Declining Democratic Enthusiasm

Thinking about this year's two elections for governor, one thing stands out -- Democratic voters have been lacking enthusiasm for their candidates. That seems ...
by | September 23, 2009


Thinking about this year's two elections for governor, one thing stands out -- Democratic voters have been lacking enthusiasm for their candidates. That seems to me the main reason why Democrats are losing both races, according to polls.

In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine is looking pretty much like a one-termer. He never breaks 40 percent in the polls, which obviously is not enough to win even in a three-candidate race. He has consistently trailed Republican Chris Christie, despite a recent spate of embarrassing news stories for the challenger.

What's interesting about the polls is that while Christie has maintained a clear lead among likely voters, his lead is pretty minimal among registered voters. That obviously has a lot to do with the Democratic advantage in New Jersey, but the fact that many Democrats don't seem to intend to turn out to vote for Corzine speaks to his weakness.

The gap between likely and registered voters also speaks to a big change in the dynamic from last year. You will recall that the flood of new registrants presented pollsters with a real dilemma -- how to weigh their polls to reflect seemingly unlikely voters who nevertheless were strongly motivated either by Barack Obama's historic candidacy or anti-Bush feelings.

It seems to me that such anti feelings are behind state Sen. Creigh Deeds recent uptick in Virginia polling. Deeds still trails Bob McDonell, the Republican former attorney general. But not by too much.

This has a lot to do with the unearthing of McDonnell's master's thesis, which portrayed him as an anti-feminist, homophobic reactionary. McDonnell has disavowed the views of his younger self and seeks to dismiss the entire issue as irrelevant.

Yet it's clear that the thesis has opened up a promising line of attack for Deeds. That's because it jibes with the Democrats' main line against McDonnell -- that he is a hard right-winger running in moderate clothing.

If Democrats can successfully portray McDonnell as a dangerous extremist, that gives Deeds the chance to win. He wasn't going to win this race on his own merits. Despite his big upset win in the Democratic primary, party faithful weren't that fired up about him. Remember that just a few weeks ago Deeds reached for the risky strategy of highlighting his support for abortion, apparently to excite parts of the party base.

It looks to me pretty certain that Jon Corzine is going to become the first Democrat to lose a statewide race in New Jersey in a dozen years. A state that has supported Democrats who were mired in scandal seems ready for a change in a time of financial woes, believing that Corzine, while well-intentioned, has been on the whole ineffectual.

He hasn't given enough of his own party reason to want to give him another term.

Virginia is not as solidly blue as New Jersey, but Democrats have been making solid gains, winning the governorship twice in a row, control of the state Senate, capturing the two U.S. Senate seats in the past three years and voting Democrat for president last year for the first time since LBJ in 1964.

It looked all summer like Deeds was going to bring this streak to its end, because he hadn't given voters enough reason to support him. The state was still far from a slam dunk for Democrats. Now, at least, he's suggesting reasons for people to vote against McDonnell. Whether that's good enough for the win will be the most compelling political question of the next several weeks.


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