Barack Obama

Q+A: Voters in Virginia, New Jersey to choose governors

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Voters in Virginia and New Jersey will elect governors on Tuesday with Republicans and Democrats debating whether the outcome will render the first electoral judgment on U.S. President Barack Obama.

Here are some key questions and answers about the races.


In Virginia, former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a Republican, has a double-digit lead in opinion polls over Democrat Creigh Deeds, 51, (pronounced Cree), a state senator. The race has centered on taxes and transportation, and McDonnell, well-armed with campaign money, has run a series of television ads pointing out conflicting statements Deeds made about whether he would raise taxes. McDonnell, 55, was dealt a blow, but not a fatal one, by The Washington Post’s report that a graduate school thesis he wrote when he was 34 underscored his opposition to abortion and supported tax policies that favored heterosexual families. Deeds’ focus on the McDonnell thesis dominated his campaign long after the flap had disappeared from the headlines and he was seen as being overly negative. Two appearances on Deeds’ behalf by Obama have had little effect on the electorate.


In New Jersey, Democratic Governor Jon Corzine, 62, is in a tough re-election battle against Republican Chris Christie, 47, a former U.S. attorney in the state. Independent candidate Chris Daggett is playing a spoiler role. The race in recent days has been all but tied, with Corzine appearing to have a slight edge in heavily Democratic New Jersey over Christie. But a poll released on Monday gave the Republican a narrow lead. The poor economy in New Jersey and Corzine’s stewardship of it have been the main issue, although Corzine has made up some ground by accusing Christie of ethical violations. Corzine went so far as to run a television ad that left the impression Christie was too fat to be governor, prompting the portly Republican to tell radio host Don Imus, “If you’re going to do it, at least man up and say I’m fat.” The key to victory may be how many votes Daggett takes from either Christie or Corzine.


A wild race in New York’s 23rd congressional district took another turn on Saturday when Republican Dede Scozzafava suspended her campaign in a move that could boost a conservative’s battle against a Democrat. The House seat became vacant when Republican John McHugh left to become Obama’s Army secretary. Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, endorsed by former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is running close in opinion polls with Democrat Bill Owens, while Scozzafava was trailing in third place. The race is notable in that a Conservative Party candidate was doing far better than the Republican, which analysts say is evidence of a split within the Republican Party. Whatever the outcome, it will make little difference to the makeup of the House of Representatives, which has a strong Democratic majority.


Here’s how Republican strategist John Feehery explained it from his side of the coin. “It’s good, the bad and the ugly from the Republican standpoint. Virginia will be very good for Republicans. I don’t think New Jersey is going to be particularly good for Republicans, probably bad, and it’s just ugly up in New York, one of those great examples of what we have to do to heal as a party.”


Republicans, who lost control of Congress in 2006 and lost the White House in 2008, have been in the political wilderness and are hoping a win in Virginia will be proof they have started on the road to a comeback and can take back some seats from the Democrats in the 2010 congressional elections. They believe a New Jersey win for Republicans would give them even a bigger boost. Obama won Virginia in 2008, the first time a Democratic presidential nominee had won that state since 1964, and he won New Jersey by 16 points. Republicans argue Democrats’ problems in these two states stem from Obama’s spending and healthcare proposals. Democrats shrug off those concerns and doubt it is part of a bigger trend either way. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs pointed out that in the elections in those two states in 2001, shortly after Republican George W. Bush took power, Democrats won both but Republicans went on to add congressional seats in the 2002 elections.


The problem is that Democrats are having trouble getting enthusiastic support for Deeds the way Obama did in 2008. Obama was able to generate a huge turnout from black voters and young voters, but there is a bit of a ho-hum factor when it comes to Deeds. Plus, Republicans have been energized to some extent by Obama’s policies and are likely to have a big turnout to push McDonnell over the top. “I think Republicans are energized everywhere because anger is a better motivator than approval of the party in power,” said Dave Wasserman, a political analyst at the non-partisan Cook Political Report.

Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney and Cynthia Osterman