What You Should Be Watching For This Election

While most of the country remains blithely unaware that Election Day occurs once a year, rather than just on leap years, voters in a few states know that even the odd-numbered years can bring hot political action to the voting booths. This year, that action's all along the eastern seaboard, but even a cold autumn wind won't chill anyone out.

Maine's Same Sex Marriage Referendum

In the northern-most state on the east coast, Governor John Baldacci made more than a few progressive hearts warmer when he signed into law a bill legalizing same sex marriage in the state. Almost immediately, anti-equality activists (many from outside the state) tried to throw cold water on Maine's recognition that the state has no business dictating who its citizens choose to spend their lives with -- what happened to "small government," anyway? -- and got a repeal on the ballot for tomorrow. Polls show that the race remains neck-and-(red)neck, and, like California's Prop 8, voters in favor of marriage equality will have to vote against the same sex marriage ballot question in order to vote for equal rightsfor their neighbors.

New York's 23rd Congressional District

While New York's a true-blue state, few people of the liberal persuasion (other than Hillary Clinton) have done particularly well in the state's most nothern voting booths. When President Obama nominated Congressman John McHugh to be the Secretary of the Army, few thought the 23rd would be a Democratic pick-up, even with Rahm Emanuel likely whispering that in the president's ear.

Fast forward to October and conservative teabaggers could yet hand Rahm Emanuel his sweetest fantasy. Local Republicans chose moderate Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava as the heir-apparent to McHugh's seat, but New York's Conservative Party wasn't down with Scozzafava's moderate positions on everything from reproductive rights to marriage equality, Emanuel's big-tent strategy be damned. They nominated the out-of-district Dan Hoffman and let the teabaggers (and the intellectual duo of Michele Bachmann  and Sarah Palin) try to plaster up some of Hillary Clinton's 18 million cracks about which Palin once spoke so adoringly.

After all the ensuing nastiness, tanking poll numbers and the slow realization that the Palin-wing of the Republican party only likes women Republicans when they toe the line on everything from abortion to religion to LGBT rights, Scozzafava dropped out this weekend. In a final finger to the out-of-district conservatives who spent months bashing her as too liberal for a district she'd spent her entire career serving, she backed the one candidate who actually lives in the congressonal district he's vying to represent: Democrat Bill Owens.

New Jersey Governor's Race

When you think about a former Goldman Sachs executive potentially being driven from office in an off-year election by voters upset by his financial management of the state, one would be forgiven for thinking it was 2006 and the candidate was a Republican. Unfortunately for Democratic Governor Jon Corzine -- and the Democrats in New Jersey -- that's not the case. Corzine and his money bags were initially expected to remain firmly ensconsed in Trenton, but for months now polls have been showing the race is tighter than Goldman's hold on the Fed. Worse yet, the most recent polls have Republican challenger and former U.S. attorney Chris Christie in the lead.

Republicans will likely crow if New Jersey turns purple, but these are the same Republicans who hate former Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and her liberal environmental policies, with such a passion. And if Corzine wanted more respect from his constituents, he probably wouldn't have recycled a Republican talking point from Sonia Sotomayor's and Dr. Regina Benjamin's confirmation processes -- that they weren't svelte enough to serve in office -- and thrown it at Christie so close to the election. It was enough to make one wonder if Corzine spent enough time with his hard-working and often less-than-svelte constituents to know what one can do with a couple extra pounds around one's middle.

Virginia Governor's Race

In a state with 2 recently-elected Democratic Senators and a one-term limit for the inhabitant of the governor's mansion, one could be forgiven for expecting the Democratic primary to be less of a race and more of an annointment. One could even be forgiven for expecting that Virgina's Democrats could have learned from last year's brutal Republican primary, in which several conservative darlings split the conservative vote and turned the nomination over to the moderate (and uninspiring) John McCain. Learning from history has rarely been a politician's strong suit.

After a bruising primary that pitted liberal Northen Virginia faves former DNC chair -- and Clintonista -- Terry McAuliffe against delegate -- and brother of Congressman Jim Moran -- Brian Moran against relatively unknown moderate state Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds, Deeds emerged the McCainian winner. He went on to bumble his way through his first statewide campaign against über-conservative Bob McDonnell. McDonnell, whose graduate school thesis at the religious Regent University argued against women working outside the home, inveighed against contraception and openly supports conservative causes like overturning Roe v. Wade as well as institutionalizing discrimination against LGBT Virginians.

Yet Deeds was such an uninspired and uninspiring candidate that even the women of Virginia -- most of whom work outside the home -- support McDonnell by a large margin and it would have taken another "Macaca" moment -- or several -- to propel Deeds to victory. Unfortunately for Deeds, McDonnell was one of a few politicians with the ability to learn from the mistakes of others, and he never showed more of his conservative hand than was absolutely necessary, so as not to scare Virginia's increasingly moderate voters.

But with term limits in effect and little hope of obtaining another statewide office, McDonnell won't have to worry about Virginia's moderate voters when he takes office. (Whoops!)

The Bottom Line

A victory in any one of these races will lead to Republican crowing about how Americans -- obviously only the Real Americans -- have turned against President Obama and liberals in general. And, yet, a couple of crappy Democratic candidates and Prop 8 anti-equality sycophants do not an anti-Obama revolution make. As you're following these races today, so we will be -- and not with the spin that a Corzine loss means that Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck is running this country.


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