Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Jersey, Virginia & 2010

What do any of the three have to do with each other?

FHQ would argue very little. After examining the polling in both states for the better part of five months, it is fairly clear that these races have virtually no national implications. In New Jersey, the election last night was as much about Jon Corzine as 2006 and 2008 were about George W. Bush. That is to say that each was about an unpopular incumbent. Corzine had not, as FHQ mentioned yesterday, broken the 45% barrier in polling all year and he needed to round his percentage of the vote share up to get there last night. The Democrat's chances hinged completely upon Chris Daggett's ability to siphon off votes from Christie and make 44 or 45% the winning total. When Daggett came up well short of where FHQ and most other monitors expected the independent to end up (He pulled in about half of his expected share; 5%.), Corzine basically had no chance. As was talked about on The Monkey Cage earlier today, someone viewed negatively and behind in the polls has to attack and bring his or her opponent down to their level. Lee Seligman put it better: "It’s not so much that attackers lose as that losers attack." Corzine had to attack, but in the end couldn't bring Christie down to a beatable level.

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The end result in Virginia was the same -- the Republican won -- but the process of getting there was very different. I don't think that Chris Christie or Jon Corzine were particularly great candidates, but in the commonwealth, Bob McDonnell just outclassed Creigh Deeds as a candidate. McDonnell basically held an advantage throughout the year no matter which Democratic candidate was pitted against him; an advantage that crescendoed rapidly when the votes began to be cast a day ago. Deeds, seeing that McDonnell had been spotted an edge, was essentially in the same position John McCain was in a year ago relative to Barack Obama, except the Democrat was without a presidential-level campaign team. [I'm not talking about folks from within the Obama administration. I'm talking about campaign staff that is steeped in experience. McCain had that. Deeds did not.] FHQ isn't here to throw Deeds under the bus. I just think that McDonnell was in the position of being able to take the high road (as most frontrunners are) through the thesis ordeal. Deeds' campaign, meanwhile, latched onto that story and quickly became associated with it to the point that once the issue faded there was no previously constructed message on which Deeds could lean.

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One other thing that might also be mentioned (that I haven't seen discussed anywhere) is how the primaries in this race played out. The parties tinkering with their presidential nomination rules would be wise to take note of this. FHQ won't argue that the Democratic primary battle hurt Deeds. It didn't. But Bob McDonnell was ceded the Republican nomination. In the absence of competition, the former attorney general was never forced to run to the right. Not only did that not provide Deeds or any other Democrat with any fodder for the general election campaign, but it also helped McDonnell, even with the thesis out in the open, to foster a more moderate image. In the end, it isn't the primary battle that's negative so much as the easy road to nomination is beneficial.

Fine, both New Jersey and Virginia were "all politics is local" elections. They were, but they weren't without their cautionary tales for next year's midterm elections. Neither race or outcome is a harbinger, at least not directly, but the underlying numbers present the Democratic Party with a real problem. Let's look at the numbers from 2008 and 2009. No, I don't think that is a fair comparison either, but I did want to compare the level of drop-off from last year to this year across parties. In other words, how much bigger was the drop-off difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates at the top of the ballot?

2009 New Jersey & Virginia Voting Drop-Off (vs. 2008)
Obama: 1,959,532
McCain: 1,725,005
Deeds: 774,676
McDonnell: 1,100,470
Dem: 1,184,856
GOP: 624,535

New Jersey
Obama: 2,215,422
McCain: 1,613,207
Corzine: 1,048,697
Christie: 1,148,651
Dem: 1,166,725
GOP: 464,556

*Numbers may have changed slightly since these data were collected on the afternoon of Nov. 4, 2009.
Sources: NJ 2008, 2009; VA 2008, 2009

In both cases, turnout dropped by approximately 50% from 2008 to 2009. But the difference between the way in which the number of votes decreased was not uniformly distributed across each party. These are aggregate numbers, so were not talking about the same people in 2008 and 2009, per se. However, it is more than obvious that the Republican Party maintained more of its voters than did the Democrats. In Virginia, Deeds could only hold about 40% of Obama's voters from a year ago. McDonnell, on the other hand, was able to maintain about two-thirds the level of McCain voters. The story in New Jersey was similar. Corzine held but 47% of Obama's level of turnout to Christie's 71% of McCain's.

