Archive for the 'Virginia' Category

Poll watch: Bayh crushes Coats, Pomeroy & Shea-Porter struggle, GOP solid in PA

Less than three weeks from Texas’s primaries

Earlier this week, PPP shook up our expectations as Kay Bailey Hutchison suddenly looked in danger of being knocked out of the runoff by libertarian Debra Medina. Since then, three new Texas surveys have been released, all with a differing take on what is likely to happen on March 2nd. Research 2000 finds a likely runoff between Rick Perry and Hutchison, who come in at 42% and 30% with Medina at a still-impressive 17%. The University of Texas has Rick Perry closer to a first round victory (he is at 45%, with 16% still undecided) and a stunningly close race for second, with Hutchison at 21% and Medina at 19%. Finally, a poll conducted by two partisan firms shows Hutchison in front of Medina (27% to 19%) but Perry so close to 50% that it might not matter.

But all of these surveys were conducted before Medina attracted fire not only from the mainstream press but also conservatives like Glenn Beck for expressing openness to the possibility that the government was involved in bringing down of the World Trace Center. “I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard,” she said. “There are some very good arguments, and I think the American people have not seen all of the evidence there, so I have not taken a position on that. I’m certainly not into mind control or thought policing people.” This has gained a lot of coverage and should negatively affect her numbers. The question is: Does it help Perry cross 50% on March 2nd?

Two of these surveys also tested the general election, both finding Houston Mayor Bill White well within striking distance. In R2000, he trails Perry only 46% to 42%; he’s down 47-41 against Hutchison and 44-43 against Medina. The margins are larger according to the University of Texas, but both Perry and Hutchison are well under 50% (they lead 44-35 and 43-34, respectively); Medina and White are tied at 36%.

Bayh might not be that vulnerable after all

The week’s other very interesting poll comes from Indiana, where Research 2000 is the first pollster to test former Senator Dan Coats since he announced he was planning a political comeback two weeks ago. And the result is far less favorable than what the GOP was hoping to see: Coats’s favorability rating is only 38-34, weaker than former Rep. John Hosettler’s, which stands at 40-33. Evan Bayh, whose favorability rating stands at a solid 61-33, demolishes Coats 55% to 35%; against Hostettler, he is up by a narrower yet solid 53% to 37%.

A major reason Bayh has been painted as vulnerable in recent week is a Rasmussen survey showing him struggling against Mike Pence and against Hostettler; R2000 paints a very different situation, so it will certainly be interesting to see where other polls pit the race. Yet, Coats sure doesn’t look like a game-changer - and perhaps we should not be surprised at that: remember that he has not had his name on a ballot since 1992. The past 10 days have marked the first time most Indiana residents have heard about him in over a decade, and the coverage has been remarkably negative, which explains the rough welcome Coats has gotten as he has started to hit the trail.

House

VA-05: Given the number of House surveys that have found Democratic incumbents sinking (SUSA in AR-02, IN-09 and OH-01, most notably), we could have expected Rep. Tom Perriello to be in far worse shape than PPP finds him in. One of the NRCC’s top targets, Perriello is tied against state Senator Robert Hurt, 44% to 44%; the Democrat manages leads ranging from 4% to 10% against other GOP candidates. (While they might have a lower-profile, don’t forget how often we have seen unknown Republicans grab leads against incumbent Democrats lately.) Making matters more complicated is the prospect that former Rep. Virgil Goode, whom Perriello defeated in 2008, run as an independent: Boosted by a 57-28 favorability rating, Goode ties Perriello at 41%, with Hurt at 12%.

ND-AL: Tom Pomeroy might be keeping his head above water, but Earl Pomeroy is more vulnerable than is commonly believed, at least according to Rasmussen’s new poll. Like many of his colleagues, the 17-year incumbent finds himself trailing against Republicans he probably would have crushed in most cycles: against state Rep. Rick Berg, he is down 46% to 40%. While he maintains a 45-44 edge over Kevin Cramer, he has defeated him twice before, making this result underwhelming. Pomeroy does have a 47-38 edge over low-profile Paul Schaffner, but even then he remains under the 50% threshold. Put ND-AL in the column of truly endangered districts few expected would be vulnerable as 2009 started.

NH-01 and NH-02: In addition to releasing a Senate race (see below), UNH conducted a poll of both of New Hampshire’s districts, finding a very tough landscape for Democrats. (An important caveat: the margin of error is a large 6.2%.) In NH-01, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is in a truly terrible position, failing to garner more than 33% whoever she faces and leading 43% to 33% against former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta. In NH-02, left open by Democrat Paul Hodes, former GOP Rep. Charlie Bass would be favored to regain his old seat if he runs: He leads Ann McLane Kuster 39% to 28% and Katrina Swett 37% to 30%. Sure, Bass’s name recognition is higher but New Hampshire does seem fertile ground for Republicans this year.

Senate

New Hampshire: Two different polls found remarkably similar results and confirmed what surveys have found over and over again since last fall, namely that Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has built a comfortable but stable lead over Rep. Paul Hodes. UNH has her ahead 41% to 33% while Rasmussen pits it at 46% to 39%. However, other Republicans are weaker: Hodes leads decisively against Ovide Lamontagne (38-29 in UNH, 44-38 in Rasmussen), while it is closer against William Binnie (he’s up 34-30 in UNH, trails 42-41 in Rasmussen). A recent Research 2000 poll showed that Ayotte is far from certain of winning the primary, but the fact that Hodes is trailing against a relatively unknown businessman is a bad sign for voters’ willingness to vote Democratic.

