Post Politics: Election Day analysis of Va., N.J. and N.Y. 23 races

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Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 3, 2009; 11:00 AM

Discuss the latest news about the Obama administration and the world of politics with Ben Pershing, who writes the daily Rundown for The Post's Political Browser. Pershing will be online Nov. 3 at 11 a.m. ET.

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Ben Pershing: Good morning, all. It's a busy day in the world of politics -- voters are voting in Virginia, New Jersey and NY-23, along with a handful of other places. Democrats are still rustling votes for health care in the House and Senate. And inside the House chamber, just a few feet away from where I'm sitting in the House press gallery, Angela Merkel is addressing a joint session of Congress. Willkomen! Let's begin.

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1/2 birthday: Are days like today for political junkies like my eight year old celebrating his 1/2 birthday, exiting mostly to himself? Are you guys looking for presents too? Happy 1/2 Birthday!

Ben Pershing: I suppose that's an apt comparison. Political junkies are very excited today, while non-junkies probably don't care so much (with the exception of residents of VA, NJ and NY-23).

Personally, I've always been a big fan of half birthdays, mainly because mine falls on a memorable day -- April 1.

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Richmond, VA: So now Lieberman says that he won't filibuster the Senate health care bill. That's quite a turnaround after coming out against it so publicly last week. What's the scoop here?

Ben Pershing: Not quite. The Hill did report this morning that Lieberman had told Harry Reid he wouldn't filibuster the bill, but the sourcing was very shaky and very anonymous. Lieberman's office said flat-out this morning that the story wasn't true.

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Fairfax, VA: Ben, The Post and other news media outlets rarely mention the race for the vacant congressional seat in Northern California. Why is this? Recent polls indicate the Democratic candidate has a double digit lead.

Zogby reports today that Corzine has a 1 point lead over Christie for the NJ Governor race - a statistical tie. Seems that voter turnout will decide the race. Who has the stronger GOTV in NJ - the Republicans or Democrats?

Ben Pershing: You answered your own question -- we haven't written much about the race for Ellen Tauscher's seat in Northern California because it's not much of a race. John Garamendi, the Democrat is heavily favored to win and the district is not competitive. I have written about this race a bit on our Capitol Briefing blog, but not for awhile.

As for your second question, most observers think that Corzine will have the superior turnout operation today, because he's the incumbent, he has tons of money and Democrats have generally performed better in New Jersey over the last several years, often doing better than pre-election polls have suggested they would.

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role of constituent pressure: Random question for you, but I'm curious in light of the debate over health care reform...what kind of pressure are senators/congresspeople facing from their constituents on the Hill? That is, do you have a sense that there ARE a lot of calls being made (pro or against) and there IS a lot of public support for the public option and legislators are feeling it?

Ben Pershing: Yes, I do think members are feeling pressure on health care and getting tons of calls from their constituents. My sense is that the majority of calls in recent weeks have been in favor of the public option, but it's not totally clear cut. A lot of Republican members come from safe Republican districts, and their constituents are calling their offices and attending town halls with the opposite message. To some extent, members from both sides of the aisle are hearing public feedback that reinforces their existing views. That's why someone like Olympia Snowe is so interesting, because she has opposed the public option even though polls show solid support for the idea in Maine.

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@ Richmond, VA: Never trust anything about Lieberman - guy will do whatever it takes to get attention. I look forward to voting him out of office in 3 years. I'd take a principled Republican (like our governor Jodi Rell) over Turncoat Joe anytime.

Ben Pershing: I saw one quote this morning, can't remember where, that basically said Lieberman is "acting like a senator." As in, he plans to hold back his support as long as possible in order to make his role in the process seem larger, and to extract promises on unrelated issues. At the end of the day there is still a good chance he votes with Democrats to break the filibuster, but only after he's taken his pound of flesh.

