Christie had loaned a large sum of money to Brown without declaring it on federal and state disclosure forms. At the time, Democrats charged that this transaction created a conflict of interest: Since the U.S. Attorney’s office was conducting a massive corruption probe that had already led to the arrest of dozens of state politicians, Brown found herself in a position to shape the prosecution - its timing, its target - in ways that could help the man to who she owes tens of thousands.

Christie denied any such intention, but Brown did resign. Two months later, we understand why she chose to do so: There was more to the story. Expect Democrats to have a field day with these revelations in the coming weeks.

Virginia

By contrast, Deeds has not been able to damage McDonnell’s image with the story that came to dominate the fall campaign: the master’s thesis. WVEC/Virginian-Pilot’s first poll of the race finds that 67% of respondents say that will not impact their vote. Unsurprisingly, then, the survey also finds McDonnell crushing Deeds, 45% to 31%.

This is the first pollster other than SUSA to find Deeds down double-digits since mid-August - not that other surveys were kind to the Democrat: Last week, Rasmussen had him down 50% to 43% and Mason-Dixon found a 48% to 40% margin.

While 22% of respondents are undecided in this survey, that appears to first and foremost reflect Democratic voters’ disaffection, which means Deeds’s focus in the campaign closing weeks has to remain motivating his base enough to at least be in contention. Their latest hope to make that happen: The Washington Post’s endorsement, which came in a strongly-worded article published on Sunday.

No one expects this endorsement to be a game-changer. Back in June, the WaPo’s surprise decision to endorse Deeds in the Democratic primary contributed to his pulling-away in the closing weeks of the campaign; but that was a confusing contest with few committed voters, in which the slightest factor differentiating the contenders was bound to be of outsized importance. In any general election, the battle lines are far too set for a newspaper endorsement to matter, especially when it was so predictable.

And yet, Deeds is in no position not to use anything that can ensure that Northern Virginia’s Democratic-leaning voters go to the polls on November 3rd. The Washington Post is a powerful institution in the region, so it is worth trying to motivate voters by making a big deal out of it.

If the master thesis story and the all-out attacks on McDonnell’s social conservative has failed to give Deeds any sort of substantial lead in the region, it’s unlikely the Washington Post’s endorsement will. But it can’t hurt to try.

Polls find Daggett at his highest level yet and Lincoln in her best shape of the year

NJ: Voters turn against Christie, Daggett reaches 18%

3 polls bring further confirmation of the two trendlines that have recently emerged in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race. First, Chris Christie’s lead has evaporated; second, his favorability rating has collapsed.

  • The New York Times’s first poll of the race gives Jon Corzine’s his biggest lead since January - albeit only a 40% to 37% advantage, with Daggett at 14%. Most stunning is that Christie’s striking unpopularity: 19% to 37%, a worse differential than Corzine’s 30-46!
  • SUSA finds Christie with 40%, Corzine with 39% and Daggett at his highest level in any poll: 18%. Last week, Christie was up by 3%.
  • Rasmussen has Christie up by a larger margin, 45% to 41%. That’s an uptick from his 3% lead 10 days ago, but it remains within the MoE. Also, Rasmussen has Daggett at a relatively low 9%. Christie’s favorability rating stands at 46-51.

With many pollsters (like PPP) finding that most of Daggett’s supporters are not committed to sticking with him, it’s too early to say where Daggett will end up on November 3rd: close to (even above) 20%, double-digits or single-digits? If the latter, it remains tough to envision a Corzine victory: As these three polls confirm, the governor is still unable to break out of the low 40s, so he needs Daggett to receive a high enough level of support that 41-42% become enough to clinch victory.

On the other hand, the polls that have Daggett at their highest level are not those in which the governor has his better result. Even if there is evidence the independent’s candidacy has helped Corzine’s comeback, he is also drawing a fair amount of support from would-be Corzine voters. As such, the Daggett vote’s unpredictability makes this entire contest a question mark: Who are these large number of Daggett voters who have yet to make up their mind for sure?

DE: Castle and Biden tie, Carney favored to pick-up House seat

Delaware’s Senate seat has been treated as Beau Biden’s legacy ever since his father resigned. Yet, the expectation that he’ll run has fallen enough that Biden’s merely confirming that he’s considering a run is being celebrated as good news in Democratic quarters. (”I’m gonna, first things first, make sure I focus on my family, focus on my job,” he said. “Look, am I considering it? Absolutely. Absolutely.”) That’s a clear sign of how much the Senate landscape has changed over the past few months.