Missouri: Rasmussen might be the only pollster to find Robin Carnahan trailing outside of the margin of error, but today marked the second poll they have released with such a finding: Weighed down by Barack Obama’s 40-59 approval rating, Carnahan trails Rep. Roy Blunt 49% to 42%. Though Carnahan would likely have an edge in normal circumstances, Missouri is conservative enough that it should not surprise us to see Blunt carried by the GOP currents.

North Dakota: No miracle for Democrats in North Dakota, where Governor John Hoeven looks even more formidable than conventional wisdom dictates according to Rasmussen’s latest poll. Not only does he enjoy an eye-popping 85% approval rating, but he crushes state Senator Potter and former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp 71-17 and 65-29, respectively. This has got to be all the more frustrating for Democrats that Heitkamp’s has a respectable favorability rating (54-36).

Louisiana: Here’s one race Democrats will not be contesting come November. It’s been obvious for weeks that Rep. Charlie Melancon’s hopes of pulling off an upset have been fading, but the Rasmussen survey with Senator David Vitter leading 57% to 33% is brutal for Democrats. With a 67% to 26% favorability rating, Vitter’s standing bears no trace of the D.C. Madam scandal.

Pennsylvania: With Senate Democrats in bad shape in Delaware, Arkansas or Nevada, they cannot afford to lose but Rasmussen finds Pat Toomey leading Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak by decisive margins: 47-38 and 43-35, respectively. I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again. I am not sure how a five-term senator can survive trailing by 9% and struggling to break 40%, while Pennsylvanians should be more open to voting for the lesser-known Sestak; that also explains why Toomey is further from 50% in the latter match-up. Yet, Specter manages to keep a comfortable lead in the primary: 51% to 36%. That might have been an encouraging back in the fall, but three months from Election Day, the time has come for Sestak to gain traction.

Governor

Colorado: Rasmussen confirms that replacing Governor Bill Ritter with Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has improved Democratic prospects. While Ritter was weighed by a negative approval rating, Hickenlooper is popular (his favorability rating is 56-36); while Ritter trailed Scott McInnis in most late 2009 surveys, Hickenlooper leads 49% to 45%. That might not be anything for Democrats to celebrate, but it does leave them in a better position not just to defend the Governor’s Mansion but perhaps also the Senate seat.

Ohio: The good news for Ted Strickland is that his numbers are no longer in free fall. The bad news is that he stopped the bleeding too late not to look highly endangered. Weighed down by a negative approval rating (46-53) and facing a challenger that appears popular (John Kasich’s favorability rating is 47-30), Strickland trails 47% to 41% according to Rasmussen; that’s slightly less than in January, but it leaves him in a rough spot. Might Ohio Democrats have something to learn something from Colorado?

Illinois: The first poll taken since the Illinois primary found Governor Pat Quinn in a stronger position than he looked to be a few weeks ago, perhaps due to a bounce resulting from the coverage of his victory. Against state Senator Bill Brady, Quinn leads 42% to 31%, with 4% going to Green Party nominee Rich Whitney; against state Senator Kirk Dillard, who trails the GOP primary by 400 votes and has not conceded, Quinn is up 41% to 35%. An important caveat: The poll was conducted by Victory Research, a group I had never heard before.

Pennsylvania: Now that he has gotten rid of Jim Gerlach’s primary threat, Attorney General Tom Corbett looks unstoppable in Rasmussen’s latest poll: He crushes Jack Wagner 49-29, Joe Hoeffel 51-29 and Dan Onorato 52-26. While this is nothing we haven’t seen before, and even if we account for Rasmussen representing the GOP-friendly end of the polling spectrum, the margins by which Corbett is demolishing his opponents bode ill for other Pennsylvania Democrats.

Michigan: Rasmussen’s poll of this wide open race confirms the GOP can be optimistic since Republican candidates lead 11 of 12 trial heats. Only Speaker Andy Dillon  manages a 36-35 edge over Attorney General Mike Cox, though he trails 40-32 against Sheriff Mike Bouchard and 41-34 against Rep. Pete Hoekstra. The other important match-ups concern Lansing Mayor Van Bernero, who trails by 6%, 9% and 13%, respectively. This poll is somewhat surprising, since EPIC-MRA has repeatedly shown Cox to be the strongest Republican in the general election; it is also striking that Democrats looked to be in worse shape when Lieutenant Governor John Cherry was in the race. Cherry never looked to be within striking distance, whereas Bernero and Dillon do.

Retirement clues

Since open seats have played a major role in determining the shape of the cycle, it would be good to take a look as to what shoes might still drop in the coming months.

On the Senate front, the only incumbent who might choose to retire for reasons unrelated to the prospect of a tough loss is 85-year old Dan Inouye, but as I discussed recently the Hawaii senator has certainly dropped no hints he might call it quits so Democrats seem safe. Meanwhile, Harry Reid and Blanche Lincoln are now both regularly fielding questions about whether they intend to stick to their re-election races given their dismal poll numbers; I find it hard to believe either would step aside, and unlike in Connecticut, Democrats have no obvious savior.

On the gubernatorial front, there are already so many open seats it’s tough to come up with any more incumbents who might choose not to run. The only one who might do so is David Paterson, though the New York Governor has looked determined not to leave the field to Andrew Cuomo. There has also been some minimal speculation that Chet Culver and Ted Strickland might retire rather than face the prospect of a loss, but it’s tough to see how Democrats could do better in Iowa given that their trouble come from Terry Branstad’s entry while Strickland’s woes are not pronounced enough for his retirement to make much sense.

