For Va. and N.J. races, victory is in the spin

For Va. and N.J. races, victory is in the spin



Republicans and Democrats argue publicly that the results of November’s New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races will shed little light on the national political landscape.

But privately they’re more worried.

Behind the scenes, Republicans admit that losing both races would be viewed as evidence that the vocal healthcare protesters seen over the August recess were actually a minority when it came to voting.

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Democrats quietly admit that losing both races will be seen as proof that average voters are concerned with Washington, and that Washington is now their albatross.

In both states, Republicans hold statistically significant leads. The latest survey in Virginia, from the nonpartisan Clarus Research Group, shows former Attorney General Bob McDonnell (R) leading state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) by 42 percent to 37.

In New Jersey, the most recent Monmouth University poll shows former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R) leading Gov. Jon Corzine (D) among likely voters by 47 percent to 39, with Independent Chris Daggett taking 5 percent.

Caution could be the wise course of action, according to Rhodes Cook, the independent political analyst.

“Generally, these states are contrarian in their voting patterns,” Cook said. No incumbent president has seen a member of his party win in New Jersey since 1985. In Virginia, that streak stretches back to 1973.

“The tail may wag the dog. If it does end up as two Republican victories, it may get more attention than it deserves as a harbinger,” Cook added. “Yet, in that way, it changes the dynamic, because the media will report it as the first electoral slap at [President Barack] Obama and a big step in the Republican comeback.”

Strategists for both parties agree that the results will indicate whether voters who cast ballots for Obama turned out again, or whether the increased youth and minority turnout was an anomaly that Democrats cannot sustain.

That factor will be most on display in Virginia, a state that voted Democratic in 2008 for the first time since 1964, largely on the strength of increased turnout in heavily Democratic northern Virginia. If Democrats can turn out more voters there, Deeds has a strong chance to follow Sens. Jim Webb and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Hillicon Valley: Thousands of Zoom recordings exposed online | Google shares location data to counter virus | Dem senator pushes jobless benefits for gig workers | Twitter takes down 20,000 fake accounts Democrat presses Trump administration on jobless benefits for gig workers MORE and Gov. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBiden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Students with disabilities could lose with COVID-19 stimulus package Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner MORE as Democrats who have won by running up huge NoVa margins.

But even that factor is complicated. Deeds hails from rural Bath County, while McConnell’s campaign has been putting up yard signs touting its candidate, who grew up near the Beltway, as “Fairfax’s own” and “NoVa’s own.”

In New Jersey, Corzine is doing his best to nationalize the race by associating himself with Obama, who enjoys high approval ratings in the Garden State.

But local issues, including a massive corruption scandal that ensnared a member of Corzine’s Cabinet and an economy that is sagging more than most other states’, give Christie the best opening Republicans have had in a decade and a half.

Corzine, too, is trying to nationalize Christie’s profile by associating him with President George W. Bush and former Bush adviser Karl Rove, who is under scrutiny for his role in the firings of several U.S. attorneys.

Regardless of the spin, the media are likely to make major hay from the results, Cook said. Obama has campaigned with both Corzine and Deeds, meaning the White House is invested in both candidates’ success or failure. But the president’s political advisers are putting at least a few chips on the table, as every White House has done over the past three decades, when they have a very weak hand.

“These states, in the last generation, have been supporting the party out of power nationally. If they did it again, that would be what the pattern is,” Cook said. “Whether that would be circumstantial or not is, I think, an open question.”

And even with the lead in the polls, Republicans are spinning their chances, suggesting that even a split result — with one party winning a seat in each state — could benefit their arguments for a political comeback.

“The current political climate suggests that the president’s base from the 2008 election is in the process of eroding, and the severity of that erosion is going to be tested in the next two months,” said Trevor Francis, communications director at the Republican National Committee. “Both [states] are opportunities for Republicans, but both are challenges for Republicans.”

Brad Woodhouse, communications director at the Democratic National Committee, declined to speak on the record.

But Democratic and Republican campaign committees in both the House and Senate are more cautious with their assessments, wary that a loss could be more damaging than a win would be advantageous.

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National Republican Congressional Committee communications director Ken Spain was not ambitious in his predictions. Winning both states, he said, “would certainly raise eyebrows about our chances of picking up seats in Virginia and New Jersey.” He refused to suggest that either state could be a sign of bigger things to come.

Democrats point out campaigns are different in each state.

“Especially when it comes to Senate races, these campaigns will vary from state to state. The dynamic of a race in New Hampshire will be completely different from the dynamic of a race in Missouri, let alone a race in Virginia or New Jersey the year before,” said Eric Schultz, communications director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.