Archive for the 'VA-Gov' Category

Exit poll nuggets

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

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

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

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

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

Measuring New Jersey’s turnout discrepancy

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

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

Airing too many attacks can backfire

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

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

New York City was racially divided

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

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

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

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

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

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

The morning after

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More base neglect: National Democrats ignore Maine and NYC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

For 2009 candidates, it pays to be wealthy

From Nielsen comes a jaw-dropping study about the number of ads candidates have been airing in the run-up to November 3rd. While we knew that Mike Bloomberg would crush William Thompson under the weight of his personal fortune, just as he did when facing Fernando Ferrer in 2005, I did not expect this huge a disparity: Between June 1st and September 20th, Bloomberg ads were aired 4,706 times compared to just 14 for Thompson. That’s 336 times more.

That grotesque unbalance doesn’t just come from Thompson’s meager fundraising. Given how expensive it is to run an ad in the New York City media market, 4706 requires a big financial investment - one that is also totally disproportionate to the contest’s competitiveness and that makes it impossible for Thompson to break through with his own message. These numbers confirm The New York Times’s recent look at Bloomberg’s finances: Through last week, he had spent $65 million of his own money - “40 percent more than he had at the same point in his 2005 campaign.” And there’s still one month to go.

For Bloomberg, securing public office has long been about buying himself a term, a mindset this is worsened by the fact that he is allowed to run only because he pushed for a change in term-limit laws without having the decency to only apply the reform once people who voted for it leave office.

Quite stunningly, the Bloomberg campaign chose to draw attention to financial disparities by mocking Thompson for his fundraising woes. “Bill Thompson’s fund-raising continues to lag behind previous Democratic nominees, a strong signal that he isn’t generating excitement or grass-roots support for his candidacy,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to reports. Perhaps she can also explain why Bloomberg financing his campaign with $65 million from his personal bank account reveals grass-roots support for his candidacy?

In those conditions, it’s no surprise few are paying much attention to Thompson. Even New York Democrats are generally unwilling to associate themselves to a campaign that most believe is marching towards certain defeat. As such, it is surprising that SUSA’s latest poll finds Thompson relatively close to Bloomberg, 51% to 43%. That’s still a big margin to overcome, but might it not be done if prominent Democrats decide it’s worth to pay a bit more attention to this race? After all: The sample is 69% Democratic, but Thompson only wins that group 49% to 46%.

Thompson’s main asset is the support of the Working Families Party, whose endorsement Bloomberg also sought. The WFP won quite a remarkable victory in September’s Democratic primaries and then again in October’s runoffs, proving their muscle in city politics: The WFP’s organizational power guarantees that Thompson will have a determined infrastructure of campaign volunteers turning out the vote on his behalf. In a low-turnout election, this is a determinant factor. Sure, WFP’s influence should be diminished on November 3rd, since voter turnout should be higher than September 15th or September 29th, but it’s not like that many other groups are helping the Democratic nominee.

The Governor’s races: Corzine comeback confirmed, Deeds has lost any momentum

The financial disparity is not quite as big in New Jersey, but Jon Corzine’s self-funding is helping him hammer Chris Christie on the airwaves: His 4,806 ads (many of them airing in media markets that are nowhere near as expensive as New York City’s) dwarf Christie’s 1393.

Given that the two candidates have been going back and forth in their ad campaigns, this discrepancy is surely a contributing factor in the remarkable comeback Corzine is currently off. Since FDU shook up the race this week by finding the governor leading a poll for the first time since January, three more surveys have confirmed the race is within the margin of error:

  • Democracy Corps has Corzine leading 41% to 38%, with Daggett at 14%. This pollster has always been the most favorable to the Democrat, but that does not call into question the survey’s trendline, which is very positive for the incumbent.
  • In its first poll of the race, SUSA shows Christie ahead 43% to 40%, with 14% for Daggett.
  • Rasmussen also has Christie up 3% - 47% to 44% - but Daggett is only at 6% here. Corzine trailed 48% to 41% in Rasmussen’s previous poll.