But that's not all. Some of the exit polling was noteworthy as well. Race actually didn't play that big a role in either state, for instance. The African American share of the electorate on Tuesday was actually higher in New Jersey (14%) than it was in 2008 (12%). In Virginia, there was a decrease in the black share from 20% a year ago to 16% yesterday, and Deeds got the same 92% of those voters that Obama got in 2008. The exit polling breaks on age were also interesting. McDonnell won every age group on Virginia (not surprising when you win by 17 points), while Obama lost narrowly among 40-49 year old and over 65 year old Virginians. In New Jersey, Obama just lost among the senior set while Christie only lost among the very youngest (18-29) group.

The real difference, though, was in the partisan make up of the 2008 versus 2009 electorates (at least through the lens of the exit polling conducted).

2008 vs. 2009 Exit Polling in NJ & VA (Party ID)
New Jersey
41% D
31% R
28% I*
44% D
28% R
28% I*
33% D
37% R
30% I**
39% D
33% R
27% I**
*Christie won independents 60-30. Obama won them 51-47 over McCain.
**McDonnell won independents 66-33. Obama won them 49-48 over McCain.
Sources: CNN (NJ and VA) -- 2008, New York Times (NJ and VA) -- 2009

That paints a fairly stark contrast between the two elections. Republicans made up a larger share of the electorate in 2009 and both Republican gubernatorial candidates ran away with the independent vote. If yesterday's results mean anything for 2010, it is that the Democrats may have an enthusiasm gap riddle to solve between now and next year this time. FHQ still contends that these elections were decided based on local forces, but the tie that binds them is the fact that Democrats seemingly sat these races out. Resting up for 2010, or simply complacent post-2008? That is the question.

Outside of that, I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out what a pro-medical marijuana/anti-same sex marriage voter in Maine looks like. Politics is great.

Recent Posts:
Election Night 2009: Live Blog (ME-ref, NJ-gov, NY-23, VA-gov)

State of the Race: New Jersey Governor (11/3/09) -- Final

State of the Race: Virginia Governor (11/3/09) -- Final


Robert said...

Here is my take on Tuesday’s election:
1.Outsiders such as Obama, Biden, Beck and Palin did not help and may have hurt.
2.At least one losing campaign was too light (Deeds) and two were too heavy (Corzine & Hoffman) with along with a too heavy winning campaign (Bloomberg) with apologies to Bud Light.
3.Bloomberg may have won, but he probably was the biggest loser if he really wants to run for President in 2012 or 2016.
4.The Republicans who made NY-23 a major cause blew a chance for tying the election an anti-Obama statement, allowing Democrats spin they would not have had with a sweep of the two Governors races.
5.The ideal Republican candidate in 2010 Congressional and Governor races appears to be one with strong conservative creds ala McDonnell who runs like a moderate. The one who fits best for 2012 is Gingrich.
6.These results make the Crist/ Rubio race much more interesting to see how effective the Club for Growth will be in a primary and if it can carry through into the election.
7.The most important issue was the economy. If issues make a difference, then the Democrats will regain momentum in 2010 if the economy improves and Republicans will be favored if it does not.

Josh Putnam said...

3. Bloomberg's closer than expected win might hurt him in 2012, but people will have forgotten the particulars of 2009 by 2016. All folks will remember then is that Bloomberg won. Well, except people like us.

5. Agreed. Not much is being said about that Gingrich endorsement of Scozzafava now. But he certainly comes off looking better than, say, Palin and Pawlenty, because of it. A move to middle is what the GOP will eventually do, buy whether that happens in 2010, 2012, 2014... is still very much up in the air.

6. Club for Growth will have a much bigger impact in a closed primary environment in Florida. If there had been a primary in NY-23 to fill out the ballot for this past special election, they could have had an impact as well. That is the group's real battlefield. General elections will never (or will rarely) be kind to them.

Robert said...

3. Bloomberg had the reputation of a moderate who could balance off the Democrats and the Republicans. The image before Tuesday was that he used his money for goodwill and nonpartisanship. You may be right that all folks will remember then is that Bloomberg won. Or he may be remembered as the candidate that spent $100 million in attack ads and overkill tactics to crush a Democrat by 5%. John Connally was the poster child for his $11 million dollar delegate when he ran in 1980 and was a political joke for the rest of his life.

5. Newt will be 69 on June 17, 2012. This next election is probably his last chance. Mike Bloomberg will be 70 on February 14, 2012. Hillary will be 69 on October 26, 2016. I know that she says she doesn’t plan on running again, but she might change her mind. Sarah will be 68 February 11, 2032. I am not discounting a three-way split in the next 10-20 years with the conservative Republicans, the liberal Democrats and a middle party made up of disaffected moderates from both parties and others disgusted with left and right. There were attempts in 1980 with Anderson, and 1992/96 with Perot. Although they failed, that does not preclude it from happening again.

