By Reid Wilson and Aaron Blake - 10/29/09 11:47 PM EDT
There are two major gubernatorial races and a closely watched congressional special election on the ballot.
Democrats are most confident about New Jersey’s gubernatorial race.
And New York’s special election has both parties holding their breath.
But the facts will remain largely the same: Democrats have huge majorities in both congressional chambers going into the 2010 cycle. And they remain in a strong political position, even though they are expected to lose House seats next year.
Republicans have had a few positive months in a row, but they have significant ground to make up before they can be expected to make real inroads next year.
Here are some of the key races politicians and pundits will be watching Tuesday:
Republicans will argue that former Attorney General Bob McDonnell’s (R) expected victory will indicate widespread dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and national Democrats.
But, historically, Democrats should not be contending for the seat. No president’s party has won the Virginia governorship since 1973, and Democrats rightly point out that McDonnell’s campaign has been effective and on-message while state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) has run a poor campaign.
McDonnell has led every poll since Oct. 21 by double digits. The win will be a boost for Republican fundraising and recruiting, but as evidence of a larger shift in the electoral landscape, it will not be decisive for the GOP.
New York’s 23rd district
This special election has been billed as the big race on Tuesday — mostly because it’s the only federal race in the country that’s genuinely competitive.
But it’s also just one out of 435 congressional districts, and the dynamics of the race are nearly as rare.
At this point, Democrat Bill Owens is the favorite, while Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman has shown a lead in some of his supporters’ polling.
Republican Dede Scozzafava is being given almost no chance.
The main way the GOP could gain some traction is if Hoffman pulls off the win. This would be spun as conservative principles trumping all else. And despite attacking Hoffman in the media, Republicans could argue that while their party might not be popular, their ideals are.
Scozzafava would subsequently be thrown under the bus, just like past GOP special election candidates who lost.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) previewed some potential losing spin in an interview with The Hill on Wednesday, saying that the Conservative Party candidate and Republican will likely combine for more than 50 percent of the vote (nobody is expected to obtain a majority). This is a fair point, but it will be little solace for the party if it loses a seat at a time when it is supposed to be on an upswing.
At this point, the only thing Democrats have to lose is some face for Obama, who has backed Owens and won the district, and some confidence in their ability to play offense in a tough environment.
But this is not a Democratic-held seat and was a swing district in the 2008 election. Democrats are not losing a seat here either way.
New Jersey governor
When a race has been polled this much, one generally expects to have a good idea who is ahead as Election Day approaches.
There is no such luxury here, with some pollsters putting GOPer Chris Christie ahead by a few points, and others putting Gov. Jon Corzine (D) well ahead. But Corzine has the momentum.
The truth is, we’ve seen this show before. Republicans are duped into believing they have a chance in blue New Jersey, they fly in a tremendous amount of resources and take the race to the final weeks, and then voters go to the polls and elect a Democrat.
If Republicans can reverse that trend, it could be the talk of the political nation. Christie would have survived a knock-down, drag-out campaign in the most significant statewide race of the day.
At the same time, with so many governors embattled by their states’ economic woes, explaining away a Corzine loss won’t be the most difficult thing for Democrats to do. If that happens, look for Democrats to use this spin accordingly, and really, it makes plenty of sense.
Voters in two states — Washington and Maine — will decide whether to permit same-sex couples to enter into legal partnerships. In Washington, Referendum 71 would give same-sex couples rights equal to marriage in all but name. In Maine, Question 1 would overturn a state law allowing same-sex marriage.
The results could portend a major shift in the way same-sex issues are used politically — a shift that is already under way.
But a victory in Washington and a defeat in Maine could turn the tide for Democrats.
To see social issues go from radioactive to something that can boost the party’s prospects is a remarkable change, one that could alter the tenor of the debate for years to come.