These polls’ most important finding is not the narrowing margin between Corzine and Christie but that more voters look open to supporting the incumbent. As such, the most crucial number in any of these surveys is the level of support Corzine reaches in Rasmussen’s survey: 44%.

That’s the same number Corzine received FDU, but before this week he had never climbed above 42% all year - not even before Daggett started being included. That he has managed to do so twice in the same week confirms that something has fundamentally changed in New Jersey’s electorate: Enough disgruntled voters are willing to vote for a man whose performance they don’t approve - because of his party affiliation? because of their displeasure with the alternatives? - that it is for the first time possible to envision Corzine winning this race.

In Virginia, finally, neither of the two candidates is wealthy enough to self-fund his campaign, and both have aired a roughly equal number of ads from June to September. Unfortunately for Democrats, their prospects of defending Virginia keep diminishing. Last night, The Washington Post - whose poll finding McDonnell leading by only 4% was the starting point of the Deeds comeback narrative - found the Republican regaining a larger advantage: 53% to 44%.

The poll’s internals paint a very worrisome picture for Deeds: Not only are independents massively leaning Republican - McDonnell leads by 21% - but Virginia’s core Democratic constituencies are showing no sign of mobilizing on Deeds’s behalf. Most telling is that Deeds only leads 51% to 46% in Northern Virginia; he would need to win that region by about 20% to have a chance at a statewide victory.

Corzine grabs edge for the first time since mid-January

It’s only a margin of 1%, well within the margin of error, but it comes as earth-shattering news in New Jersey’s landscape: for the first time since mid-January 2009, Jon Corzine has any type of edge in the gubernatorial election.

Just as importantly: For the first time since September 2008, Corzine gets more than 42% in a poll.

The pollster: Farleigh Dickinson. The numbers, which tested likely voters: In a 2-way race, Corzine is ahead 44% to 43%, with 4% volunteering Chris Daggett’s name. In a 3-way race, Daggett receives a very impressive 17% but Corzine keeps his narrow edge, 38% to 37%. This poll is thus a high-mark for Daggett as well: Never had he reached as high a level as 17% in a poll.

Sure, one survey does not a trend make. But Corzine’s these numbers are not coming out of the blue: For weeks now, the Democrat has been inching upward, a trend punctuated by last week’s four surveys (Quinnipiac, Monmouth, R2000 and Democracy Corps) finding him within the margin of error for the first time in months. Whether you attribute this dynamic to the failures of Christie’s campaign, the natural October tightening of New Jersey races, the effectiveness of Democratic attacks  or Daggett’s presence on the ballot, Corzine is back in contention and he starts the final months of campaigning with momentum.

Here is why I am emphasizing the results of the 2-way race and making a big deal out of Corzine’s 44% in a match-up that will not take place since we already know Daggett will be on the ballot: Many of us did not expect Corzine to have a shot at victory unless Daggett takes enough voters from Christie to approach the 15-20% range so the fact that the governor is ahead without Daggett’s help is great news for his campaign.

It means that he is back in contention not simply by relying on the dynamics of a 3-way race to eek out a victory thanks to a split anti-Corzine vote but also because:

  1. he has expanded his own base of support: Corzine’s reaching 44% is a breakthrough even if Daggett’s exclusion contributed to that. As I wrote above, the governor failed to reach that high a level all year - including 8 months of polling in which Daggett was never included.
  2. he has effectively undermined Christie’s reputation. The poll finds that the Republican’s unfavorability rating is quickly rising - 42% compared to 35% in early September, 25% in July and 12% in April. And voters now say that Corzine is more honest and trustworthy than Christie - a stunning turnaround on what was long the Republican’s biggest asset and vindication for the Democratic strategy of assaulting Christie’s ethics! In short: Corzine’s attack ads, fueled by his self-funding, are working.