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Florissant Valley, MO: Hey, Ben. I actually saw that MSNBC is calling today "Super Tuesday". Aren't we paying the price for 24/7 cable coverage, so that every election assumes gargantuan importance, even if the results are pretty standard? NY #23 may have longer-term implications, but all three are far short of earth-shaking, yes? Thanks

Ben Pershing: Perhaps we can come up with a more appropriate name to replace "Super Tuesday." How about "Decent Tuesday" or "Moderately Exciting Tuesday, If You Like That Sort of Thing." Since lots of pundits are saying today's races are a barometer for how Obama is doing, maybe it's "Barometric Tuesday."

If you've got better suggestions, send 'em along.

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Is Lieberman on steroids?: Quote from Lieberman's spokesman in response to Hill story:

"If you believe this story is true, you will also believe that I am replacing A-Rod in Game Six of the Series."

I'd believe it - steroids make anything possible.

Ben Pershing: Apparently, Lieberman also has paintings of himself in his bedroom as a centaur -- half-man, half-horse -- just like A-Rod.

(If you don't get the reference, Google "Alex Rodriguez" centaur. You'll be glad you did.)

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Summit, N.J.: I'm having a hard time understanding the belief (outside of NJ) that tonight's vote for governor is a referendum on Obama. Honestly, I'm not thrilled with either of the main candidates - Corzine has been less than stellar and Christie doesn't seem to have substence or plans to back up his campaign promises. But my vote has nothing to do with how I feel about Obama and everything to do with who will best help our state. This is also the general feeling I've gotten from friends and neighbors on both sides of the political spectrum.

Ben Pershing: We here in Washington want to write that this race is all about Obama, and we won't have regular voters like you telling us anything different.

Seriously, you're right that most New Jersey voters are thinking about Corzine and Christie (and Daggett) today, not Obama. Corzine's dismal approval numbers are about him, not the president.

But along the margins, it is likely that at least some conservatives are motivated/energized by what's going on in Washington, and that could help Christie a bit.

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Abingdon, Md.: Perhaps you mean Obamametric Tuesday?

Ben Pershing: Nice one.

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not from VA, NJ or NY's 23rd district: More of a comment than a question - why do political pundits/members of both parties point to a few potential victories in the year after an election as indicative of a huge change in national politics? From my perspective, VA's governor is often from the opposing party of the president (and VA is also moderate-conservative; I'm still amazed Obama won there last year), Corzine is inept (and again, NJ aint that liberal) and NY's 23rd district has ALWAYS been conservative. Yawn. wake me up at the midterms.

Ben Pershing: All true. All politics is local. Though you can really make the case that national conservative anger is helping Doug Hoffman in NY-23. The Washington Indpendent noted this morning that 95 percent of Hoffman's donations are coming from outside the district.

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Connecticut college kid: Do you think Joe Lieberman (aka Joe the Bummer) is aware that his fellow state senator has been actively involved in promoting and writing health care reform legislation? More importantly, do he or any of our elected officials care about their constituents when they're not up for re-election? Because I get the sense that Lieberman has not looked at any polls on the public option from his home state...

Ben Pershing: The bigger question is whether Lieberman actually plans to run for reelection. And if he does, would he dare trying to run as a Democrat, or would he be an Independent from the start. If he decides to retire it's hard to imagine him getting any kind of job in the Obama administration. He would have a much better shot at a Cabinet post or an ambassadorship with a Republican in the White House.

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Roseland, NJ: What indications do you look for on Election Day, before the polls close, to give you some insight into how the campaigns think the day is going?

Ben Pershing: One thing to watch is the plans each campaign makes for their election night parties. The candidates who think they're going to win plan bigger events with more media coverage, and the losing candidates do the opposite.

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Washington DC: On what to call it. How about "Most exciting Tuesday so far this month"?

Ben Pershing: Tough competition for that title, but yes, that would be apt.