A new Research 2000 poll of Delaware confirms that Democrats would be in trouble if Biden ended up passing on the race: While the Attorney General holds Rep. Mike Castle within the MoE (46% to 45% for the Republican), Castle leads other Democrats more decisively - 49% to 41% against former LG John Carney, 51% to 37% against appointed Senator Ted Kaufman, 51% to 39% against county executive Chris Coons. In all match-ups, he attracts a large share of Democrats (between 21% and 25%) and triumphs among independents.

Castle and Biden are both very popular (their favorability rating is 64% and 65%, respectively) while the other Democrats in the poll are far less-known - even Carney, whose favorability rating is 41-29, with 40% without an opinion. That does suggest that other Democrats could conceivably be as competitive as Biden, though at least two of those tested here would probably be unbelievable: Kaufman had promised he would not run for a full term and Carney is running for the House.

While some have suggested Carney could switch races, why would he do so when he is so heavily favored to win Castle’s House seat? Research 2000 also tested House match-ups between Carney and two Republicans mentioned as potential candidates: former state Senator Charlie Copeland and state Rep. Greg Lavelle. Carney wins 44-21 and 45-18, respectively. Sure, neither Republican has any name recognition, but more than 10% of the sample is made up of undecided Democrats. It’s hard to envision Republicans defending this seat without a top-tier contender to field.

AR: Lincoln reaches 50% in DSCC poll

It hasn’t been easy to get a sense of Blanche Lincoln’s vulnerability, with public polls finding varying different results - Rasmussen found her trailing four rivals, for instance, while Research 2000 suggested Arkansas were not looking to throw her out and PPP came in somewhere in the middle. Adding to the confusion, the DSCC just leaked the results of an early October poll that have the sunnier results yet for the centrist Senator: Against state Senator Gilbert Baker, Lincoln leads 50% to 37%; against state Senator Kim Hendren, she leads 51% to 37%.

Not only are those the largest leads Lincoln has enjoyed in recent months, this also marks the first survey in which she stays at or above 50% - the vulnerability threshold for incumbents. Obviously, public polls will have to find similar results before Lincoln leaves the group of most endangered senators - as we I noted above, none of the 3 recent public surveys have her in such good form.

Note that Lincoln’s camp can point to a recent event that should help her re-election prospects - her promotion to chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee following Teddy Kennedy’s death - and as such justify that the DSCC results are better than those of earlier polls. But Rasmussen’s poll was also taken after Kennedy’s death, and I find it unlikely Lincoln’s chairmanship is already common knowledge in the state.

FL: What we have come to expect in Governor’s race

Make of a Chamber of Commerce poll what you like, but their gubernatorial results correspond to what we saw from other polls: Bill McCollum leads 42% to 35% against Alex Sink. (Quinnipiac, Rasmussen and Mason Dixon recently found him leading between 4% and 8%; the Chamber’s early August poll had McCollum up 9%.) With neither candidate facing a competitive primary at the moment, the race is unlikely to heat up any time soon and poll results shouldn’t fluctuate too much over the next few months.

As importantly, the poll found Charlie Crist’s approval rating stands at a solid 62% - far better news for the governor than this week’s Insider Advantage survey, which had only 47% of Floridians approving of his performance. If that was the first sign of Crist’s vulnerability, this is a confirmation of why he’d be so favored to win the general election. On the other hand, his rating did decline from its August level (67%).

The latest from New Jersey: Corzine has made race into toss-up, but it remains in flux

With 3 more weeks to go until Election Day, Chris Christie’s lead has entirely evaporated. Sure, Jon Corzine has not been able to build any more momentum than the one that got him to seize his first lead since January last week, but 2 new polls confirmed today that the race is as tight as it gets.

  • Quinnipiac has Christie up 41% to 40% with Daggett at 14%; Quinnipiac had Christie up by 10% in late August and 4% in late September.
  • PPP shows Christie is at 40%, Corzine at 39% and Daggett at 13%. In PPP’s mid-September survey, Christie led by 9%.

Both of these trendlines are remarkable, and they are consistent with what other pollsters are finding. Corzine has pulled off a comeback that in my mind dwarfs those of the state’s past Democratic nominees.

Corzine’s attacks, continued

How he has managed to do so is no mystery: Since early August, Corzine has significantly undercut Christie’s reputation as a law-protecting moderate - and the Republican’s image has been deteriorating for months. Both of these surveys find his favorability in negative territory. As I pointed out last week, he has succeed in this thanks to a barrage of attack ads made all the more effective by a vast spending discrepancy.

