Election ’09: What to Watch For

Nov 2, 2009 4:42pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Three major races on the ballot tomorrow mark the first high-profile elections of the Obama era. Getting beyond the traditional caveats — these are three discrete races that are more likely to turn on local issues and candidates than they are to elucidate key national trends — Election Day 2009 brings critical lessons about the state of the electorate, as well as the resiliency of the coalition that vaulted President Obama to the White House. My colleague David Chalian has a full curtain-raiser HERE. ABC’s Polling Director Gary Langer sorts through the numbers HERE. And I handicap the races with ABC’s Charlie Gibson on the “World News Webcast” HERE. Some of what to watch for on Election Day 2009: New York-23: GOP’s Un-Civil War. President Obama himself sparked the scramble for the day’s most intriguing contest, when he nominated the longtime congressman from this upstate New York district, John McHugh, to be his Army secretary. Republicans have held this sprawling, northernmost district near the Vermont and Canadian border for more than a century. But the biggest threat to keeping it in GOP hands has come from the right, with Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman scooping up national Republican support, at the expense of GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava. Under fire for her moderate-to-liberal social views, Scozzafava over the weekend suspended her campaign and endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, though she’ll still be on the ballot. If Owens wins, the race will widely be interpreted as Democrats pouncing on Republican divisions to take a seat that normally shouldn’t be theirs. And whether or not Hoffman prevails, the race is likely to embolden grass-roots conservatives to challenge the GOP establishment as the mid-term congressional elections approach. The party is split on whether to favor candidates who — like Hoffman — strictly adhere to conservative values, or find Republican candidates who — like Scozzafava — are closer to reflecting the particular politics of a given congressional district. New Jersey Governor: Heavy Coattails? Gov. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., is locked in the kind of tight reelection race that — unless the economy turns around fast — incumbents of both parties may grow to expect in 2010. Republican candidate Chris Christie has tapped into distaste for New Jersey Democratic machine politics and Corzine himself, in a race complicated by the presence of self-funded independent candidate Chris Daggett. The White House has pressed hard in New Jersey, in the hopes that it can salvage one victory on what could otherwise be a grim day for Democrats. If Corzine falls in the heavily Democratic state, the race could be widely cited in the months to come, as vulnerable members of Congress face difficult votes that could have electoral consequences. Virginia Governor: Color Purple, Again. President Obama’s victory in Virginia last year — no Democrat had carried the state in a presidential election in 44 years — was hailed a potential turning point in the heart of the Deep South. But Virginia will be considered solidly purple again if, as polls suggest, Republican Bob McDonnell takes the governor’s race against Democrat Creigh Deeds. Such a result would be in keeping with recent history; the party in the White House has lost the governor’s mansion in Richmond in every election since 1973. Still, the race will test whether it’s possible to motivate independent and those who haven’t voted much in the past without a candidate named “Obama” on the ballot. The White House has already signaled — through leaks to The Washington Post — that it’s expecting Deeds to fall short, so much of the remaining curiosity will surround McDonnell’s margin of victory. Other Highlights: New America’s Mayor? Remembering the Mainers? The highest-profile mayoral contest on the ballot involves Michael Bloomberg’s expected reelection in New York City. Notwithstanding the term limits he had to jettison to make it happen, this is a remarkable achievement for the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent billionaire, who’s looking to make it five straight mayoral victories for a candidate on the GOP line, in deep-blue New York. And voters in Maine are being asked to endorse — or overturn — the state legislature’s decision to legalize gay marriage. If they go along with state lawmakers, Maine will become the first state where gay marriage is legal with the direct approval of the voters — a potential building block for advocates of same-sex marriage.

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