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DC: So, the GOP looks to win the governor's race in VA. And, the yackasphere will somehow read this as some sort of referendum on Obama...but, it seems to me that a couple of things are rarely discussed in this analysis. First, Deeds has run a dreadful campaign. Second, rather than being a candidate of the hard right...the GOP candidate has very effectively moderated his imagage/positions, specifically to appeal to Northern Virgnia...all of his Beck-like ideas are cast as being from his thesis 20+ years ago and he's moved on to more mature positions.

In any event, it seems to me what a GOP win in Virgnia signals is the need for GOP moderation and to appeal to disafected Democrats and indipendents, not to mad as hell teabaggers.

Thoughts?

Ben Pershing: I think the Washington Post has touched on those issues, writing about both the flaws in Deeds' campaign and the smartness of McDonnell's campaign. If there is a national lesson from today, it's that Republicans all over the country will be looking to replicate McDonnell's model -- play up jobs and economic issues, and play down social issues (with the general audience, at least. You can still let conservative activists know you're on their side.)

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Takoma Park, Md.: Did any member of Congress (or other dignitary) attempt to give Chancellor Merkel a shoulder rub?

Ben Pershing: No shoulder rub, but as soon as the speech ended the entire chamber started doing Yoga.

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Princeton, NJ: Ben, I think you miss the point about the CA 10th. It's not that it's an interesting story; it's because it affects the analysis. Look, Governor races are local stuff. If the Republicans carry a district that had a Republican Congressman since 1852, then the fact that a Democrat holds a Democratic seat balances that out. That puts a different slant on the election.

Ben Pershing: I respectfully disagree. It's true that Republicans have held NY-23 for over a century, but the bottom line is that Obama won the seat in 2008 by five points. Bush won it in 2004 and 2000 by just four points and two points, respectively. It has become a genuinely competitive seat. CA-10 is not -- Obama won it by 32 points. There's no comparison.

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Downtown...: So: the right-wing marshals to crush the GOP candidate and presumably win a NY State district where the Democrat never gets more than 38% of the vote...and this will be a referendum on Obama and not on the GOP? Hmmm. When was the last time that NY district elected a Democrat? How does a Conservative winning a district that has always conservative republican district tell us anything about national trends?

Finally, shouldn't the Democrats help Mr. Hoffman keep to his principals, if elected, by closing Fort Drum?

Ben Pershing: See my last answer. I would also add that while the seat has long been Republican, it hasn't necessarily been conservative. John McHugh was a moderate, particularly on social issues. His record actually is a lot like that of Dede Scozzafava, the Republican who quit the race (and endorsed the Democrat) after an outcry that she was too moderate.

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Washington, D.C.: Ben - What does a sweep of all three big elections for the GOP portend for 2010 candidates like Charlie Crist in Florida? Should he be worried about making sure he attends every tea party from today on?

Ben Pershing: Conservative groups like FreedomWorks were already targeting Crist long before the NY-23 race went national. Conservatives have always disliked Crist, and they are big fans of Marco Rubio. Crist has a big institutional advantage and tons of money, but he is definitely going to face a much tougher campaign than he originally expected.

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Washington, DC: If two Republicans win, Obama will still have three more years to govern. I think Obama will have good things happen within three years. To use this as a referendum is not a good analysis. Thoughts?

Ben Pershing: I would say today's results may give us some hint about what will happen in 2010, but not as much about 2012. What will the economy be like in 2012? How many troops will still be in Afghanistan? Issues like that will be more determinative than whatever conservative energy is fueling campaigns this year.

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Lee Center NY--in the 23rd: Have pollsters yet found a way to get accurate data in a world where many younger voters live by the cell phone without landlines? Do polling results indicate honest samplings of the voters?

Ben Pershing: Pollsters are trying to compensate for the increasing number of cell-phone only voters, but it's unclear yet whether their efforts have been successful. Mark Blumenthal of pollster.com has written a lot about this issue. Here's a good post on the subject he wrote during the '08 campaign: http://tinyurl.com/527gpz

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Waldorf, MD: How about "Life Goes on as Usual Tuesday"

Ben Pershing: We also would have accepted "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Tuesday"

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Lafayette Hill PA: Is any analysis of tonight's elections which does not mention that Virginia has not elected a governor of the same party as the sitting President since 1977 a case of journalistic malpractice?