And the assault will continue in the coming weeks, as the Corzine campaign just launched two new ads that further the recent themes of the Democrat’s campaign. The first ad continues to blast Christie’s health care plan and his proposal to let people subscribe to insurance from out-of-state companies. Corzine has turned this into a major campaign issue in recent weeks, and here’s his latest salvo:

The second’s message is more straightforward, as it uses the most obvious argument Democrats have in a blue state like New Jersey: Highlight everything that makes Christie a Republican - from his opposition to abortion (the line about his support for a constitutional amendment banning the procedure is particularly damning) to stem-cell research and support for Bush policies:

Now, this sort of message is not often effective in local races in which voters are willing to disregard national politics; that is all the more so the case when the contest’s driving factor has long been Corzine’s continued unpopularity. But the bottom line in campaign’s final run is that these attacks ads have been successful at making Christie’s problems as much of a driving factor as Corzine’s unpopularity.

For a governor whose approval rating is as low as Corzine’s, that’s a remarkable achievement.

The rise of a challenger’s unfavorability rating does not necessarily lead to the decline of his support. If the incumbent is so unpopular that voters want to reject him, it might not matter how unpopular the challenger is because voters are only thinking about the incumbent. And it long looked like Christie would benefit from such a dynamic, as his lead barely declined after he went through brutal weeks in August.

But recent polls showing both Christie growing more unpopular and losing his lead suggest that Corzine is succeeding at turning the spotlight on Christie and getting voters to care enough about him to have this impact their vote.

Worried by his rise, GOP turns on Daggett

Part of the answer is obviously Daggett’s emergence: voters disaffected with Corzine but now unwilling to stay with Christie have somewhere else to go. Today’s two polls bring some evidence for this as they find Daggett drawing more from the Republican than the Democrat. Both asked Daggett’s backers who is their second choice: PPP’s survey finds 48% Christie and 34% Corzine, Quinnipiac’s a narrower 40% Christie and 33% Corzine.

In this context, it is no surprise that the GOP has decided to take aim at Daggett. A new radio ad released by the RGA attacks the independent candidate in what I believe is the first time. Warning that Daggett wants to raise  taxes (”Daggett actually wants to tax you for getting your hair cut, your dry cleaning — you name it”), the spot charges that his plan “sounds like the Corzine plan, but worse.” And this is a strategy Christie is now taking up in attacking the “Corzine-Daggett” tax plan.

(A side note: I wonder if the Republicans’ strategy is the right one here since denouncing a “Corzine-Daggett” plan  could make Daggett look closer to the Democratic Party than to the GOP, making Dem-leaning voters who want to get rid of Corzine realize that Daggett is a more appropriate choice for them than Christie?)

The danger for Republicans is that attacking Daggett raises his visibility, keeps him in the discourse and thus helps him maintain his level of support - especially now that he has unexpectedly landed The Star Ledger’s endorsement, a high-profile boost to his candidacy. Yet, Daggett is now in double-digits so it’s not like the GOP has much of a choice.

Christie still has some factors in which to take comfort

All of this said - and there is a lot of this post that is bound to give Republicans heartburn - the bottom line is that the race is only a toss-up. For all of Corzine’s recent success, he has done nothing more than tie the race - a remarkable achievement considering how far down he was all year, but nonetheless insufficient to be confident about next month.

There are at least two reasons to think that the GOPer has slightly better prospects of pulling ahead than his opponents.

First, Corzine is only marginally improving his own position. His approval rating remains dismal, and if for any reason voters once again turn their attention on the incumbent over the next few weeks (some minor breaking news, a Christie attack that takes hold), it would mean big trouble for Corzine.

Relatedly, Corzine is still unable to break out of the high 30s-low 40s. Sure, that FDU poll had him at 44% - but more recent surveys (including those like PPP and Quinnipiac) have not confirmed that. This might be New Jersey, but undecided voters remain likely to break for the challenger in the final week; so unless Daggett can reach the 20% range, Corzine still has to prove he can expand his base of support.

The second reason is that all polls show that Daggett’s backers are far less committed to supporting him than Christie’s and Corzine’s, with less than 50% in PPP’s survey saying they are sure of voting for the independent. With both surveys showing that Christie would be in a better position to expand his lead if Daggett lost support, Corzine is in a precarious position as his electoral fate partly depends on Daggett’s success in maintaining momentum.

The RGA’s attacks and the Star Ledger’s endorsement might help him do that, but Daggett has to guard himself against structural reasons that make it hard for any third-party contender to break through.



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