That leaves us with House races, in which the number of additional open seats will be decisive in determining how serious a shot Republicans have of regaining the majority. Based on the past few cycles, we are unlikely to get that many more retirements in the coming months but there are many congressmen we should keep an eye on, namely Ike Skelton, Peter DeFazio, Paul Kanjorski, Tim Holden on the Democratic side, Bill Young on the Republican side.

In addition, Democrats like John Spratt and Collin Peterson have ruled out retiring but they are worth still tracking. Finally, surprise retirements are possible, though it is worth noting that most of the Democrats who recently called it quits - Berry, Snyder, Gordon - had at least been mentioned as potential retirees. [Update: I should add the 68-year old Rep. Bill Delahunt, who represents the most Republican district in Massachusetts and who is now being mentioned as a potential retiree.]

Fundraising totals often offer interesting clues as to which incumbents might not be looking to run for re-election. Now that we can parse through the 4th quarter totals, we can glean new hints. To be sure, a congressman raising little money does not mean they are planning to call it quits, nor do big fundraising hauls indicate that they will run again. But they can certainly point us in useful directions; Jodi Rell’s 3rd quarter report, for instance, foreshadowed her decision to retire.

The most eyebrow-raising number once again belongs to 79-year old Bill Young, the longest serving House Republican who represents a swing district and has not committed to seek a 21st term in 2010. Young raised just $750 in the fourth quarter; even lower than the $3,900 he raised in the third quarter. It’s not like Young is averse to soliciting funds, like John Hostettler or Vic Snyder. In 2007, he raised 5 times more than he has in 2009 - and he was not facing a competitive opponent as he is this cycle.

That said, state Senator Charlie Justice has not caught fire, which might encourage Young to think that he would not have to break much more of a sweat than he is used in his largely competition-free38 years in Congress. In early January, speculation mounted that Young was about to call it quits; the fact that he did not do so might also signal he is willing to press ahead.

Other Republicans who had been considered potential (albeit unlikely) retirees are Frank Wolf (VA-10) and Pat Tiberi (OH-12). The former reported raising more than $180,000 while Tiberi is trumpeting the $440,000 he raised in the fourth quarter. With Ohio’s filing deadline looming later in February, the time has come to strike him off our retirement watch. (Note that Tiberi is a rare House Republican to face a top-tier challenge next year.)

On the Democratic side, the number that is producing the most buzz is that of John Spratt (SC-05). While Spratt said in December he would seek another term, the $77,000 he raised in the fourth quarter don’t point to an incumbent who is seriously preparing for the hard fought race Spratt is sure to face; it is also far lower than what Spratt reported in previous cycles.

On the other hand, a number of Democratic incumbents whom the GOP has been ardently hoping will retire are proceeding like they are running. Most significant is 78-year old Ike Skelton’s $492,000, which certainly suggests he is taking his 2010 challenge very seriously. There is also no reason for Democrats to be alarmed at Baron Hill, who reported $251,000. (The filing deadline is looming.) Leonard Boswell (IA-03)’s $180,000 is a higher number than he did in the last three months of 2007 and Colin Peterson topped $100,000, which is not negligeable considering he is not facing a competitive race.

Interestingly: Rep. Marion Berry, who announced his retirement a month after the end of the fourth quarter, reported raising $73,000, which might have been a hint since that was less than he reported in 2007, a cycle in which he was entirely unopposed.

VA Dems reassure themselves with special election victory, strengthen their hand in redistricting

While Massachussetts Democrats are panicking about the possibility of an upset in next Tuesday’s Senate race, their Virginia counterparts got some excellent news last night: They picked-up a state Senate seat in a special election, thus expanding their tenuous majority.

The vacancy was created by state Senator Ken Cuccinelli’s victory in last fall’s Attorney General race. Cuccinelli had to resign from his seat, setting up a special election in his Northern Virginia district (SD-37). The race was bound to be highly competitive: While SD-07 voted for Bob McDonnell by 15% in 2009 and for George W. Bush by 4% in 2004, it also gave Barack Obama and Tim Kaine double-digit victories. In short, this district is representative of Virginia’s drift leftward between and 2004 and 2008, and its dramatic return to the GOP fold last year.

Virginia Democrats’ setbacks did not start with McDonnell’s triumph. In early 2009, a series of Northern Virginia special election already signaled that something was amiss: After Democrats suffered a couple of unexpected close calls, they lost a race for Fairfax County Commissioner to an underfunded Republican: the GOP base was more excited, the Democratic base did not show up and independents were no longer behaving like Democrats - a pattern that held last November, when McDonnell’s stunning victory in Fairfax County confirmed that Northern Virginia isn’t as reliable a motor for Democratic progress as the party had been hoping.

With Democrats across the country plagued by similar fears about turnout patterns and energy levels, the stakes became all the higher heading into last night’s race; and while on paper the GOP nominee (Fairfax County School Board member Steve Hunt) looked weaker than what Republicans should have fielded, most would probably have given him a slight edge because of the national environment. Yet, it is Democratic Delegate Dave Marsden who eked out a victory, prevailing by 321 votes out of 23,500 cast.

