GOP Looks to Governor's Races for a 1993-Style Pendulum Swing

By Chris Cillizza
Monday, April 20, 2009

Will 2009 be another 1993 for the Republicans?

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, thinks so. Sanford argued in a recent interview that there are "lots of parallels" between the GOP victories in New Jersey and Virginia in the early 1990s and governor's races in those two states this November.

In New Jersey in 1993, Christine Todd Whitman (R) knocked off Gov. Jim Florio (D); in Virginia, former congressman George Allen (R) defeated former state attorney general Mary Sue Terry (D), who began the race as a heavy favorite.

Taxes played a significant role in the Democrats' defeats. Whitman ran hard against the $2.8 billion income tax increase during the Florio administration, while Terry ran away -- unsuccessfully -- from the tax increases during the first year of Bill Clinton's presidency.

Those twin victories were the first stirrings of a Republican revolt against Clinton and the Democratic-controlled Congress that led to the 1994 wave election that saw the GOP claim majorities in the House and Senate.

Sanford -- along with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who will head the RGA next year -- believe a similar set of circumstances is shaping up this fall, with voters ready to send a signal of their distaste for the rapid government expansion in the early days of Barack Obama's presidency.

"These races are going to turn on policy," predicted Barbour, who added that the Republican candidates would be running on lower taxes and less government.

In New Jersey, the RGA has already begun to label Gov. Jon Corzine (D) a tax-raiser -- using his proposed budget to make the case that the Democrat wants to increase taxes by $1 billion. Former U.S. attorney Chris Christie is the likely Republican nominee against Corzine.

The race in Virginia remains largely unformed, as three Democrats -- former Democratic National Committee chairman Terence R. McAuliffe, former state delegate Brian Moran and state Sen. Creigh Deeds -- are competing in the June 9 primary for the right to take on former state attorney general Bob McDonnell (R) in November.

Polling in each race suggests that Republicans are correct to be optimistic. Christie and Corzine are in a virtual dead heat, while McDonnell holds single-digit leads over his potential Democratic opponents.

National polling, however, seems to show that voters are largely pleased with Obama's economic policies. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News survey, six in 10 said that they approved of the job Obama was doing with the economy and 64 percent expressed confidence that his proposals would turn the economy around.

There's no question that what happens in Virginia and New Jersey this fall will be closely scrutinized by strategists for indications of the electorate's mood heading into 2010. Whether those signs point to a repeat of 1993 or a rerun of 2001 (when Democrats won the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia) remains to be seen.

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