In an off-year election, there are few races to analyze in November. And there’s a danger of over-interpretation on Election Day 2009. But for political junkies, any election, no matter how small or regional, is catnip. We can’t help ourselves. So while we wait for the returns to come in, here are a few points to ponder:
1. Who turns out
One year ago, Barack Obama won the presidency on a wave of support from young voters, minorities, and independents. A big question has been whether that enthusiasm was Obama-specific, or whether the Democrats would reap benefits in subsequent elections. So far, Democrats have cause for worry. In Virginia, which Mr. Obama turned blue in a presidential election for the first time since 1964, a Washington Post/ABC News poll showed last month that only 12 percent of likely voters are black, compared with 20 percent last November. Among young voters, the drop-off is worse: Eight percent of likely voters today are young, versus 21 percent a year ago.
2. How will the results affect healthcare reform?
It depends. For nervous Democratic moderates in Congress, if the election ends in a wash – for example, the Republican wins the governor’s race in Virginia and the Democrat wins in New Jersey – then they can relax a bit.
In the midterm elections a year from now, the “inclination is to get a little distance from the president, a little insurance, to move against the grain,” Mr. Ornstein says. “That gets amplified if you have a mid-midterm that looks bad. It will not be as big a problem if there’s a split.”
3. The margin in California’s 10th congressional district
Everyone’s watching New York’s 23rd District, where the Republican was essentially run out of the race for not being conservative enough. Meanwhile, California-10, another open seat being filled in a special election Tuesday, has proceeded under the radar, as the Democrat was expected to win handily. But there are now signs that Lt. Gov. John Garamendi (D) may win by only a few percentage points.
If that happens, watch the national GOP kick itself for not putting more money into that race – and the Democrats worry that apparently safe seats in 2010 aren’t so safe.
4. How independent candidate Chris Daggett fares in New Jersey
Much has been made of the third-party candidate – Conservative Doug Hoffman – in NY-23. He's now effectively the Republican in the race, after the actual Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, dropped out this past Saturday. But the New Jersey race also features an independent candidate, onetime moderate Republican Daggett, who could well swing the outcome of the race – probably toward Governor Corzine.
Typically, third-party candidates fade by Election Day, as some voters decide not to “waste” their vote or swing the race to a candidate they don’t like. But if Daggett holds onto a significant portion of voters, say, above 10 percent, that could embolden independents to run in next November’s elections.
5. The winning margin in NY-23
If Mr. Hoffman, the Conservative candidate, wins by a wide margin, that’s a bad sign for Democrats trying to hold onto seats in Republican-leaning districts that they won in the sweep elections of 2006 and 2008. If the race is close – or if the Democrat, Bill Owens, even wins – then Democrats can heave a sigh of relief (or celebrate, in the latter case). Democrats went into the contest with a decent shot at winning.
A year ago, Obama won this congressional district by 5 percentage points. And even though most of the territory in the district has been represented in Congress by Republicans since the 19th century, it is not viewed as hard-line conservative turf. The last person to hold the seat, newly minted Army Secretary John McHugh, is a moderate Republican.
If Hoffman does win the seat, one key question will be whether he fights to win earmarks for the district. Historically, this district – located in New York’s North Country, bordering on Canada – has relied on congressional largess to stay afloat economically. But earmarks go against the grain of fiscal conservatism. Hoffman will face a choice.
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