The victory is all the sweeter for Democrats because it does go against the (poll-supported) conventional wisdom that that weak turnout races will mean a disproportionate number of Republicans show up to the polls. Indeed, turnout in yesterday’s election was only 18%, so Marsden was able to ensure that his party’s base show up in a low-interest election. (Note that SD-37 is in Gerry Connolly’s VA-11, which some Republicans argue is vulnerable based on McDonnell’s results; Marsden’s victory makes Connolly breath easier.)

The pick-up of SD-37 expands Democrats majority in the state Senate to 22-18; it stood at 21-19 before Cuccinelli’s resignation.

With the GOP firmly in command of both the Governor’s Mansion and the House of Delegates, only the Senate allows Democrats to maintain a foot in state government. This is consequential not just for Virginians, but also for national politics: Control of the state Senate is crucial for the next round of redistricting, a power probably worth at least 2 U.S. House seats.

When Virginia’s map was last drawn in 2001, Republicans entirely controlled the process; they passed a gerrymandered map that gave them control of 8 of the state’s 11 seats. (Mark Warner came in power in January 2002, but by then it was too late: Virginia’s maps have to be completed within the first few months following the census’s completion to be ready for the odd-year legislative races.) Even though Democrats now control 6 of the seats, it is only because Republicans had miscalculated demographic evolutions and spread themselves thin in numerous places; this state of affair (which could change as soon as 2010 as the GOP is fielding up strong challengers in at least 2 of these districts) doesn’t contradict the fact that the map is a rough one for Democrats.

In 2011, Democrats have the opportunity to undo some of the damage caused by 2001’s gerrymandering.

The 2009 disaster already cost Democrats any hope they might have had to control the entirety of state government thus forcing a gerrymander of their own. (They would have had to defend the Governor’s Mansion and pick-up 5 seats in the House of Delegates. Instead, they lost the governorship and it is the GOP that picked-up seats in the House of Delegates - 6, to be exact!) Yet, Democrats were saved by the fact that no state Senate seats were up before 2011; had the upper chamber also been up for re-election, and McDonnell’s coattails would almost surely have given Republicans a majority. In fact, the state Senate is not up for re-election until November 2011, after the new redistricting map has to have been completed.

That means that the current state Senate, in which Democrats have a 22-18 majority, will be the one in office when the new map is drawn.

You’ll surely object that Democrats already had the majority, so they were already certain to have a voice in the redistricting process and yesterday’s special election is unimportant. But that is not exactly true: Democrats’ 21-19 majority was extremely fragile. In 2009, state Sen. Ralph Northam was on the verge of joining the GOP; Democrats only managed to prevent him from doing so because a Republican tweeted about the coming switch before Northam had announced it, giving Democrats time to convince him not to jump ships. There are still persistent rumors that some legislators are considering switching parties and there is speculation McDonnell might appoint a couple of Democrats to governmental positions in the hope that the special elections give the GOP the opportunity to wrestle power away from Democrats. (This is a strategy Governor Beshear has used effectively in Kentucky.)

Had Democrats failed to pick-up SD-37 and kept a 21-19 majority, they would have been at the mercy of a single senator switching parties or McDonnell forcing a single special election in a tough-to-hold district. (In case of a 20-20 tie, the Republican Lieutenant would have a deciding vote.) As of now, however, they have some breathing room: To control all levels of state governments and thus be able to draw yet another gerrymandered map in 2011, Republicans will need to come up with inventive ways to pick-up two districts before they are up.

Otherwise, Democrats will have some veto power over redistricting. A bipartisan map should mean good things for Rep. Glenn Nye in particular, as he could find himself with a friendlier district. Democrats could also impose that VA-11 and VA-09 be made bluer (to ensure they get no bad surprises in the former, to give them a chance to defend the latter once Boucher retires); and they could prevent that the GOP make VA-10 more Republican (as it is designed now, this Northern Virginia district once Rep. Wolf retires).

Dem candidates drop out in OH-02 and VA-10, but another releases competitive poll in FL-12

When Rep. Adam Putnam abruptly announced his retirement early in 2009, FL-12 did not vault at the top of the Democrats’ priority list: While it had only gone for John McCain by 1%, George W. Bush had prevailed by double-digits in both 2000 and 2004. Yet, Democrats started paying attention when Polk County Supervisor of Elections Laure Edwards announced her candidacy: Not only has won re-election in red-leaning Polk County since 2000, but she also served as a state representative for much of the 1990s.

Last week, Edwards sought to prove that the worsening political climate shouldn’t cause Democrats to give up on FL-12 by releasing an internal poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner: It shows Edwards leading former state Rep. Dennis Ross 46% to 42%.

This is an internal poll, so it should be taken with a grain of salt; in particular, there doesn’t seem to be a clear explanation as to why Ross was the only opponent tested or whether match-ups pitting Edwards against other Republicans who’ve declared their candidacy (for instance Polk County Commissioner Randy Wilkinson) yielded worse results that were not released. Yet, the poll suggests that Edwards will at the very least be competitive; if nothing else, it should help her draw national Democrats’ attention, perhaps getting the DCCC to commission a poll of its own and generally get more involved.

That FL-12 would be competitive makes sense. The district is described as hostile to Democrats based on the 2000 and 2004 results, and the 2008 tie is dismissed as due to exceptional turnout patterns that won’t hold in 2010. But I explained in October that FL-12 has gone through big demographic changes over the past decade that suggest Obama’s gains will be long-lasting rather than ephemeral: In 2000, 72% of FL-12’s residents were white while in 2008, 63% were white (we are talking about residents here, not voters, so this isn’t about turnout).

