Independent voters big for GOP; Democrats maintain black vote

A big share of independent voters on Tuesday has Republicans optimistic about 2010, but some resiliency in the African-American vote could stunt their gains.

Exit polling data from the governors’ races in New Jersey and Virginia show independents going two-to-one for the Republican governors-elect in both states. Independents will be key to Republican efforts to regain their majorities, as the bloc has trended toward Democrats in recent years.

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Sixty percent of independents preferred New Jersey Gov.-elect Chris Christie (R), compared to 30 percent for Gov. Jon Corzine (D), and they picked Virginia Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell (R) 66-33 over Democrat Creigh Deeds.

Both states saw the independent vote go narrowly for President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPolitics must accept the reality of multiracial America and disavow racial backlash To empower parents, reinvent schools Senate race in Ohio poses crucial test for Democrats MORE in 2008.

On the flip side, though, was somewhat stronger-than-expected turnout from black voters. With Democrats winning in many significantly African-American conservative districts in 2008, much has been made of what a drop-off in their vote in 2010 would mean for freshman Democratic congressmen.

Black turnout expert David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies said the African-American vote was an encouraging sign.

“Black voters did all they possibly could do to help pull this out, but it just wasn’t pull-outable,” Bositis said.

Remarkably, black turnout in New Jersey actually rose to 14 percent of the vote, which means Corzine turned out a higher share of black voters than Obama did. In Virginia, it dropped from a 20 percent share in 2008 to a 16 percent share Tuesday.

The latter figure is comparable to the black turnout in the last midterm in 2006, when Democrats made significant gains. It suggests there will be a drop-off next year, but Corzine’s success shows what can be done with Obama’s help and an organized effort.

Bositis noted that Corzine had a much closer relationship with that community than did Deeds. But for Deeds, he said, the drop was actually less severe than he expected, given Deeds’s rural base.

“I thought they would stay home, but they didn’t,” Bositis said.

But while there were some encouraging signs for Democrats in the black vote, young voters were another matter.

Both states saw the under-30 vote fall by about half, to around 10 percent. That drop-off isn’t quite as concerning for Democrats, since it isn’t as reliable a vote for their party. But it could play in several key House districts, particularly those with large college populations.

John Delicath, who studies vote patterns for Women’s Voice Women Vote, noted that nearly half — 47 percent — of the electorate in both New Jersey and Virginia was between the ages of 45 and 64.

“That’s huge,” Delicath said. “That’s voters late in their career worried about their income and retirement. Indeed, the economy and jobs was the No. 1 issue in both states.”

A few of the districts where these numbers will come into play are in Virginia, where freshman Democratic Reps. Tom Perriello and Glenn Nye both come from districts that are more than 20 percent black.

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But while black turnout might not appear as much of a problem as once feared, Perriello also has lots of college students in his district and will have to deal with that drop-off as well.

Even without a huge drop in black turnout, McDonnell still carried the two districts handily, winning by 23 points in Perriello’s district and by 24 points in Nye’s.

An even bigger margin was in Rep. Rick Boucher’s (D-Va.) southwestern district, where McDonnell won by 32 points. Republicans hope to recruit state Del. Terry Kilgore to challenge Boucher next year.

In the fourth district targeted by the GOP, freshman Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHouse Democrats miss chance to help McAuliffe Progressives see infrastructure vote next week Dem hopes for infrastructure vote hit brick wall MORE’s (D-Va.) in Northern Virginia, McDonnell won by 10 points.

Connolly and the other two freshmen already have Republican challengers.

“All four of these Democrats, three of them freshmen, were considered vulnerable before last night, and these results underscore the trembling political ground on which they’re standing,” the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) said in a memo.

Democrats point out that McDonnell has ties to both Northern Virginia and Nye’s Virginia Beach district, potentially driving up his vote totals there. They also note that Deeds’s campaign has been universally panned.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spokesman Jesse Ferguson said the incumbents in those districts have what it takes to survive in a swing state.

“After their fifth straight special-election loss last night, it’s no surprise that congressional Republicans are claiming opportunities wherever they can,” Ferguson said. “But their track record doesn’t leave much confidence that they will be successful.”