Decision 2014: “Pregame” (Part 1: the 2013 elections)

Election season will soon be upon us. Though it is technically true that this is an “off year”, there are several elections occurring later this year that will set the stage for the 2014 midterm elections. In this installment of a two part article, we will discuss those 2013 elections that will set the tone for the 2014 midterm elections.

Current lay of the Land

November 5 is Election Day in Virginia, New Jersey, New York City, Los Angeles, and several other municipalities. It is the statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey that we will focus on.

New Jersey – Republican incumbent Chris Christie saw his decent electoral fortunes improve overnight in heavily Democratic (President Obama carried the state 58-40% last year) New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Accordingly, he has received the endorsement of dozens of Democratic elected officials and has remained above 60% in the polls. These are numbers not seen for a statewide Republican since 1985. Given Christie’s continuing strength, there are really two “expectations” questions with regards to this race: (1) Can Governor Christie maintain his sky high ratings (New Jersey Democrats tend to “come home” in the final weeks) for the next three months? (2) Can the Republicans retake control of one or both houses of the Legislature for the first time since 2001?

Virginia – The outcome of the governor’s race is less certain in Virginia. Historically (at least since 1973), the governor’s chair has been won by the party NOT controlling the White House. In other words, a Democratic President means a Republican governor, and vice versa. The current governor is a term limited Republican, although he his image has become tarnished by scandal (he had been accepting numerous gifts from a wealthy donor) in his last year in office:. It is against this backdrop that the governor’s race is being conducted. The GOP nominee is its Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe (former President Clinton’s choice to head the Democratic National Committee). Neither candidate is very appealing to voters because of their backgrounds, so this race will truly be a case of whose (Cuccinelli’s or McAuliffe’s) base is more motivated to get out and vote. There won’t be as much suspense with legislative elections: the Senate (which is not controlled by either party) is not up for election until 2015, while the House is 2:1 Republican.

Other races worth watching

Colorado – Earlier this year, Colorado passed ambitious gun control legislation, which sparked a backlash: two Democratic state senators (one of whom is the Senate President) are up for recall on September 10. Given that Colorado has not been Republican friendly territory since 2002, the outcome of these two recall elections will be worth watching.

New Jersey Senate – Earlier this year, Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg died, and some controversy was generated when Governor Chris Christie scheduled a special election on October 16: the prevailing thought was that the odd timing of the election (i.e., not on the same day as the November gubernatorial elections) was to prevent a strong Democratic turnout from affecting Christie’s re-election chances. Though there are party primaries in August for the seat, Newark Mayor (who is a black Democrat) Cory Booker is thought to be the overwhelming favorite for the seat both in the primary and in the general.

LouisianaSeveral parishes are holding elections on October 19, with a November 16 runoff if necessary. Candidate filing for those races will occur on August 14-16.

Looking forward

The 2014 midterms (as well as municipal elections in New Orleans on February 1) actually “kick off” in December: filing for the New Orleans elections is on December 11-13. Similarly, for federal/statewide/Congressional legislative races in Illinois, candidate filing is the earliest in the nation, and will be some time in the month of December. In the second installment of this article, we will discuss what we see happening in the 2014 midterm elections for the House, Senate, and Governor.