6. The tricky question with the Club for Growth is whether the candidate they get nominated in the primary will be able to moderate their views like McDonnell to win in the general election. Does McDonnell become a Presidential candidate in 2012 or does he wait until 2016 assuming that Obama will get re-elected.

Josh Putnam said...

6. Club for Growth is already making Crist squirm. Ouch.

Josh Putnam said...

Ooh, and now the full exit polls are available.

New Jersey


More to comb through.

Robert said...

Crist's biggest problem is that he is looking wishy-washy. Sounds like he was for the stimulus package before he was against it. That strategy didn't work too well for JFK II. Crist's best chance for the nomination is a strong economy coming back between now and the primary. He can then claim the jobs and the economic benefit that the stimulus brings. Now, if the good news happens he has to go back and say he was for the stimulus all along. His campaign is in trouble when he starts fighting himself. Those candidates always lose.

Josh Putnam said...

George Will has already said Rubio will win that primary. I don't know that it is a done deal, but that August primary is a LONG way away.

Oh, and I will never, EVER, get tired of "voted for it before he voted against it" humor. The day that no longer resonates in my classes will be a sad day.

Robert said...

I agree that it is a long time, but Crist seems to be digging himself a hole. The Medicare issue could end up being very important in the primary. If I were Crist, I would be looking at ways to carve out a position that would make it tough on Rubio. The Democrats will have a good chance of capturing this seat if Rubio is the nominee, and they can find a moderate to oppose him.

Josh Putnam said...

Yeah, a moderate like Charlie Crist. Markos Moulitsas has already called for Crist to go ahead and get the party switch over with. Surprisingly, I don't see Crist heeding that call.

Robert said...

Now that is a thought. He would certainly have a better shot of being elected that way.

Josh Putnam said...

The only problem is that that would be a double flip flop. Literally embracing Obama (and the stimulus) to being against the stimulus to joining the president's party. He was for it before he was against it before he was for it.

Now, there's a joke for you.

That said, let's do a bit of an exercise here. Let's assume that this does happen. Crist becomes the Democratic nominee and Rubio the Republican. I'm of the opinion that Democrats would embrace him (because he would stand a good chance of winning) instead of throwing him under the bus while calling him a double flip flopper.

I would imagine that it would play out like NY-23: voters play a proximity game. Am I closer ideologically to Crist or Rubio. In a Downsian race to the middle, Crist wins just like Owens did.

This may deserve its own post.

Robert said...

Or you might see a bitter Democratic primary between Crist and George will's hyper liberal. I suspect that the Florida Democrats are so hungry that they would probably embrace Crist's change of uniform. We'll have to see how well Specter does at the same game. A separate post would be good.

Robert said...

On another topic, it is interesting to compare the Obama jobless recovery (2009) with the Reagan jobless recovery (1982). The Obama figures are first followed by the
Reagan figures:

Jan 7.6% 8.6%
Feb 8.1% 8.9%
Mar 8.5% 9.0%
Apr 8.9% 9.3%
May 9.4% 9.4%
Jun 9.5% 9.6%
Jul 9.4% 9.8%
Aug 9.7% 9.8%
Sep 9.8% 10.1%
Oct 10.2% 10.4%
Nov ??.?% 10.8%
Dec ??.?% 10.8%

Reagan reached his peak in December, 1982. Will Obama reach his peak in December, 2009. Funny how Republicans will complain that this is the worst unemployment rate on 25 years, but they seem to have forgotten who was President then.


You will need to adjust the window at the top to get data prior to 1999.

Josh Putnam said...

Here's that link from Rob on the unemployment comparison.

I'm wondering to what extent Republicans will be able to make the unemployed plus underemployed an issue. That number is much more intimidating if you're a Democrat. That would certainly help the GOP around the "who was president during that last recovery" question.

That said, those are strikingly similar numbers. Your question is a good one, though: Where's the peak?

[Not to be confused with Where's the beef?]

Also, I'm let this Crist/Rubio thing sit for now. I want to think a bit about it over the weekend (and not bury it on a Friday). I'll have something up early next week devoted to it, though.

Robert said...

The danger for the GOP with making the unemployment rate a big issue is that a major drop in the rate becomes a big win for the Dems. Coming home tonight, I heard at least two economists that don't expect drops in unemployment until the end of 2011. If that is the case, the GOP will benefit and the Dems will pay a heavy price in 2010. See