Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Upcoming Elections To Keep An Eye On

In 1993, we had a charismatic new Democratic president (some even called him the first black president), a vocal healthcare debate, and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Sound familiar? Well, it should. Many pundits have cited parallels between 1993 and 2009. Conservatives point out that the political revolution of 1994 really began in 1993, when the country became deeply unhappy with the new administration. Further momentum built in the wake of Republican victories in Virginia and New Jersey's gubernatorial races, and the New York city mayoral race. While this year's mayoral race is capturing virtually no attention (the incumbent seems like a safe bet to be re-elected without the blessing of either major party), the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections are again being cited as a bellwether.

Some caveats do apply. The 1994 Republican sweep was helped immensely by Democratic retirements. Empty seats are harder to defend. There are few Democratic vacancies this time around, but there are plenty of Democratic seats occupied by first-term Representatives. There are also powerful anti-incumbent feelings this time which add fluidity to the mix. Most importantly, in 1993 the Clinton healthcare reforms were soundly defeated and the president himself was an unpopular figure. This time around, we have yet to see what the outcome of healthcare reform will be, and president Obama still has a healthy level of personal popularity.

With all that in mind, I'd like to make some tentative predictions about what the outcomes of three races will tell us. These races are relatively high profile, and run the gamut of winnability for both parties. They are the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races, and the race in California's 10th Congressional district.

The easiest win for Republicans is in Virginia. Virginia is still more red than blue, and Republicans have fielded an excellent candidate. In fact, they are leading in the polls for all three of the top statewide offices. Simply put, if Creigh Deeds were to pull off an upset in this race, the Republican party can kiss any chances to make gains in 2010 goodbye. They would be likely to lose some of their most promising potential challengers who are still on the fence about running, and would definitely see an impact in motivation and fundraising.

Somewhere in the middle lies New Jersey. This state is solid blue, but the incompetence of its current leaders coupled with high unemployment has put it into the mix. Chris Christie was leading handily over Democratic Governor John Corzine until recently. Attack ads from Corzine (he's outspending Christie 3:1), a lethargic Christie campaign, and an unusually strong independent challenger have brought Christie's numbers back down to parity with the governor. Short of a serious scandal breaking out, this is probably as close to a 50-50 race as anything is going to get. If Christie wins, it will be a serious morale boost for a badly discouraged Republican party. Look for every pundit with an "R" next to his name to cite it as proof that a 1994 repeat is in the offing for 2010. It will probably cause some fence-sitters to jump into congressional races they have been considering. Should Christie lose, it will definitely hurt, but not be a fatal blow like Virginia. Democrats will cite it as proof that Republicans are not going to repeat 1994, and Republicans will argue that New Jersey is just too blue a state. The margin of victory will matter most here. If Christie or Corzine squeak out a win, we probably haven't learned much. If either man squashes his opponent, look for good things in his party's future.

Last, but not least, is the California 10th Congressional District. With a large Democratic majority (Ellen Tauscher won re-election in 2008 by 30 points), it is an unlikely place for a Republican to win. However, special elections are tricky things, and the Republicans have recruited a very good candidate in David Harmer. John Garamendi, the state's lieutenant governor, is a fixture in California politics, which is both good and bad. He's seasoned, and knows how to raise funds, but he has a bit of a reputation as an also-ran who went after this seat only because his latest gubernatorial campaign (there have been several) never got off the ground. This election is still almost certain to be a Democratic victory, but if Harmer manages to pull off an upset, incumbent Democrats in red states had better batten down the hatches.