Five big questions on Election Day

at 07:20 AM ET, 11/08/2011

Believe it or not, it’s Election Day.

No, today’s elections aren’t a huge deal nationwide; in fact, this is the lesser of the two off-year elections that occur during every presidential term. Only four states are holding regular state legislative elections, and only two states are holding governor’s races — both of them snoozers.
Jean Ford of Toledo protests Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and his union bill on Thursday, Sept. 29, at the Omni in Toledo, Ohio. (AP Photo/The Blade, Jeremy Wadsworth)

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t races worth watching and things to be learned as we turn our attention toward 2012.

Here’s five big questions that will be answered today:

1) Does Mississippi rekindle the abortion debate? Voters in Mississippi are almost sure to elect Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) as their next governor today; the real question is whether they amend the state constitution to define a fertilized egg as a person. This would be the first time a state has done so, and it would set off an abortion debate in this country the likes of which we haven’t seen in some time. Supporters say the measure is necessary to protect life and prevent abortions; but opponents say it could lead to all kinds of unintended consequences. Mississippi is a socially conservative state, but even supporters are skeptical that it will pass. If it does, it will be big news nationwide.

2) Can unions finally score the big win? It could very well happen in Ohio today, where a ballot issue will decide whether the union-restricting legislation spearheaded by Gov. John Kasich (R) will stand. Union supporters have already been turned aside twice in Wisconsin, where they lost a high-profile state Supreme Court race and then failed to retake the state Senate with a series of recall elections spurred by Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) own union legislation. Polling has consistently shown that a majority of Ohioans are opposed to the law, so unions are counting on victory here. And they had better hope they get it, because a loss here would be pretty demoralizing given how favorably polling has been and how the two previous battles wound up. Republicans, meanwhile, are banking on a victory on a largely symbollic ballot measure on the controversial individual mandate portion of President Obama’s health care bill, and will argue that it has more of a practical effect on the 2012 election.

3) Can Republicans take another state Senate in Virginia? Republicans were primed to take over the state Senates in Louisiana and Mississippi in this year’s election, until party-switching state legislators gave it to them early. Now the GOP has fixed its eyes on one big prize: the state Senate in Virginia. Victory there would give Republicans complete control of government in the Commonwealth. They are optimistic, but it’s not a done deal yet; they need to win three Democratic seats to take the majority or win two for a tie (which would be broken by the Republican lieutenant governor). The only other chamber that could flip control is the Mississippi state House, which is likely to go Republican and give the GOP control over every state legislative chamber and every governorship in the Deep South. Republicans also have an outside chance to tie the Iowa state Senate if they can pull an upset in a special election.

4) How big does Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) win? Get ready for national Democrats to sing the praises of Beshear, whose almost-certain runaway victory in today’s reelection race will be cited by Democrats everywhere as evidence of how good candidates can win in a tough environment in conservative areas. Beshear did get some help here — not least from a pretty lackluster opponent in state Senate President David Williams (R) and a regional quirk that seems to help Democrats — but his personal popularity continues to be a good example for Democrats everywhere. (Also worth noting: 2010 Democratic Senate nominee Jack Conway has a good chance to win an unusually high-profile attorney general’s race — both Sarah Palin and Howard Dean have weighed in — so it’s not just Beshear.)

5) Does the GOP survive an Arizona recall? Arizona is suddenly a flashpoint in the world of state legislatures, after Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and the GOP-run state Senate last week ousted the chairwoman of the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission. Democrats are threatening recalls in response, but one GOP state senator — conservative state Senate President Russell Pearce — was already facing a recall, and signs are pointing towards a close race with fellow Republican Jerry Lewis on Tuesday. Though the seat will remain in GOP hands, a loss by Pearce could embolden Democrats in their efforts to fight the state Republican Party and potentially recall some of Pearce’s colleagues. Also worth noting: some say Pearce is the most powerful politician in the state.

More Cain updates: Herman Cain will hold a press conference at 5 p.m. eastern time in Phoenix, in order to respond to new sexual harassment allegations from accuser Sharon Bialek.

In a release, his campaign seeks to suggest she is after financial gain, calling her “a woman with a long history of severe financial difficulties, including personal bankruptcy.”

But Cain and his newest accuser already got some time in the spotlight last night, with Cain appearing on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and Bialekgoing on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

Cain said steam was coming out of his ears as he watched Bialek’s press conference, and he joked that he would not hire Gloria Allred under any circumstances.

“I can’t think of anything that I would hire her to do, OK? I can’t think of a thing,” Cain said.

On CNN, Bialek said she’s ready for the controversy ahead.

“I’m a tough girl,” she said.

Cain’s image takes a hit: Cain may not be paying a huge price in the GOP primary for allegations of sexual harassment, but he could pay one if he makes it to the general election.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows the percentage of people with negative views of Cain has risen from 18 percent in October to 35 percent today. His detractors now outnumber his supporters 35 percent to 23 percent — not a good spread. The numbers, of course, do not reflect Bialek’s press conference on Monday.

Cain’s new numbers are not as good as Mitt Romney and about on par with what we’re seeing from Rick Perry, whose electability has often been the subject of legitimate debate. Perry gets good marks from 16 percent and bad marks from 27 percent.

Heitkamp is in: Former North Dakota attorney general Heidi Heitkamp (D) announced this morning that she will run for the state’s open Senate seat, giving Democrats a legitimate opponent for Rep. Rick Berg (R).

“I’m running for the United States Senate because Washington is badly broken and our state needs an independent voice who will go there to stand up for North Dakota,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “With me, the people of North Dakota always have and always will come first.”

Berg jumped in the race soon after Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) announced his retirement and has a sizeable financial head start.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee immediately labeled the new race a “toss-up,” while its GOP counterpart said Heitkamp is too liberal for the state, citing her support for Obama’s health care bill.

Bad Resurgent Republic numbers for Obama: A new year-out survey from the Republican polling consortium Resurgent Republic finds that 70 percent of voters think the country is on the wrong track and only 42 percent think Obama deserves reelection.

A deeper look at the numbers, which will be released today, finds more bad news for the president; only one-third of independent voters think he deserves reelection, and they prefer a generic Republican candidate 43 percent to 32 percent.

The poll was conducted by GOP pollster Whit Ayres.

Also voting Tuesday...: Are voters in Oregon, who will pick nominees for the special election to replace former congressman David Wu (D-Ore.).

The reason this didn’t make our top five list above is because we’ve got a pretty good idea about who will win: Democratic state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici and GOP businessman Rob Cornilles.

The big question here is whether the GOP puts forth real effort in a tough district for them. Complicating matters is the fact that Oregon is a vote-by-mail state, which means the GOP has to decide early whether to invest money.

Fixbits:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is going to New Hampshire to stump for Romney.

Romney is winning the race for fundraisers who bundled contributions for President Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Perry says the vetting of Cain is just part of the process.

Outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) says he wouldn’t make sense as anyone’s vice president.

“Supercommittee” member Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is getting pressure from both sides.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) won’t challenge Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

We mentioned Monday that Reps. Bill Keating (D-Mass.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) could be matched up in a primary under a proposed redistricting map in Massachusetts. Well, Keating announced late Monday that he will instead run in the new 9th district on Cape Cod, where he owns a summer home. So no incumbent-versus-incumbent primary here.

Must-reads:

GOP presidential candidates criticize auto bailout” — David Shephardson, Detroit News

Hill Republicans slow to endorse for 2012” — Ben Pershing, Washington Post

Candidates court controversial Arizona sheriff” — AP

 
Read what others are saying