The poll does come with one major caveat: Its timing. It was conducted over an extended period of time, from September 28th to October 5th. As such, it’s not possible to read this poll as revealing post-debate Corzine momentum, and we’ll have to wait for more surveys to get a more up-to-date look at the race. Also, much of the survey was conducted before the gubernatorial debate, after which many newspapers proclaimed Daggett the winner. While I doubt that many undecided voters watched the debate, they might have been influenced by the ensuing media coverage.

Before Democrats start claiming victory, it’s just as obvious that Corzine still has a long road ahead of him. The poll finds that 37% of respondents (including 43% of independents) view him very unfavorably; that will still make it tough for him to convince the remaining undecided voters - and here is where Daggett’s rise could make a difference.

But the bottom line is that Corzine’s odds are now unquestionably far better than those of Creigh Deeds. A week after finding Bob McDonnell up 14% - a survey that seriously damaged Deeds’s comeback narrative - SUSA released another poll finding that the margin is still double-digits: 54% to 43%.

As we have found in poll after poll of this race, the issue is not that Obama voters are crossing over to vote Republican but that they are turning out in too low numbers for last year’s coalition to be formed once more: Only 44% of respondents voted for Obama in 2008, only 15% are African-American (20% in 2008). That turnout model is helping all of the state’s GOP candidates have large leads, as Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli have 17% and 10% leads in the Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General races, respectively.

None of this means that Democrats are putting all their chips on New Jersey or that they are giving up on Virginia. Corzine’s ability to self-fund means he is not reliant on national Democrats to stay financially competitive, which frees up money the party can use in the Old Dominion. The DNC just announced it is dumping $1 million in Deeds’ coffers, a substantial sum that guarantees the race will remain heated all the way through November 3rd, whatever polls say.

While SUSA’s poll was confirmed by Rasmussen (which found McDonnell’s lead jumping from 2% to 9% last week), it would still be good to see other polls’ take on Virginia’s likely voter universe: No pollster but SUSA and Rasmussen have tested the race since the former first found McDonnell grabbing momentum. Are pollsters that are known for a less GOP-friendly take on what turnout will be finding the race as out of reach for Deeds as SUSA?

As focus turns to female voters, NJ and VA races get personal

Virginia and New Jersey’s gubernatorial contenders have less than a month left to make their case, and both campaigns are getting increasingly personal. In the former state, the candidates are now battling over which is less demeaning to women; in the latter, an attack over mammogram coverage provoked a response ad couched in unusually emotional terms. In both cases, it looks like October will be a fight to appeal to female voters.

The fight for Virginia women

In the past four months, the main obstacle that emerged on Bob McDonnell’s path is The Washington Post story about his master’s thesis and the extreme social conservatism it reveals. In hammering McDonnell over the issue, Creigh Deeds zeroed in on the parts of the thesis that addressed women’s issues rather than gay rights or covenant marriages. The message: McDonnell has battled to restrict contraceptive rights and he does not respect working women.

Undeniably worried that this could shift momentum (which it to some degree did), the GOP started responding within weeks - but arguably never so directly as in two new ads that are hitting the airwaves. The first, produced by McDonnell’s campaign, features women who worked with the Republican in the Attorney General’s office and who testify of his support respect for women, for instance his record in “putting women in positions of authority:”

The second ad, produced by the RGA, goes on the offensive in an attempt to turn the tables on Deeds and accuse him of demeaning women based on his calling a journalist “young lady” during a heated back-and-forth in September:

To the extent that Deeds’s focus on this issue is generally analyzed as an attempt to fire up the sleepy Democratic base, the GOP’s choice to respond so harshly would not necessarily make sense. Liberal-leaning voters who Deeds was hoping would be outraged by McDonnell’s thesis are not the type of electors who would ever let themselves be convinced by a Republican ad; for Democrats, it was not a matter of persuading them but simply of paying attention and if there are indeed motivated there is little use for the GOP to try to convince them to change sides.

So the GOP’s decision to dial up the volume of its response via these two ads leads me to two conclusions. First, the RGA’s goal might simply be to muddy the waters to such an extent as to disgust voters (particularly women), ensure low turnout and produce an electorate that would be more than likely to be skewed towards the GOP and favor McDonnell.

