Voters in cities and states across the country are going to the polls on Tuesday to have their say on governors, mayors, ballot questions — and even whether to secede from their state.
The elections are local, low-turnout affairs that have garnered nothing like the spotlight afforded to presidential races or even midterm congressional fights. But many of the 2013 contests still carry important national implications, with Republicans again road-testing messages against Obamacare, Democrats branding Republicans as extremists, and one White House contender looking to make a big show of strength.
Here’s what to watch for as polls close Tuesday evening.
Chris Christie’s 2016 Chest-Beating
Barring an unexpected political disaster, Republican Gov. Chris Christie will be reelected in New Jersey. Christie has soared in the Democratic state on the strength of his performance after the state was hammered by Hurricane Sandy last year. Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono was 16 points behind Christie in the last poll before Sandy, but 38 points down in the first poll after the storm, and she’s never gotten closer than 18 points down since.
Christie will win, the only question is by how much. And the answer to that question will go a long way in determining his strength in what even Christie is increasingly acknowledging — if only implicitly — will be a likely 2016 presidential race. Win big as a Republican in a blue state, and he’ll have a strong argument to make about his national appeal.
Democrats never went all in against Christie this year, but fearful that a romp by the incumbent could reshape the state’s political landscape, they’re waging a last minute, record-breaking outside spending campaign to keep the state legislature in Democratic hands.
GOP Flop In Virginia
The election for governor in this purple swing state is a testing ground for what may happen nationally, and it’s likely that by night’s end Democrats will be able to say middle-of-the-road voters are rejecting the Republican Party’s conservative turn.
The race has pit longtime political fixer and money-man, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, against the stridently conservative state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. McAuliffe is a weak candidate by any measure, but voters, who polls show dislike both candidates, are particularly sour on Cuccinelli, a leader of the fight against President Barack Obama’s health care law and a staunch opponent of abortion.
McCauliffe leads the bitter race, which has been full of barbs and backhanded campaign ads, by high single-digits in most polls. Suburban women — the kind Republicans need to win a state that Obama captured twice — are flocking away from Cuccinelli, who was also hurt by the government shutdown in a state whose economy depends on federal largesse. Barring a surprise upset, national Republicans will use the result to argue the party needs to nominate more moderate, mainstream candidates in tough races.
Liberal Ascendancy in New York City
Bill de Blasio is poised to become the first Democratic mayor of the Big Apple in two decades — and the first bona fide liberal in City Hall in a generation.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll on Monday had de Blasio sporting a mammoth 41-point lead over Republican Joe Lhota, a former deputy mayor in Rudy Giuliani’s administration. De Blasio has cruised since he won the Democratic primary in early September, edging out City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and disgraced sexting pol Anthony Weiner.
But that de Blasio got there with a “tale of two cities” message that bemoaned the economic inequality of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s years in office is telling: Even in the financial capital of the country, populist anger at the gains enjoyed by the wealthy amidst economic woes for the rest created a haves and have-nots dynamic strong enough to lift a genuine liberal in a city that hasn’t done so for years.
GOP Establishment vs. Tea Party in Alabama
It’s the battle for the soul of the Republican Party: business-oriented, traditional Republican Bradley Byrne takes on tea party insurgent Dean Young in a special election for an Alabama congressional seat.
Young has proudly spoken of his Christian values and asked voters to send him to Washington so he can return to country to “the Constitution and the Godly principles that made this nation great.” Meanwhile, big businesses — stung by the recent government shutdown and determined to push back at tea party forces in the GOP — have written big checks to Byrne, a lawyer, former state senator and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate who is also endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Polls indicate this one’s a toss-up. If Byrne wins, that could embolden more moderate Republicans to to challenge tea party control of the GOP after three years of conservative upstarts running the show. If Young wins, the tea partiers will be all the more confident as they defend a conservative House majority in 2014.
Seceding… From Colorado
Voters in eight Colorado countries are considering a ballot initiative to secede from the state a create a new state called Northern Colorado. Secession advocates say they’re tired of liberal transplants pouring into cities like Denver and Boulder and turning their once red state purple. The state legislature has passed a series of laws unpopular with rural parts of the state, the most contentious of which required electric co-ops to double the amount of energy they get from renewable resources. Republicans complained that it would raise electricity rates for farmers and ranchers.
There is almost no chance of Northern Colorado actually becoming a state, even if the ballot initiative passes. Northern Colorado would have to convince both the state legislature and Congress to approve the creation of the new state — and that’s not happening. West Virginia was the last state to successfully secede (from Virginia) 150 years ago during the Civil War. But whether the ballot initiative succeeds or not will still be a measure of the intensity of populist anger at entrenched powers in today’s politics.