Election Day 2013: The Fate of the Tea Party, GMO Labeling and Other Issues At Stake


Will the Tea Party’s fortunes continue their downward slide; will New York City elect a progressive as its next mayor; will Washington state require genetically modified foods to be labeled; and will New Jersey raise its minimum wage? These are among the top questions to be decided across the country in elections held today.

Election Day in November 2013 will be filled with trendsetting results and curiosities, as two states elect governors, 31 ballot measures go before voters in six states, and a handful of cities hold votes that will echo nationally.

In New York, voters are expected to elect a populist Democrat as mayor, Public Advocate Bill De Blasio.

Washington state voters may do what California voters failed to do last fall—pass a ballot measure requiring that genetically modified food be labeled. That initiative has prompted agribusiness and food giants from outside the state to spend multi-millions to scare voters into opposing it. Of the $22 million raised to defeat it, a mere $550 has come from Washington state residents, the Seattle Times reports.

In New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie is expected to be re-elected, voters also are expected to override Christie’s veto of a bill raising the state minimum wage to $8.25 an hour, which should propel other minimum-wage increase campaigns in 2014.

In Colorado, the biggest question is not whether voters rally against a marijuana sales tax—where the vote-no side has been giving away joints—but whether to raise income taxes to generate $1 billion to repair public schools.

The most intriguing trend to watch concerns the fate of Tea Party Republicans. Will the GOP’s corporate-sponsored, business-minded establishment (or Democrat centrists fitting that bill) vanquish Tea Party upstarts is the question pundits are tracking. A mix of high- and low-profile races will be watched to determine that answer.

Virginia is one of five states with governors' races. Its right-wing Republican Attorney General, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, faces Bill Clinton’s longtime top fundraiser, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, for governor. Virginia is a purple state, where the more populated—and government employee-filled—suburbs outside the District of Columbia lean blue, and rest of the state, from its coastal Navy yard cities to its rural mountains, lean red.

Cuccinelli was one of the first attorney generals to sue to overturn Obamacare. The GOP governor he seeks to replace did not expand Medicaid coverage under the law to provide healthcare to its uninsured poor. During the campaign, Cuccinelli has hammered away at Obamacare and other Tea Party themes, such as opposing gun control, and he’s mocked McAuliffe’s apparent Yankee accent. He’s been joined by many Republican presidential wannabes, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. His message hasn’t focused on jobs, however.

McAuliffe, in contrast, has focused on economic issues. He’s ahead in late polls, and was joined by President Obama and former President Clinton as the campaign closed. McAuliffe has pledged to expand Medicaid enrollment under Obamacare, saying Cuccinelli is an extremist who won’t reach across the aisle to resolve anything. Since a big slice of the D.C. press corps lives in Virginia, you can bet that many pundits will say this race’s likely outcome is another sign of the Tea Party’s shrinking influence.

A better test of the Tea Party’s fortunes will be in Alabama, where there is a special Republican Party primary runoff in Mobile for the only open congressional seat. Some of Washington’s big-money, big-business lobbies—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and companies like AT&T and Caterpillar—have been sending in last-minute donations to Bradley Bryne, a former Republican officeholder and lawyer, who has taken a strong anti-Tea Party stance.

The Tea Party opponent, Dean Young, is a radical conservative businessman who’s been praising Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on the stump. He’s also said that homosexuality “always has been, always will be” wrong, that people “have the right to acknowledge God in schools and in the public square,” and has called for Obama’s impeachment. Young’s positions are emblematic of the blending of the Tea Party’s fervent anti-government messaging and the religious right’s moral agenda.

After the federal government reopened, there was much grumbling in corporate circles that Tea Party Republicans were unresponsive to the GOP’s business-minded donors. The Alabama GOP primary will be a clear beyond-the-beltway test of where the Republican Party is heading. The U.S. Chamber has also been working to recruit Republicans for 2014’s House primaries against Tea Party incumbents, the New York Times has noted. But those elections aren’t until next year—hence the focus on Tuesday’s outcomes, especially in Mobile, Alabama, where polls show a tightening final stretch.

There are a number of local races in presidential bellwether states where the Koch brothers' libertarian political operation, Americans for Prosperity, has been aggressively backing candidates with anti-tax messages, the Times reported. Citing races in Ohio and Iowa, the Times said that AFP was testing the political waters for 2014. Notably, other candidates in the races they profiled said they deeply resented the Kochs' meddling.

Apart from Tuesday’s Tea Party elections, only a handful of the 31 ballot measures in six states are of national interest. Washington state’s GMO labeling initiative would probably spark a federal court challenge if passed. The food industry would claim, as it has in other lawsuits, that its First Amendment rights were being violated by “coerced speech,” its way of framing pro-consumer labeling requirements. The Colorado measure raising $950 million for public schools from a state income tax increase is significant, given Congress’ aversion to raising taxes for anything, whether safety nets or past debts.

Colorado’s proposed 15 percent excise and 10 percent sales tax on all marijuana sales is expected to pass. In New York, Proposal 1 would allow casino gambling statewide. In New Jersey, the minimum-wage increase measure will be seen as a positive sign for similar efforts in other states in 2014, such as Maryland and Massachusetts. New Jersey will also vote on a ballot measure to allow veterans’ groups to run gambling games to support their organizations.

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