Second, the campaigns might be finding out that the thesis controversy is not just moving numbers among the Democratic base but also among independent women - a key constituency in any race. Mid-September, The Washington Post poll revealed a dramatic shift towards Deeds in that group, whereas McDonnell had a big lead in August. That clearly suggested that independent women were sensible enough to McDonnell’s social views not to support him, and the Republican is now looking to turn that around by airing ads that are near exclusively targeted at female voters.

New Jersey mammograms

Corzine-Christie’s match-up is very different from that of recent New Jersey campaigns that saw a late Democratic comeback, but that does not mean that Republicans are not nervous as they watch their lead evaporate from poll to poll. With nervousness and desperation comes the potential for a more emotional campaign, especially when you add one candidate’s ability to self-fund massive ad campaigns.

No doubt thinking that New Jersey voters will be sensitive to the issue of health care given that it’s also dominated the political conversation on the national stage, Corzine chose last week to turn his attention to Christie’s health care plan. The quick take: Christie has proposed that businesses be allowed to purchase insurance from out-of-state companies, which could result in insurance plans that are not subjected to mandates imposed by New Jersey regulations - one of which is mammogram coverage.

Corzine and his surrogates have been hammering Christie over this proposal, suggesting that either the Republican wants insurance companies to profit or “he doesn’t understand the implications of his own policies,” as Corzine’s running mate Loretta Weinberg put it in a transparent attempt to impugn Christie’s readiness on economic issues when most of the Republican’s career has been devoted to law-and-order.

In his response ad, Christie makes things very personal by invoking his mother, who survived a breast cancer diagnosis. “The idea that someone who was able to keep his mother for an extra twenty years would ever deny another woman a mammogram is just… so… deceitful,” he says.

If he does not think that his health care plan would undermine regulations concerning mammogram coverage, Christie would be well-advised to respond to Corzine on a more substantial basis. I for one fail to see the link between Christie’s personal history and the question of who and what would be covered under his plan. Insurance company executives also have sick relatives - even perhaps health problems themselves - and yet they managed to come up with ideas like discriminating based on preexisting conditions.

Corzine is showing no sign of letting go of an issue that at the very least has the potential to fire up the liberal base. In a new ad, his campaign reiterates the charge that Christie’s “mandate-free” insurance would result in dropping mammogram coverage and it couples that with another issue that is of concern to women: maternity stay. “Fewer mammograms, bigger profits,” concludes the ad, which does not hesitate to start with grainy footage of Christie talking about his mother!

Here again, keep in mind that Corzine’s job is easier than that of Deeds. He does not need to get female voters who might be supporting Christie to change their mind to such an extent that they’ll vote for him; all he has to do is get them so disgusted with Christie that they’ll switch to Chris Daggett.

Polls find Deeds and Corzine once again exchanging momentum, Lincoln tanking in Arkansas

Every few days, I am changing my mind as to which of the two governorships that are currently being contested Democrats have a better chance of defending. For a while in early September, Creigh Deeds looked so far gone that Jon Corzine’s fortunes looked stronger; then, the former managed to get himself back in the running and recent developments were getting me ready to settle on Virginia. But the narrative has changed once more: Now, it looks that Jon Corzine is in far better shape than Creigh Deeds heading into the campaigns’ 5 final weeks.

This is due to 3 polls released over the past 24 hours. The first is SUSA’s survey finding Bob McDonnell up 14%. I wrote about it last night, raising obvious questions as to whether the poll will turn out to be an outlier. As I pointed out, that poll was the only one since the master’s thesis story broke to have McDonnell leading by more than 7%. Well, we did not have to wait for long to get confirmation that SUSA was on to something: Rasmussen’s latest poll has the Republican leading 51% to 42%.

While Rasmussen is often criticized for finding numbers that look too friendly to the GOP, pointing that out cannot account for the trendline: Two weeks ago, Rasmussen found Deeds within the MoE, trailing by only 2% - a survey launched the narrative of the Democrat’s comeback. What’s perhaps worst for Deeds is that Rasmussen’s poll leaves him no clear path to close the gap: 51% of respondents (an impressive share) say the story of McDonnell’s master thesis is important in terms of their November vote. And yet, despite his remarkable success at making this a huge campaign story, Deeds trails by 9%! What more can he hope to do?