Two Democratic recruits drop out in Ohio and in Virginia

Despite OH-02’s red lean, Democrats have dreamed of taking it over ever since the controversial Jean Schmidt became the GOP’s flag-bearer. Yet, they’ve fallen short cycle after cycle - and it looks like Schmidt might not even face that tough a general election this time. State Rep. Todd Book, whose entry a few months ago was celebrated by Democrats, is now withdrawing from the race. Sure, the race always looked tough for the party to pull off: In a district that gave John McCain 59%, how could they succeed in 2010 if they failed in 2006 and 2008? But Book is term-limited out of the state House in 2010, so it’s not like he was giving up his legislative seat for a run against Schmidt.

The Democratic primary is now in the hands of David Krikorian, who received 18% in 2008 as an independent. Whether or not the campaign is tight (Krikorian’s impressive showing as an independent suggests he has an audience in the district), it should be explosive since Schmidt and Krikorian have a lot of history: The two have faced off in court last summer after Schmidt sued Krikorian after the latter charged that she had received “blood money” in exchange for denying the Armenian Genocide.

Lawyer Patrick Lewis, the candidate who dropped out of VA-10, was not as highly touted by national Democrats but his withdrawal is no less frustrating: When the cycle started, the party had hopes for a Northern Virginia district that voted for Obama by 7% after giving Bush double-digit victories. Yet, much of it was predicated on Wolf retiring (he is 70). That’s apparently not happening, and the GOP should hold on to VA-10 next year.

… while GOP lands one in NJ-03

Rep. John Adler represents a swing district (NJ-03 voted for Obama by 5% in 2008, for Bush by only 2% in 2004) but he at times behaves like it’s staunchly conservative territory; 2 weeks ago, he was one of only 8 Democrats representing Obama districts to vote against the health-care bill, and one of 6 to do so from the right. Starting this week, he will at least be able to point out he’s facing a credible opponent: Jon Runyan, who used to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, has informed local GOP leaders he’s running for Congress.

The twist: Runyan is first going back to football. Just this week, he signed on with the San Diego Chargers, which means that he will not be able to engage in political activities until the NFL season is over. Sure, the season will end early enough that he should have time to prepare for the GOP’s June primary but this is still a bizarre decision: Runyan has no political experience, has never ran for office and will presumably need to brush up his hold on issues and his campaign skills before launching himself in a race. Heath Shuler, who transitioned from NFL quarterback to Congress, did not do so in a matter of weeks.

While the burden is on Runyan to prove he can appeal to voters in a political sense, he is the sort of candidate - big name, rugged looks - that national parties are often attracted to. (In 2006, The Washington Post devoted an incomprehensibly long article to the good looks of top Democratic recruits, all of them male.) That should ensure that the NRCC pays a lot of attention to his campaign, which will help him avoid rookie mistakes, target the incumbent and access the party’s fundraising network. Adler-Runyan is a race we’ll hear about again.

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.

Final polls show GOP dominant in Virginia, gay marriage endangered by generational gap

Gay marriage endangered by prospect of generational turnout gap

Besides New Jersey and New York, about which I’ll write later today, tomorrow’s most suspenseful vote is undoubtedly occurring in Maine: Will voters vote to repeal the law legalizing gay marriage? It last week’s Pan American SMS gave the “no” its largest lead yet (53% to 42%), two surveys released since have found a tighter race. For Research 2000, voters are split 48% (no) to 47% (yes); PPP, meanwhile, has the “yes” leading 51% to 47%.

PPP’s poll is not the first to find gay marriage opponents ahead, but it is the first to show the “yes” tops 50% - signaling that we might be in a repeat of California’s vote. And while Democrats are less mobilized than they were in 2008, the partisan turnout gap isn’t big enough to explain why progressives are in danger of losing a battle many thought would be easier to win than in the Golden State: Respondents to the PPP poll voted for Obama 54% to 40%, compared to the president’s 18% victory in November 2008.

More than a partisan turnout gap, what is threatening gay marriage is a generational turnout gap. 14% of voters in 2008 were over 65; PPP finds that 20% of those voting tomorrow should be that old. Since that age group is preparing to vote “yes” 59% to 40%, we don’t have to look much further to explain why gay marriage might go down. Similarly, PPP finds only 12% of respondents are between 18 and 29, compared to 17% in 2008.

A major caveat: Research 2000, whose results find gay marriage stronger by a non-negligeable 5%, finds the electorate has a very different age composition - and slightly more Democrats. One reason to think PPP’s age composition might be off is that the poll was conducted over Halloween week-end, but PPP’s prior poll (which found a tie at 48%) had an even wider age gap.

We can only conclude by the same cliche I used with the New Jersey race: It all comes down to turnout - and since the gay marriage vote is the highest profile issue on Maine’s ballot, turnout is even harderfor pollsters to predict here than it is in states that are holding more typical partisan contests.

Elsewhere, there’s suspense in NC; not so much in VA and NYC

PPP, which is based in North Carolina, finds a dead heat in two mayoral races. In Charlotte, which has been in GOP hands for two decades, Republican John Lassiter leads Democrat Anthony Foxx 50% to 46%. In Chapel Hill, the race is going down the wire between Matt Czajkowski and Mark Kleinschmidt, who could become a rare openly gay official in the state; the race is nonpartisan, but Kleinschmidt is a registered Democrat while Czajkowski is a registered Republican.

