By Steve Peoples
NEWARK, N.J.: From rural Iowa to urban New York, voters across America will render judgment in a slate of political contests today, including in New Jersey and Virginia where gubernatorial race outcomes could highlight the Republican Party division between pragmatists and ideologues.
Elsewhere, Colorado voters will set a tax rate for marijuana.
New York City will elect a new mayor for the first time in 12 years, while Boston’s mayoral race pits white collar against blue collar, and Detroit’s spotlights the city’s bankruptcy — just three of the many mayoral contests from coast to coast.
Republican and Democratic strategists alike say that today’s contests are more defined by candidate personalities and region-specific issues than political trends likely to influence next year’s larger fight for control of Congress. Turnout is expected to be low across the country, typical for elections held in years when the White House and Congress aren’t up for grabs.
Candidates across the country made their last pitches to voters as local elections boards made their final preparations.
“We can’t take anything for granted. We are Republicans in New Jersey,” incumbent Gov. Chris Christie told supporters Monday, although polls suggest he likely will cruise to a second term over his little-known Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono. A potential presidential candidate, Christie could become the state’s first Republican to exceed 50 percent of the vote in a statewide election in 25 years.
And a Republican victory in a Democratic-leaning state could stoke the notion within part of the GOP that a pragmatic approach is the answer to the party’s national woes.
To the south, a defeat of a conservative Republican in the swing-voting state of Virginia also could feed into that argument.
Former national Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe is favored against Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who comes from the GOP’s right flank and promotes his role as the first state attorney general to challenge the health-care overhaul. Cuccinelli has been hurt both by the government shutdown that Republicans are bearing most of the blame for and by a political scandal involving accusations of lavish gift-giving by a political supporter to Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family.
A McAuliffe victory would break a three decade-long trend: Virginia has elected a governor from the party not occupying the White House in every gubernatorial election since 1977.
Neither race will offer significant clues about the state of the electorate heading into a midterm election year.
“They’re a far cry from being a crystal ball for 2014,” said longtime Democratic pollster John Anzalone. “These two big races are all about the individuals.”
Candidate comes out
In Maine, Rep. Mike Michaud, who is running for governor, came out publicly as gay in a newspaper op-ed.
The 58-year-old Michaud said Monday that he told his mom that he was gay just hours before he released the op-ed. He said he wrote the piece to end “whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls” that were dogging his gubernatorial campaign.
“It was a difficult decision to tell my sister and my mother,” Michaud said in his Portland campaign office hours after he released an op-ed. His mother, sister and five other siblings said through his campaign staff that they didn’t want to be interviewed.
The announcement lifts the profile of a three-way race in which the six-term congressman and former paper mill worker is running close in the polls with Gov. Paul LePage, the Republican incumbent. Also in the race is wealthy independent Eliot Cutler.
But the ramifications were unclear. Maine approved gay marriage last year.
Michaud’s acknowledgement that he’s gay could mean big contributions from gay rights groups. It also could win over some liberal voters concerned about his “blue dog” image and votes on abortion. But it also could cost him the votes of some socially conservative supporters.
“It makes things more interesting. There’s no doubt about that,” said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.