In New Jersey, by contrast, a Quinnipiac poll finds encouraging news for Corzine has received in months: The governor trails 43% to 39% - the smallest deficit he has faced in a Quinnipiac poll since November 2008. His favorability rating remains truly dismal (34/56) but Christie is clearly dipping. Consider this: Excluding Neighborhood Research polls (which are finding a bizarrely high level of undecideds) and Democracy Corps poll (which have had far more friendly results for Corzine than other pollsters), the Republican had not dipped as low as 43% in any poll since April!

As I have repeatedly pointed out, the biggest reason I have trouble envisioning Democrats keeping New Jersey is that Corzine is stuck in the 30s range - and that is again the case in this poll. But here’s the second reason Quinnipiac’s survey is good news for the governor: Chris Daggett reaches 12%, a 3% boost over Quinnipiac’s previous poll. The higher Daggett reaches, the more conceivable it is for Corzine to claim victory with just 39-42% of the vote.

Arkansas: Lincoln trails 4 Republican rivals

Keeping in mind that not all pick-ups are equal in terms of altering the balance of power - if Blanche Lincoln were to lose next year, it wouldn’t prove a particularly consequential blow to her party’s agenda considering her actions this year - let’s turn to a new Rasmussen poll that confirms that we should put her on the list of highly vulnerable incumbents. She trails state Senator Gilbert Baker 47% to 39%, state Senator Kim Hendren 44% to 41%, businessman Tom Cox 43% to 40% and businessman Chris Coleman 43% to 41%.

Any senator who trails all challengers irrespective of their profile, name recognition or experience is clearly facing a massive re-election problem. An important note: Once again, I do not for the life of me understand where Rasmussen gets its name recognition numbers: I refuse to believe that more than 60% of Arkansas have an opinion on Cox, Coleman and Baker. Last month, PPP found that 23% of voters had an opinion of Coleman and 22% of Baker. That sounds much more realistic.

Yet, it apparently has little effect on the match-up numbers: PPP also had Coleman and Baker leading, thus confirming Rasmussen’s finding that Lincoln is so vulnerable as to trail little-known opponents. On the other hand, a mid-September Research 2000 poll found far sunnier numbers for the incumbent, though she was still vulnerable. More polls will be needed to figure out the extent of Lincoln’s vulnerability.

Arizona: Second poll in two weeks finds that Goddard is front-runner

A race we have talked relatively little about is shaping up to be one of the Democrats’ top pick-up opportunities thanks to Attorney General Goddard’s popularity: In a new Rasmussen poll, his 54/38 favorability rating is far superior to Governor Jan Brewer’s 42/54 and former Governor Fife Symington’s 36/54. He leads 42% to 35% against Brewer and 44% to 37% against Symington. Those margins are actually smaller than those found by PPP last week, but they are an undeniable sign of strength for a challenger.

Brewer and Symington are arguably weaker candidates than other potential Republican nominees; Brewer because she has failed to impose herself since being elevated governor in early 2009, Symington because of the corruption scandal that forced him out in the 1990s. But for either of them to be defeated would mean a lower-profile Republican nominee, so Goddard’s name recognition and personal popularity would keep him the front-runner even if the GOP was to get rid of Brewer and Symington.

Maine: Gay marriage finally enjoys lead

Two weeks ago, the first and only poll of Maine’s Question 1 found worrisome news for gay marriage proponents: The “Yes” had a narrow lead. But a new poll conducted by Democracy Corps has far more encouraging numbers: 50% of respondents say they will oppose repealing the gay marriage law while 41% say they’ll vote for it.

