50-State Government Relations Commentary and Insight

The (Mid) Mid-Term Elections of 2013

By: CJ Tosto, Senior Research Analyst
May 24, 2013

While discussions of the 2014 midterm and 2016 presidential elections have already begun, voters in New Jersey and Virginia will go to the polls in November of 2013.

The results will of course be spun by both sides, but the past two off-year elections results have mirrored the outcome of the following election cycle.  In 2005, Democrats won both the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections and went on to secure big victories in 2006. Likewise, Republicans won both mansions in 2009 and went on to take back the House in 2010.

In New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie remains highly popular and is a strong  favorite to win re-election. The latest poll conducted by NBC news/Marist (4/28-5/2, +/- 3.7%) showed Christie with what seems to be an insurmountable 34 point lead (62%-28%). Insurmountable at least until one reviews the last race in New Jersey featuring an incumbent Republican governor.

In 1997, Christine Todd Whitman was a popular governor running for re-election and many considered her to be a 2000 presidential candidate. In June of 1997 she had an equally impressive 30 point lead in the polls, but would go on to win re-election by less than 26,000 votes. While Governor Whitman was re-elected, her “presidential hopes” ended on that November night.

Baring a major scandal or gaffe, Governor Christie is expected to be re-elected, but the margin of victory could have significant implications for the 2016 presidential election. With New Jersey seen by most as a foregone conclusion, all eyes have turned to Virginia, an increasingly “purple” state.

President Obama won the state both times (although his victory in 2012 was cinched by 150,000 votes out of 3.8 million cast) and Democrats also held onto the US Senate seat in 2012 (taking 53% of the vote). However , Republicans hold 8 of the 11 Congressional Seats, the Governor’s Mansion and a 2 to 1 majority in the Assembly. The state Senate is tied, but with the Lt. Governor’s vote, Republicans have functional control.

Despite the purple make-up of the state, both parties have nominated two polarizing candidates. The race pits Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, an unabashed tea party supporter and the first attorney general to sue over the Affordable Healthcare Act, and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the former chair of the Democratic Party and chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

The race is expected to be costly (McAuliffe currently holds the money advantage with $5 million raised, about double of what General Cuccinelli has raised) and nasty. Negative ads have already aired for both sides. The latest poll has McAuliffe with a slight 43%-38% lead (Quinnipiac 5/8-13 +/- 2.7%), but other polls have shown Attorney General Cuccinelli with a 5 point lead.

Pundits will be looking at the impact of the Affordable Healthcare Act, an issue that both Attorney General Cuccinelli and Republican candidates in 2014 intend to use heavily.

An interesting wildcard could be the Republican’s selection of out-spoken conservative E.W. Jackson as the party’s Lt. Governor nominee. Some have compared Jackson’s selection to that of Mike Farris’ selection in 1993, which ultimately did not impact the Governor’s race.

The 2005 and 2009 gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia presaged the results of the national elections in 2006 and 2010. With a strong Republican governor running for reelection in a traditionally “blue” state and polarizing candidates in a “purple” state, it remains to be seen whether the 2013 elections similarly will be a preview of the 2014 contests.

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