Political Hay

Election 2005

New Jersey, California, and probably Virginia should make Democrats happy today.

By 11.7.05

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Today is election day. In addition to a raft of local races -- incumbent mayors are expected to be re-elected in New York City, Atlanta, and Houston, and to be defeated in Detroit and Cleveland -- there are statewide elections in New Jersey, California, and Virginia.

Senator Jon Corzine and Republican former West Windsor Mayor Doug Forrester, both multimillionaires who've drawn on their personal fortunes to fund their campaigns, have spent a record $72 million between them in the race to become governor of New Jersey. (By comparison, New Jersey's gubernatorial candidates spent about $31 million in 2001.) It's a bare-knuckled fight: Corzine accuses Forrester of corruption based on his political contributions in counties where Forrester's company, BeneCard Services, had been contracted to provide prescription drug coverage for county employees. Forrester accuses Corzine of corruption based on Corzine's having forgiven a $470,000 loan to a former girlfriend who is the president of a powerful state workers' union. Over the weekend, both candidates have had to deny unsubstantiated rumors of extramarital affairs, rumors apparently spread after Forrester ran an ad featuring a quote from Corzine's ex-wife declaring that Corzine "let his family down, and he'll probably let New Jersey down, too."

If the ex-wife ad sounds like an act of desperation, that's because it is: Forrester, who has consistently trailed Corzine in polls, sometimes by double digits, is almost certainly headed for a loss.

IN CALIFORNIA, IT'S NOT people but ballot propositions that face a statewide vote. Proposition 73 mandates parental notification and wait periods for minors seeking abortions. Propositions 74-77 are the slate of reforms being pushed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Prop. 74 reforms the tenure system for public school teachers, increasing the probationary period for new teachers from two years to five years and making it easier for school boards to fire teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations. Prop. 75 requires public employee unions to get members' consent before using their dues for political contributions. Prop. 76 limits state spending-growth based on recent revenue-growth, and authorizes the governor to reduce spending during certain fiscal situations. Prop. 77 takes redistricting responsibilities out of the hands of gerrymander-happy state legislators and instead creates a panel of retired judges whose redistricting suggestions would be subject to statewide referenda.

Propositions 78 and 79 are dueling initiatives dealing with discount prescription drugs for the uninsured; as David Hogberg explains, 79 is the worse of the two. Prop. 80 imposes a number of electricity regulations, none of them very attractive.

Propositions are notoriously difficult to poll. It's hard to model out likely voters for a special election like this, or to simulate the mix of voters who decide how to vote based on the elliptical language on the ballot versus those who've made up their minds on each proposition before voting. In 2004, according to a paper by Joe Shipman and Jay Leve of SurveyUSA, ballot measure polling had triple the error rate of statewide presidential polls and double the error rate of other statewide polls. That said, a wide variety of polls using very different methodologies, some of which have yielded wildly divergent results on Propositions 73-77, have lately converged toward one conclusion: Every single proposition is headed for failure.

IN VIRGINIA, DEMOCRAT Tim Kaine has gained almost every time the polls have moved. This used to be Republican Jerry Kilgore's race to lose, and as David Holman has chronicled, Kilgore has seemed up to the task.

Though the political momentum is with Kaine, Kilgore does have an ace in the hole: The Virginia Republican Party's excellent get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation, which is worth at least a couple of percentage points. The most recent poll, SurveyUSA's, shows Kaine leading by 5 points, while other polls show the race somewhat closer. Factor in GOTV, and Kilgore certainly has a shot at winning. My prediction, though, is that Kaine will pull out a very narrow victory.

IF MY FORECAST is right, watch for Arnold Schwarzenegger's team to blame their losses on President Bush's unpopularity (though their own political missteps are a much bigger factor), and for lots of commentary about how Bush couldn't help Jerry Kilgore. But beware of gloomy Republicans and gleeful Democrats who are too quick to extrapolate these results into premature pronouncements about the 2006 elections. A lot can happen in a year.

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John Tabin is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator online.