Current polls tracking three elections in two states are promising a reprise of recent political history. In a week in which Republicans in Congress refusing to reopen the government and threatening to force a default for the first time in the country’s history and following months of horrific cutbacks in programs for the needy and renewed threats against entitlements, three Republicans are still making credible showings in elections for governor and the U.S. Senate. And these are not in red states either; they are in deep blue New Jersey and increasingly purple Virginia.
The two races in New Jersey seemed from the start to be preordained. The special senate election has been led from the beginning by Newark Mayor Cory Booker a Democrat famous for both his tweets and for periodically whipping off his glasses and rushing into burning buildings or rescuing cats from trees. The governor’s race features very popular Republican Chris Christie, seeking his second term with candidates for every seat in the General Assembly and a substantial number of those in the state senate riding on his coattails.
In a world where the sun rises in the East the Virginia governor’s election should also be a foregone conclusion. While Terry McAuliffe, former chair of the Democratic Party is not particularly beloved by its members and his career not without some off notes, he is a giant of rectitude and sanity compared to the current lieutenant governor. Ken Cuccinelli is tarred with the same pay-for-play scandal which has hung over the current governor for months and may momentarily erupt into criminal indictments. In addition he is rabidly anti-gay and has backed legislation that would make many forms of both homo- and heterosexual activity illegal, even among married adults. Many members of the Republican dominated legislature, which has passed draconian anti-abortion and some truly shameful voter suppression bills, are also on the ballot.
Back in New Jersey, Booker is facing Steve Lonegan, former mayor of Bogota and New Jersey State Coordinator for Koch brothers related Americans for Prosperity. Lonegan is a member of the Tea Party, endorsed by Sarah Palin, and in the words of his campaign literature, “supports major cuts in government welfare programs…, most particularly ObamaCare and other giveaways like free cell phones, 99-week unemployment handouts and welfare benefits that encourage people not to work and live off taxpayers.”
Christie, who has vetoed equal marriage legislation, decimated the teachers unions, and insulted virtually everyone who has dared to disagree with him, especially if they are female, is running against Barbara Buono, a credible candidate with a lot of legislative experience including a two year stint as majority leader of the state senate.
Now here is where the polls come in. While McAuliffe has increased his lead during the shutdown and is now leading by 7 to 9 points in recent polls, he is only ahead by 5, 43 percent to 38, among likely voters.
Booker, with unparalleled name recognition has a 12 point lead, down from the 35 point edge he had at the beginning of the race. This while running against an opponent who in a debate over the ACA said, “I’ll be as callous and uncaring as you can imagine. I have no interest in paying for your health care. I’d hate to see you get cancer, but that’s your problem not mine.”
And Christie seems to have obliterated his extreme right-wing record from the minds of his heavily Democratic constituents simply by not pulling a Brownie in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and talking nicely to and about the President who held the checkbook that could make things better. A Quinnipiac University poll released on October 10 gives him a margin of 62 to 33 over Buono among likely voters. Most dismaying, even though Buono has been vocal on their issues, she is behind with women by 59 to 36 percent.
The rest of the country has no opportunity to really show the Republicans how disgusted we are with their attitude, behavior, and governance and there the citizens of Virginia and New Jersey sit, ready to blow their chance to do so. There was probably never any hope Buono could win over the rude and bullying Christie, but are Democrats going to let him bury her by 30 freaking points? Just what message does that send to Washington? In an off-year election I wonder how many Democrats and Independents will even bother to vote. We know the largely older Republicans will turn out in droves and could at the same time put the legislature – still nominally in the control of Democrats – in Tea Party hands.
And the situation with the Senate race is even worse. Not only is this an off-year election but it also off month and day. Christie, in an act of hutzpah that on its own should have disqualified him, severed the special from the regular race so it isn’t in November – it isn’t even on a Tuesday; it is Wednesday, October 16. With a 12 point lead Booker could actually lose this to a man who called for a boycott of McDonalds because they put up a Spanish language billboard.
And Virginia is more of the same. McAuliffe is barely outside of the margin of error in polls and a lackadaisical Democratic turnout would cost him the race and probably, given the growing voter suppression in the state, cost the Democrats Virginia in 2016.
It is inconceivable to me that any Democrat could forget 2010; the polls should be showing overwhelming margins for McAuliffe and Booker and at least making Christie sweat. Yet we once again appear poised to repeat a defeat by default. There is more at stake than three political offices. The rest of us are looking to Virginia and New Jersey voters to send Republicans the message the rest of us cannot.
When I moved from Boston to Georgia ten years ago they told me about grits and pork rinds, warned me about the bugs, and assured me there would be a lot less snow. They did not tell me that belonging to a church is required by statute and that I would be the only liberal between Atlanta and the Canary Islands.
There are, however, Yellow Dogs. These are Southerners who would vote for a Golden Retriever if it were running as a Democrat. That these people would be called Republicans if they lived in New England does not make me one bit less grateful that they exist.