Ben Pershing: Yes, but I've seen that factoid written 1,000 different places. I think most everyone is aware of it.

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NY23: Obama won the district by five points? Your analysis is incomplete. The Republican incumbent won the district in 2008 with over 60 percent of the vote.

Honestly, by using your logic, if Owens holds Hoffman to under 60 percent, then it is a victory for the Democrats, right? But I hardly think that the media--present company excluded, of course--have the intelligence to portray it that way. Instead they will, I imagine, portray it as a referendum on Obama's policies, when it is most assuredly not.

Ben Pershing: The Republican incumbent won the district running as a popular moderate. Charlie Cook -- who rates every district in the country based on voter registration, performance in state races and a host of other factors -- rates NY-23 as "R +1," meaning that it leans only very slightly toward the GOP. It is a competitive seat.

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Fairfax, VA: So the Washington Post is endorsing Democrats across the board for Virginia's Election. I'm shocked!? When a paper's endorsements are easily predictable, are they even worth the print?

Ben Pershing: If you don't want to buy the print newspaper, you're welcome to look at the endorsements online.

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Tuckerton, NJ: Hi Ben. If the Republicans win the two governor's races today will it signify a major turnaround for the GOP much like Jindal's victory in 2007 signified great things ahead for the party in the 2008 elections?

Ben Pershing: Do I sense some sarcasm there?

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Helena, Montana: Don't you think the Democratic leadership -- who supported Lieberman during the primary in 2006 -- wishes they had Lamont in the Senate now? I wish the Senate was like Major League Baseball and we could trade Lieberman to the Republicans for Olympia Snowe and a player to be named later.

Ben Pershing: Yes, I'm sure Harry Reid's life would be easier if Ned Lamont were in the Senate. And your proposed trade intrigues me. Perhaps Reid could throw in Ben Nelson for a Senator to be named later.

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Bethesda, MD: Does Merkel speak English? Or did she give the speech in German?

Ben Pershing: She gave nearly all of the speech in German, and then closed with a brief passage in English.

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New York, NY: Everybody seems to be remarking on how much money Michael Bloomberg has spent on his campaign, but nobody seems even to remember - much less care - that he overrode the term limits passed by referendum a few years back via a questionable vote by a self-interested City Council in order to run in this election in the first place.

Which is why I voted against him this morning. (There being certain things more important than timely-running trains...)

Your thoughts?

Ben Pershing: I thought Bloomberg's effort to kill the term-limits law was one of the more audacious moves I've seen in recent politics. He really gave no logical defense of the move, other than the fact that he wanted to keep being mayor. And yet it doesn't seem to have hurt him much. He is expected to win today easily.

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I Told You So-ville.: Pelosi got a lot of traction during 2008 for claiming that she would "drain the swamp." Given the growing number of ethics investigations of prominent Dems, do you think voters and, more importantly since she has the safest of districts, the press, will hold her accountable for failing to follow through now that it is her buddies that are acting sleazy?

Ben Pershing: It's always tough to say how Congressional ethics issues will impact House races. Democrats did get some traction in 2006 by hitting Republicans for their ethics issues, but that included some really high-profile cases (Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham). Are Charlie Rangel and Jack Murtha penetrating the public consciousness the way those cases did? The jury is still out.

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Baltimore: What would all political reporters and pundits do if VA and NJ rejiggered its gubernatorial terms so the election was not in an odd numbered year? I sometimes think of these two races (and the occasional special election accompanying them) as the Political Writer Full Employment Act.

Ben Pershing: I hereby endorse the Political Writer Full Employment Act. Keep an eye out for my next piece of legislation, the People Should Start Buying Newspapers Again Act.

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Ben Pershing: Thanks everyone. Enjoy the rest of "Whatever Tuesday"

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