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Maybe the Off-Year Election is Meaningful?


Although everyone from Charlie Cook to the short order cook at Denny's has told us not to "over-interpret" the results of the three off-year elections, our sense is that the opposite may be true: that is, many may be under-interpreting the meaning of a GOP sweep tomorrow. Yes, a lot can and will happen between now and Election Day 2010, but make no mistake: Republicans are likely to sweep all three races tomorrow and that does say something about the direction of the country and voter perceptions of the economy.

Our assessment of the polls suggests that McDonnell will win decisively in Virginia (easy pick), Christie will narrowly take New Jersey (hard pick) and Hoffman will take NY-23rd. While each of these races has its own unique political environment, the collective sweep does tell us a few things from a macro perspective.

  1. Obama is personally popular but voters remain unsure of the effectiveness of his policies. That is why his personal popularity does not necessarily translate into help for either Corzine or Deeds. Poll after poll shows that the President is well-liked but voters are not yet convinced that his policies are moving the country in the right direction.
  2. It's still all about the economy and, to some extent, Democrats are being punished for it. This, of course, can change in the next six months but for now voters are willing to look to Republicans for answers (even with a weak candidate like Christie).
  3. This is what happens when a change election environment comes back to bite you. Democrats were all about change in 2008 but the shoe doesn't fit as well in 2009. Voters are dissatisfied with the direction of the country and they still want some sort of remedy. This was a difficult case for Corzine to make given the fiscal mess in New Jersey but Deeds simply blew it on this measure.

However, things are not all rosy for the GOP. Here are four reasons why Republicans should still worry:

  1. The Republican Party image is in disrepair and this will continue to cast a negative shadow on all of its candidates.
  2. The Democrats own the WH and Congress, so the Party will be the beneficiary of the eventual economic recovery.
  3. The person most identified with the GOP today is Sarah Palin and, given her current image attribute ratings among voters, she is probably unelectable in a general election scenario. The latest WSJ poll had her at favorability rates at 46% negative and just 27% positive.
  4. At this time, there are no tangible brand benefits to voting for a Republican. Certainly there are opportunities (e.g. tough on spending, economic growth without increased taxes and a hard line on terrorism), but until the GOP attaches itself to meaningful solutions to important issues, it will not regain dominance.

New Jersey Governor

Tomorrow will likely validate one of the best truisms in politics: an incumbent will get what s/he polls. In virtually every poll taken, Corzine has been hovering around 40%. It is highly unlikely that his vote share will exceed this number. Voters already know him, and they either like him or they don't like him; there are few, if any, voters who remain undecided on Governor Corzine. The wild card, of course, is third party candidate Chris Daggett. If he gets to 15% then Corzine has a chance. Our analysis of public and private polls has Christie winning narrowly while falling well short of 50% of the vote. We believe Daggett will finish with about 10%, a remarkable showing for a relatively unknown independent candidate. What has kept the race close is the failure of the Christie campaign to define its candidate in a positive way. As Tom Jensen of PPP points out, Corzine will need to win 12% of the vote among voters who have a negative opinion of him. It is probably not going to happen.

nj112.jpg

Virginia Governor

Last year at this time, pundits were heralding a new era of politics. In their view, Democrats--led by Barack Obama--had reshaped the political map and turned red states into blue states (or, at the very least, purple states). Well that was yesterday. Look! Virginia is red again. Republicans had the better candidate and an aligned electorate. Deeds' campaign has been flailing and unfocused since its hysterical swings at McDonnell over his thesis. Message discipline is key in politics and the Deeds campaign had very little of it.

va112.jpg

NY-23

There isn't much heavy lifting to be done with the polling for this race. We can start by tossing out any polls that began fielding prior to Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava's withdrawal from the race on Saturday. That leaves just two results from the past few hours: Hoffman +17 and Hoffman +5. While Scozzafava has endorsed her Democratic opponent Bill Owens, the lion's share of her votes seem to have found their way to Conservative Doug Hoffman, whose insurgent candidacy from the right has been surprisingly effective. Scozzafava's flame-out is especially interesting in light of the fact that incumbent John McHugh, a relatively moderate Republican, won handily with 63% and 65% of the vote in (respectively) 2006 and 2008. This, in a district Obama won 52% - 47%.

 

Comments
Gary Kilbride:

I agree with you that Christie is likely to win narrowly. I got a very good price on him a few days ago when the trends apparently were the other way, and Corzine suddenly became nearly a 1/3 chalk. That didn't make any sense based on the long term fundamentals of the race, or the national landscape. I took a swing at value odds, after not planning to get involved. Of course, I've lost more political bets (3) in the past year than in the prior decade combined, albeit all by

Generally the tight outcomes fall in line with the national tilt. Right now Intrade has New Jersey at roughly pick-em.

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Gary Kilbride:

All by less than 1 percent. That will teach me not to use symbols. The comment box apparently rejected them.

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AlanSnipes:

Well, I think that Democrats lose in Virginia and NY-23. NY-23 is a strong Republican District anyway.
However, if Corzine can pull it out in NJ, then the night is a wash.

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How can you be showing Christie in the lead when the last three most recent polls all had Corzine in the lead? Also, all pollsters, including a few that still had Christie ahead, agree that between 10 & 15% of the electorate has already voted, and that among those voters Corzine has a commanding double-digit lead.

Also, there's the issue of how weird NJ voters might be since pre-election polling always show the GOP candidate garnering a strong vote but when election day comes around, the Democratic candidate simply blows the Republican out of the water.

Given the fact that Corzine's GOTV effort has resulted in a huge early vote lead, why would anyone think that his election day effort would do dramatically worse? All the evidence so far shows me that Corzine will end up with a relatively comforable margin of victory, probably in the range of 4-8 points, thus once more having New Jersey frustrating Republicans.

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