That I am listing North Carolina before Virginia’s gubernatorial race is a testament to how dominant Bill McDonnell’s leads have become. All the latest polls find a big double-digit margin that threatens to take down Democrats up-and-down the ballot:McDonnell leads 56% to 42% in PPP, 58% to 40% in SUSA, which has long been cruel to state Democrats, and 53% to 41% in Mason-Dixon. SUSA finds Republicans leading by just as big in the two other statewide races.

Finally, Mike Bloomberg continues to calmly coast towards a third term in NYC thanks to his absurd overspending. He leads 53% to 38% in Marist, 50% to 38% in Quinnipiac and 53% to 42% in SUSA; an internal poll released by Thompson last week that showed him trailing by single-digits. Given Thompson’s inability to create any buzz around a possible upset, it’s hard to see how tomorrow could yield anything than Bloomberg’s re-election. I will say, however, that we were all surprised back in September at the WFP’s organizational strength and at the intensity of the anti-term limit backlash that unseated 4 incumbent councilmen; at the very least, the margin could be closer than what polls are indicating.

What Deeds’s comments about the public option reveal about his flaws as a candidate

Is Creigh Deeds trying to get Virginia Democrats unmotivated towards the Governor’s race? Faced with worsening polls (PPP today found McDonnell leading 52% to 40%, up from a 5% edge) and evidence that large numbers of Virginians who voted for Obama will stay home on November 3rd, Deeds has no choice but to focus on mobilizing his base - young voters, blacks, progressives.

And yet, Deeds managed to make headlines last night by taking the stance that is sure to anger liberals more than any other stance he could have possibly taken in the current political context.

“I don’t think the public option is necessary,” he said during a gubernatorial debate. “I would certainly consider opting-out if that were available to Virginia.” (Deeds’s statement is a reference to a plan proposed by moderate Democrats that is now under discussion in Senate; it would institute a government-run plan but would give individual states the right to opt-out of that national public option.)

It is incomprehensible to me how Deeds would think such a statement was a good idea. Not only is the public option an issue of passionate interest among the Democratic base, which he needs to motivate, but it is also popular among the public at large. Sure, many conservatives would be angry if Deeds didn’t reject the public option - but it’s not like this would suddenly spur them into action since conservatives are already more likely to turn out than liberals, which is the whole reason Deeds needs to fire up his base.

Remember: Many pollsters show that McCain won among Virginians who are likely to vote on November 3rd, even though he lost the state by 5% last year.

For months, Deeds has been accused of not doing much to remedy that situation, for instance by focusing too much on the state’s rural areas at the expense of regions in which he needed to build up margins. While he has tried to mobilize NoVa in recent months, it’s largely been by attacking his opponent’s stance on social issues rather than by giving the base reasons to be excited about Deeds himself.

Yesterday night, Deeds was given an opportunity to create a clear difference. He could have contrasted what would occur if he was elected governor (not remove Virginia from the national plan) to what McDonnell would have done (opt out). By playing on the issue that is the most politically resonant at the moment, he could have given the average Virginia Democrat a reason to care about this race - one that goes beyond what McDonnell wrote 20 years ago.

Sure, a full defense of the public option might be asking too much of Deeds, but he could simply say that opting out would be a radical step comparable to conservative Republicans refusing stimulus funds (as the GOP-controlled state legislature did earlier this year). Yet, not only did Deeds pass on this opportunity, he did the contrary, downplayed any difference, angered his base - a move that could damage his efforts to make the stakes look high enough to get Democratic-leaning voters to bother going to the polls.

This was a clear enough political mistake that the Deeds campaign tried to backtrack today to stop the flood of coverage portraying the Democratic nominee as a staunch opponent of the public option. The campaign’s press release attempts to belatedly create some distance with McDonnell on this issue:

If the public option proves to be the best way to reach those objectives, he’d support having Virginia participate…. Creigh’s approach is eminently more responsible that Bob McDonnell’s. Last night, McDonnell put ideology ahead of Virginia’s best interests when he said he’d oppose a public option – which he previously said would cause a “government takeover” of health care — even if it’s proven the best way to control health care costs.

I’ll let you watch the YouTube clip of the debate to determine whether the absence of any remark indicating an openness to the idea that the public option might work squares with this characterization. The bottom line: The positive tone the campaign strikes here about the public option is a testament to how unlikely it is there’ll be any backlash, and this rather pathetic attempt to carve a dramatic-sounding difference out of little confirms that this was a missed opportunity.

This is not an isolated case. There were questions in July about whether Deeds was avoiding Obama, for instance when the former turned down an invitation to appear at an event the latter was holding in Northern Virginia. That led to stories highlighting his absence, leading North Virginians to get the exact opposite impression Deeds should have aiming for. While Deeds is now airing an ad featuring the president, it’s getting a bit late in the game.

We often hear that Democrats should beware to nominate candidates that are too liberal to win the general election. With Deeds, we have a candidate who seems too centrist to build a winning electoral coalition. Sure, he would face less difficulty if this was not an off-year election (as in if other contests like a presidential race turned out liberal voters) and some of his predicament comes from the political environment, which requires Democratic candidates to be particularly sensible to the enthusiasm gap if they want to mobilize their base.

Yet, candidates should be able to adapt their campaign to such conditions - or at the very least, they should be able to try. It is never a given that either party’s base will go to the polls in adequate numbers, and the turnout rate is as important as appealing to swing voters (as Republicans discovered in 2006 and 2008). That is often forgotten, which has especially dire consequences in an off-year election with an already disaffected base. Yesterday’s remarks are just one example of Deeds’s reluctance to speak the Democratic base’s language, even when it could help him.

