Election 2009 Forecasts

On Tuesday, there will be elections in four states: two governorships and two U.S. special elections for U.S. House seats, all of whose constituencies were won by Barack Obama in 2008. Republicans or Conservative Party candidates are poised to win two or three of the four races, but in each of them, the Democrats will significantly underperform the results from the 2008 elections. While the White House may argue on Wednesday that there is no national meaning to such a result, the extent of the Democrats' drop-off from 2008 -- roughly 15% or more in each race -- may be a warning sign for moderate Democrats in the House and Senate wavering in their support of the health care reform bill or the cap and trade bill, both of which were drafted by the more left-wing elements of their caucus. 

Virginia governor's race

Virginia's governor can serve only one term, so every race is an open-seat race. Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine won the last two gubernatorial races by 5% and 6%, respectively. Democrats also won the last two Old Dominion Senate races with Jim Webb besting incumbent George Allen in 2006 by less than 1% and Mark Warner winning an open seat race by 31% in 2008. Barack Obama won Virginia in 2008 by 7%, the first victory there for a Democrat in the Presidential race since 1964. Democrats also picked up three Virginia Congressional seats in 2008.

It would have been fair to say based on these results that once-red Virginia had become purple, leaning more toward blue than red. But now Republicans are on the eve of a sweeping statewide victory in Virginia. Their candidate for Governor, Robert McDonnell, has opened up a huge lead over Democrat Creigh Deeds of about 14% according to the RCP average of the latest poll results. 

Republicans are also leading in other statewide races and are poised to pick up seats in the state legislature. The shift from Democrats to Republicans from 2008 to 2009 in Virginia appears to be over 20% (a 7% Obama win, a 14% McDonnell win). Virginia has been more Republican in presidential election years than in off-year elections prior to 2008. The White House has been of late trying to distance Obama from the race, telling reporters that Deeds ran a poor campaign. But a blowout loss in Virginia is an embarrassment for the White House after their intense and successful organizing effort there in 2008.  

New York's 23rd Congressional District race

In the special election to fill the seat of  Republican John McHugh, appointed Secretary of the Army, the state Republican Party picked moderate Dede Scozzafava. Doug Hoffman, who had competed for the nomination, then decided to run on the Conservative Party ticket. The Democrats picked Bill Owens. New York 23 has elected a string of Republicans to Congress for over a century, with McHugh winning by huge margins in his last few races, regularly securing 60% or more of the vote. It is likely that McHugh was offered his new job in part to create the open seat and give Democrats the shot at a pickup.  

Obama won the district by 5% in 2008, suggesting that in an open seat race, Democrats would have a chance. With McHugh's appointment, the GOP was down to two Congressmen from the 29 House seats in the state, from 10 prior to the 2006 midterms. Scozzafava held an early lead in the race until Hoffman gained strength and became competitive with the support of movement conservatives in the district and national conservative figures. But the split in the GOP vote between Hoffman and Scozzafava gave Owens the lead. The tide turned in the last week as Hoffman pulled even with Owens and Scozzafava's support dropped. On Saturday, Scozzafava suspended her campaign, and on Sunday, she stunningly endorsed Owens, throwing the race into turmoil.  

No one can be sure where Scozzafava's remaining supporters will go. Many had already switched to Hoffman, but those that stuck with her were not by and large a conservative-leaning group.  The last independent poll from Siena gave Owens a 1-point lead over Hoffman (36-35) with Scozzafava at 20%.  My best guess is that Hoffman is now a slight favorite to win, but this race will be close, and it could go either way (5% margin of victory or less). The combined vote for Hoffman and Scozzafava (whose name will remain on the ballot) will likely reach 55%,  at least 10% more than the Democrat receives. In other words, from a 5% Obama district in 2008, the shift to the Republicans and Conservatives in this open-seat race may be as much as 15% in one year. Still, if Owens wins, this will be a disaster for the GOP, another in a string of open-seat losses in former GOP districts. 

New Jersey governor's race

This is by far the hardest race to forecast.  The RCP poll average shows a very tight race between Democratic Governor John Corzine and Republican Chris Christie, with independent Chris Daggett trailing far behind. Corzine has outspent Christie by well over two-to-one, and the Democrats have a better ground game in the state. Obama won New Jersey by 15% in 2008 (Republicans last won the Presidential election in 1988), and Democrats have won all major statewide races (governor or senator) for many years. Republicans are often close in final polls and then underperform on Election Day. Daggett is a wild card. His support has been eroding, and more of his supporters pick Christie as a second choice than Corzine. Third-party candidates often fare poorly on Election Day (much worse than their final poll numbers) when supporters of these candidates realize they cannot win. This could help Christie.

When an incumbent runs for governor, statewide issues matter, and Corzine is unpopular. New Jersey has a big deficit, high unemployment, rising taxes, and abundant corruption. Unlike Virginia, the Obama team has devoted many campaign days to backing Corzine, and other powerful national Democrats have also trooped into the state to help him. If Corzine loses, his defeat will be more closely tied to Obama than the impending loss for the Democrats in Virginia.

While the RCP average poll result shows a 1% Christie lead, the individual polls are all over the place, with solid leads for Corzine in two polls, and smaller leads for Christie in many others. Picking a winner here is a total crapshoot. Many analysts believe Corzine will eke out a narrow victory (1-2%).  I thought this was likely earlier in the week, but Christie seems to have a bit of momentum heading home. Based on the current poll averages, the Democrats have again dropped 15% or more from the Obama margin in New Jersey in 2008.

California 10th Congressional District race

Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher has been appointed Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Tauscher won her last race in this east Bay district by a 34% margin and received 65% or more of the vote in each of her races. Obama won the district by 32% in 2008. The Democratic nominee, Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, is leading in late polls by 10% over his GOP opponent, David Harmer. This race has been off the radar, with political attention focused on the other three. It would be an enormous upset if Harmer won, but if Garamendi wins by only 10% in the 10th, that too will represent a significant drop-off from  Obama's margin in 2008 of over 20% in one year.

If Republicans can win in New York 23 and New Jersey, it will be a very big night. In Virginia, the Deeds is done, so to speak. But in each of the four races, the Democrats appear to be headed for a collapse from Barack Obama's margins in 2008. 

Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.