The survey’s primary purpose seems to have been to gauge Maine voters’ feelings about their two senators in the context of the health care debate. And it does not look like progressive groups have been successful at turning this blue state against Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins 54% say they’ll probably or definitely vote for Collins when she runs for re-election (versus 32%) while 60% say the same of Snowe. Matched-up with a generic Democrat, Snowe leads 56% to 28%. Since I think few people who follow electoral politics expect Snowe and Collins to ever face much of a challenge - if a sitting congressman could not endanger the weaker of the two in 2008, how could Democrats succeed? - these numbers won’t come as much of a surprise.

SUSA brings brutal numbers to Virginia Democrats

Is SUSA’s latest poll of Virginia’s Governor’s race an outlier? Or is it an accurate reflection of the dynamics that might have seized the state over the past few days, perhaps due to reactions to the first debate opposing Bob McDonnell and Creigh Deeds? Whatever the answer turns out to be, it is sure to cause some sleepless nights at Democratic headquarters since it all but destroys the poll-fueled narrative of a Deeds comeback: SUSA finds the Republican nominee leading by 14% - 55% to 41%.

Adding insult to injury for Deeds, SUSA finds that Republicans are leading by slightly smaller margins in the two other statewide races - Bill Bolling is up by 13% in the Lieutenant Governor race, Ken Cuccinelli is up by 11% in the Attorney General race. Conventional wisdom is that Deeds has more of a chance of winning than Jody Wagner and Steve Shannon, so this differential makes it harder for Deeds to dismiss this poll as overall skewed towards the right.

This is the third consecutive SUSA poll with McDonnell up double-digits: He led by 15% in July and by 12% four weeks ago. While that might suggest SUSA’s numbers are too GOP-friendly, its summer numbers were in line with those of other pollsters: McDonnell was up by double-digits in other summer surveys (PPP, WaPo poll).

But September surveys had found a narrow race so this new survey contradicts polls like Insider Advantage this week-end (4% margin) and PPP this morning (5% margin). Consider that: SUSA is the only pollster since mid-August to find McDonnell up by double-digits and the only pollster since the master’s thesis story gained steam to have him leading by more than 7%. And here we’re talking the double of that?

That said, what makes it hard to simply dismiss the poll as an outlier is that the poll’s internal numbers are certainly not aberrant based on what we know of this race and there is no mystery as to where McDonnell’s lead comes from:

  1. He has a gigantic lead among independents (59% to 35%); that is an improvement for him over his 11% early September lead. (That poll was also conducted after the Washington Post broke the master’s thesis story.)
  2. The pool of likely voters is far more GOP than the electorate at large. 51% of respondents said they voted for McCain in 2008 with 44% saying Obama; Republicans outnumber Democrats 37% to 32%; and to a low a share of respondents say they come from Northern Virginia.

Independents heavily leaning towards McDonnell, a demoralized Democratic base - these are findings all pollsters found throughout the summer, notably PPP and The WaPo poll. Since then, these institutes had found Deeds energizing Democrats; but for SUSA, it’s as if the entire month of September had not happened! If SUSA’s turnout model resembles what is truly brewing on the ground, Deeds has no chance to win in 5 weeks - and the very fact that the possibility exists that the motivation differential is still this big is great news for the GOP.

(While this morning I wrote that PPP trendlines suggested the master’s thesis story helped Deeds, that was PPP’s first survey of the race post-WaPo article. On the other hand, this is SUSA’s second survey since that story: Their early September poll did find the turnout differential shrinking, and this new poll has the electorate’s composition remaining stable.)

Yet, Democrats can take comfort in the fact that all other recent polls have found a tightening race. Whatever they think of SUSA’s  poll, what is important for them to recognize is that they don’t need to trust it to follow the only possible conclusion that can be drawn from such numbers - that ensuring high Democratic turnout has to remain Deeds’s primary concern over the next few weeks. I said just as much this morning based on PPP, which painted a far more positive situation for Deeds.

At this point of the campaign, what other choice does he have but to keep hammering the master’s thesis story - at least in Northern Virginia? Other polls have found that this is making a difference, so it is perfectly advisable for Deeds to do so. In fact, he just released a new ad devoted to the issue:



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