Polls find good news for GOP: McDonnell up 19%, Kirk manages Illinois tie, trouble for Gillibrand

It’s all but over in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, at least if SUSA’s latest poll is to be trusted: Bob McDonnell leads Creigh Deeds by a stunning 59% to 40%!

Sure, SUSA has long been the friendliest pollster to McDonnell. But that in no way addresses the trendline (the Republican has gained 8% in two weeks) nor the fact that other polls are also finding Deeds in free fall: Just this morning, I noted that WVEC had released the first non-SUSA poll since August to find a double-digit margin.

What’s particularly ugly for Deeds is that the poll’s sample is far less skewed towards the GOP than it has been in recent months: 47% of respondents reported voting for Obama in 2008, versus 44% in SUSA’s 3 prior polls. So how come Deeds trails by 19%? He is down 71% to 27% among independents and trails by 10% among Northern Virginians… I am obviously skeptical that either of those groups will vote for McDonnell this decisively, but the mere fact that we are discussing it as a possibility tells us all we need to know about Deeds’s prospects.

A more competitive contest that will be held on November 3rd is Maine’s vote on gay marriage. Two recent polls had found the “no” (the pro-gay marriage position) holding a decisive lead, but PPP contradicted those findings by finding a tie, 48% to 48%. As PPP notes, that means that the results will come down to turnout: The fewer voters go to the polls, the more the electorate is likely to be old and the less gay marriage will be likely to survive. That makes the issue very hard to poll.

On to 2010 races: Paterson, Gillibrand in trouble

Jon Corzine might be improving his fortunes in New Jersey, but David Paterson isn’t able to mount any sort of comeback in neighboring New York. Siena’s monthly poll finds his approval rating as dismal as ever - 19%. In the Democratic primary, he is crushed by Andrew Cuomo 70% to 20%; in the general election, he trails Rudy Giuliani 56% to 33%. Though he musters a 39% to 37% edge against Rick Lazio, Cuomo destroys Lazio 66% to 21%.

By now, I fail to feel any astonishment whatsoever at the sight of an incumbent governor trailing by 50% - a testament to how certain it is that Paterson will lose his re-election race if either Cuomo or Giuliani jump in the race. I am somewhat surprised that the governor has failed to improve his approval rating at all, however. He did receive some good news in recent months, after all, starting with his success in resolving some of the state’s institutional paralysis when he convinced state courts to let his Lieutenant Governor appointment stand.

Another New York incumbent who is not in good shape is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Though we are talking about a whole different situation than Paterson - her favorability rating, which stands at 28-26, is not comparable to the governor’s - her deficit when matched-up with Giuliani is only marginally smaller than Paterson’s: She trails by a large 53% to 36%. Former Governor George Pataki also leads Gillibrand, 46% to 41%.

The senator is lucky there is still no evidence either Giuliani or Pataki will run for governor. In fact, the former mayor is turning out to be quite a political force independently of the Democrats’ woes: 53% of respondents want him to run for some office in 2010, versus 43% who would rather he did not. There could be no better test of the electorate’s receptiveness to Giuliani.

Illinois’s Senate race is a toss-up

Another Senate seat the GOP might have a chance of picking-up is Illinois’s, where Rasmussen confirms that Rep. Mark Kirk makes the race highly competitive: Kirk ties Alexi Giannoulias 41% to 41%, he leads Cheryle Jackson 43% to 39% and he’s more decisively ahead of David Hoffman, 47% to 37%. Illinois’s political leanings mean that Democrats are slightly favored to have a tie resolved in their favor, if for no other reason than because Barack Obama would probably get involved in his home-state.

Yet, the bottom line is that Kirk is electable enough that he’s able to overcome Illinois’s “blue state status” and appeal to enough typically Democratic-voting electors to push a statewide official (Giannoulias) into a tie. And before you object that this is a Rasmussen poll, let me remind you that no survey has found Giannoulias with a meaningful lead; a PPP poll released over the spring also found a tie.

One of the most interesting nuggets in this poll is the lack of a significant differential between Giannoulias and Jackson’s performance, despite the former’s far stronger name recognition. If other polls find a similar result, that could mean a more contested Democratic primary since it would prevent Giannoulias of an electability argument. Second, this suggests to me that Kirk is winning over nearly all swing voters, leaving the Democratic base to his opponents. That he isn’t pulling away in those conditions is a testament to how difficult it’ll be for Kirk to actually cross the finish-line.

Vitter leads by double-digits, again

A Southern Media and Opinion Research poll has Senator David Vitter leading Rep. Charlie Melancon 48% to 36% - a margin similar to that of the recent Rasmussen survey, which had the incumbent up 46% to 36%.

The good news for Melancon is that Vitter is under the 50% mark (albeit narrowly) and that a 12% deficit, albeit significant, can be overcome - especially by a challenger who has room to grow by virtue of lower name recognition. The good news for Vitter is that the electorate is not looking to replace him, and the 2007 scandals do not appear to have left much of a map: His favorability rating stands at 57%, which makes him difficult to beat.

The one poll that should excite liberals: Americans love the public option

I typically stay away from polling on Obama’s approval rating or on policy matters, but The Washington Post’s health care survey is dominating the week’s political discussion to too great an extent to ignore it: 57% of respondents support a public option and that 51% say they’d rather health care reform pass without Republican support but with a government-administered plan (versus 37% who said the inverse).

