To say that voters were ornery in yesterday’s balloting is an understatement. In both New Jersey and Virginia, Republican gubernatorial candidates won as voters sent a clear message on their discontent over the economy and direction of the country. Despite President Obama’s generally favorable ratings voters in the two states that held gubernatorial elections sent a strong message to the White House that conditions in their states have become intolerable. One year after Barack Obama won the presidency on a message of change, voters in New Jersey and Virginia delivered their own change.
In New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine found himself on the receiving end of voter discontent over the state’s struggling economy and its infamously high property taxes. To make matters worse, the Democratic incumbent’s campaign had an incoherent message and never made a convincing case for his re-election. His opponent, Republican Chris Christie, a former U.S. Attorney, had little to offer by way of substantive policy initiatives but was able to parlay his success in fighting political corruption to convince voters that he was better suited to lead New Jersey out of its economic morass. Despite Governor Corzine’s use of his personal wealth and the fact that the state had been trending Democratic, voters were unconvinced that the former Wall Street executive was deserving of a second term. Independent voters in the state apparently leaned toward the Republican; giving him just enough support to pull out a slim 5 percentage point margin of victory. Chris Christie becomes the first Republican to lead the Garden State since Donald DiFrancesco filled the unexpired term of Christine Todd Whitman in the early part of this decade.
Voters in Virginia elected Robert F. McDonnell, the former state Attorney General, over his Democratic challenger state Senator Creigh Deeds. Like New Jersey, jobs and the taxes were hot button issues in the campaign. McDonnell’s victory ended a Republican skid and halted the Democratic Party’s decade of resurgence in the state. Unlike New Jersey, it was not close in Virginia. McDonnell did well throughout the state and captured counties that were carried by President Obama last November, and took suburban counties that former Governor Tim Kaine won four years ago. Early results in Virginia seemed to indicate that Deeds, the Democrat, failed to turnout Black voters, young voters and more progressive voters in the state’s northern region outside of the nation’s capital. Republicans also increased their margin in the state House of Delegates and a socially conservative member of the state legislature won the race for state Attorney General.
In New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, outspent by incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, almost pulled off the upset of the century when he came close to unseating the billionaire. The Democrat rode a wave of “Bloomberg fatigue” among voters who soured on the mayor’s lavish campaign spending and took issue with his decision to oppose term limits; a move that allowed Bloomberg to seek a third term. Independent voters swayed heavily toward Thompson and the longtime public servant was endorsed by the two papers that are focused on the city’s Black and Latino communities. Thompson’s campaign ran an efficient operation and only expended cash toward the end of the campaign, conserving resources for a mad dash to the finish line. That strategy almost paid off. To the dismay of the Thompson camp and his supporters, President Obama avoided campaigning directly for the Comptroller and only offered a lukewarm, second hand show of support through his press secretary Robert Gibbs. Despite having a voter registration advantage, a Democrat has not won the mayoralty since David Dinkins in 1989.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing won election to a full term in the Motor City, sending challenger Tom Barrow down in defeat. The former Detroit Piston and NBA Hall of Famer scored a decisive victory over Barrow. The city has been devastated by the economic downturn, as the automobile industry has evaporated, along with it auto parts suppliers, and home foreclosures and property abandonment has become frequent. If the city's present is hard to imagine, its future may be just as difficult given the state of public education in the city. Dave Bing enters office after the scandal-tainted years of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. He will now be tasked with turning the city around. The mayor will not be alone though. Voters also elected five new members of the City Council and a new Council President, former local television reporter Charles Pugh.
It’s a runoff in Atlanta as City Councilwoman Mary Norwood and State Senator Kasim Reed each failed to garner the necessary 50 percent to be declared the winner outright. Norwood led by five percentage points. The two candidates will face each other December 2 to determine who will lead the city. Council President Lisa Borders had a poor showing and dropped out of the race. The race has been steeped in controversy as Norwood attempts to become the city’s first white mayor in over three decades. Reed, who ran outgoing Mayor Shirley Franklin’s campaigns, received the incumbent’s support in the days leading up to the election. Race has cast a shadow over the campaign for weeks, most noticeably when a memo by two professors detailing the possibility of a white mayor surfaced. Reed and Borders both distanced themselves from the memo but it was clear that the issue would not fade when it became apparent that Norwood was leading in the race. With Borders out of the race, voting might be more racially polarized on December 2 to the benefit of Reed.