New Jersey and Virginia Governors' Races Heat Up

Although eyes of the national media last week were fixed on Cairo and the looming Supreme Court confirmation battle, the real political action in 2009 is in two state gubernatorial races which may signal the direction of the 2010 congressional races and test whether Barack Obama reset the country's political dial. As Dan Balz of the Washington Post put it:

A lingering question from the 2008 election is whether the enthusiasm surrounding Obama's candidacy was singularly focused or transferable to other Democrats when he is not on the ballot. His candidacy was fueled by the passions he engendered among his followers and by the strongly anti-Bush sentiment in the country. To what extent did the results in 2008 signal affirmative endorsement of the Democratic Party?

The 2008 election brought a surge of participation into the Democratic primaries and significant shifts in voter registration that changed the shape of the electorates in many states, Virginia among them. Will all those new voters continue to participate this year and next?

Last week the Republican Party did not commit collective suicide in New Jersey. Rather than select the firebrand challenger (who combined a desire to accept Guantanamo detainees into New Jersey prisons with a longing to dismantle the Garden State's cities and  to enact a flat tax which increased taxes on a majority of its citizens) New Jersey Republicans opted for former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who is running on a platform of public integrity and fiscal conservatism. With incumbent Governor Jon Corzine trailing in the polls, Republicans hope that, as Mark Twain joked, reports of their death in the Northeast are greatly exaggerated. (And frankly, if they can't beat Corzine with double-digit unemployment and a budgetary train wreck, it is hard to imagine how they might ever win a statewide race in New Jersey.)

Meanwhile in Virginia, Democrats go into Tuesday's gubernatorial primary in a three-way horserace. Do they choose the likeable and more moderate Creigh Deeds, whom the Washington Post endorsed, or the "carnival broker" and former Clinton confidante Terry McAuliffe of Global Crossing fame? Maybe they will go with Brian Moran, who would have to convince voters outside of Northern Virginia that he is not too liberal on everything from gay marriage to guns and also will have to evade the ethical stench which follows his brother, Rep. James Moran (now caught up in a growing ethics scandal in Congress).

Waiting for the Democratic winner, with high approval ratings and a boatload of cash is Bob McDonnell, the former state attorney general. With roots in voter-rich Northern Virginia and a reputation for getting no-nonsense bills through the often stalemated state legislature, McDonnell hopes to put to rest the conventional wisdom that Virginia is now "too blue" for a fiscally conservative Republican.

Tucker Martin, McDonnell's press secretary, tells Pajamas Media that Virginia Democrats have misread the 2008 results:

Virginia remains a center-right state. The president's most effective television ads here were focused on cutting taxes for the middle class. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine spent their time on the trail forming sportsmen coalitions and promising not to raise taxes. Democrats in Virginia have always been careful to package themselves as "Virginia" Democrats, not "national" Democrats. That distinction has disappeared this year. All three Democratic candidates are running on far-left platforms that are indistinguishable from the national Democratic Party. Democrats are gambling that Virginia is not newly purple, but instead permanently blue. Political history argues that their gamble is not a wise one.