Those findings have emboldened progressives in their demand that a public option be included in the merged bill that will make it to the Senate floor, and it looks like even conservative Democrats are using it as cover! Today, Ben Nelson expressed openness to the opt-out mechanism (in my view as clear a sign as any that progressives have been making a lot of progress on this issue) and in doing so he displayed his familiarity with the WaPo’s figures.

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.

The electoral consequences of changes in districts’ racial composition

One often used measure of a district’s vulnerability to takeover is its presidential vote, but the 2008 cycle has made matters confusing. What should we do with districts whose 2008 movement far exceeds the national movement?

For instance: Should national parties trying to decide how much attention to devote to IN-9 look to 2004 (an 18% Bush victory) or 2008 (a 1% Obama district) as most reflective of the district’s partisan leanings?  That question can be translated in another way: Should we hold Obama’s over-average gain in that particular district as a fleeting consequence of ephemeral circumstances (for instance an unbalance in campaign spending) or as the reflection of a more fundamental demographic and partisan transformation?

This morning, Swing State Project published a fascinating analysis of congressional districts’ racial composition changes between 2000 and 2008 that helps answer that question. The post has lot of important demographic tidbits. First, clear evidence of the gentrification of urban districts, especially in New York: four of the ten districts with the biggest white gain (in terms of percentage) are in NYC. Second, confirmation that African-Americans are increasingly moving into the suburbs, especially in Georgia: the two districts that have seen the largest African-American growth are in the Atlanta suburbs.

There are a lot of ways in which to read this data, but the point of my post is to point out the electoral consequences: Some of these districts with big demographic changes are also on the list of those that swung to Obama by big margins. That means that their political movement is a long-term transformation - one that is likely to continue in the foreseeable future, very seriously endangering Republicans and solidifying Democrats who occupy these seats.

All of these questions are particularly important for the DCCC to ponder in California, where 9 districts (8 of them represented by a Republican) swung from Bush to Obama - all in large movements ranging from 15% to 20%. And 3 of these 9 are on the list of 25 districts in which the share of the white population decreased the most!

  • One is represented by a Democrat: Jerry McNerny’s CA-11. It was 64% white in 2000, when it voted for Bush by 8%; it is now 51% white, and voted for Obama by 10%.
  • Two are represented by Republicans: McKeon’s CA-25 and Lungren’s CA-03. The former was 57% white in 2000, when it voted for Bush by 14%; it’s now 44% white, and it voted for Obama by 1%. The latter was 74% white in 2000, when it voted for Bush by 14%; it’s now 63% white, and it narrowly went for Obama.

When deciding which California seats are worth targeting, the DCCC should look very closely at CA-25 and CA-03, as they can now point to a concrete demographic reason that these districts so dramatically swung to Obama in 2008. By contrast, the NRCC might reconsider the high priority it’s put on CA-11: The district’s quite dramatic demographic evolution over the past 8 years makes the GOP pointing to Bush’s victories inadequate. McNerny looks less vulnerable.

Similar conclusions can be drawn in other districts, starting with Dem-held districts where incumbents can breath easier:

  • NV-03 (Titus): 69% white to 59% white; 1% Gore to 12% Obama
  • VA-11 (Connolly): 69% white to 57% white; 7% Bush to 15% Obama
  • CA-10 (vacant): 65% white to 55% white; 12% Gore to 32% Obama

Note that VA-11 is a very interesting case, as no one would point to the 2000 or 2004 results to argue that Connolly should be considered vulnerable. Northern Virginia’s blue drift has been accepted by most as a long-term phenomenon, and Obama’s 15% victory is recognized as a better indicator of Connolly’s (lack of) vulnerability. Also: I am only including CA-10 because a special election is coming up, and this gives us a useful indicator as to whether the GOP has a chance of defeating Lieutenant Governor Garamendi.

Then, we have GOP-held seats about which Republicans have reason to start worrying:

  • FL-12 (Putnam): 72% white to 63% white; 10% Bush to 1% McCain
  • TX-24 (Marchand): 64% white to 52% white; 36% Bush to 11% McCain
  • TX-10 (McCaul): 66% white to 55% white; 33% Bush to 11% McCain
  • FL-15 (Posey): 78% white to 69% white; 8% Bush to 3% McCain
  • NJ-07 (Lance): 79% to 70% white; 1% Bush to 3% Obama

Pay particular attention to FL-12, which will host an open seat race in 2010 since Putnam is running for statewide office. Based on the district’s giving Bush two large victories - not only 10% in 2000, but 16% in 2004 - the district is described as hostile to Democrats despite the 2008 election’s near tie. However, the fact that the partisan evolution coincidences with quite a stark demographic change suggests that we should pay more attention to last year’s results when deciding whether Democrats have a chance at picking-up the seat.

TX-24 and TX-10 still remain too conservative to be top-tier opportunities for the DCCC, though Democrats are mounting a spirited challenge to McCaul. Yet, it is clear that the demographic evolution is so rapidly threatening GOP dominance over these regions that it is probably only a matter of time before Democrats grow truly competitive.

That gets us to one final observation: The demographic problem the GOP faces in these districts is only the preview of a broader challenge they’ll face nationally as the share of the white population decreases in the United States as a whole. This will be a problem for Republicans at the presidential level and at the House level; it’s not like other districts will get whiter in a way to benefit Republicans because the GOP is losing its grip on the district I listed above. Republicans have to urgently find a way to update their electoral coalition; that they’ve alienated Hispanic voters in recent years certainly won’t help.



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