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Monday, November 02, 2009

Off-Year Election Predictions! The three elections tomorrow that will dominate spin in the press about whether America loves or hates Barack Obama are, of course, VA-GOV, NJ-GOV, and NY-23.

VA-GOV: It seems pretty over for Deeds, and pro-Democrat spinners will be well-advised to focus their attention elsewhere. "You know, Virginia's still in the South" and "Virginia always votes against the White House" are the best Democrats have here, with a big helping of "And Deeds ran a lousy campaign, largely against Obama" for flavor.

NJ-GOV: The polls are close, with the most recent showing a slight edge to Chris Christie, but I really think between Daggett and a superior get-out-the-vote operation Corzine will manage to eke out the win here.

So (if I'm right) that's 1-1, and it all comes down to NY-23. This is a crazy three-way race, with the Republican, Dede Scozzafava, suddenly pulling out over the weekend (though she'll remain on the ballot) and then, even more surprisingly, tossing a strong endorsement behind the Democrat, Bill Owens. The Conservative candidate, Doug Hoffman, has the support of national popular-in-Republican-circles like Sarah Palin behind him, but doesn't actually live in the district or know all that much about it, and will likely be hurt by straight-ticket Republican voting by people who may not have even heard Scozzafava's dropped out.

I won't presume to insult Nate Silver by calling the race when he called it a coin-flip, but I will note that either way the results of this very unusual House race in a small district in upstate New York will likely determine who "wins" the spin war in the national press and thereby determine the tenor of electoral coverage going into 2010—which is as good an indictment of contemporary journalism as any I think you'll see this week.

It will be very interesting, win or lose in NY-23, to see what lessons the GOP takes from the Hoffman ascendancy as we go into 2010 and 2012, and, indeed, what effect running hard to the right will have on their chances if that's how they decide to go. The conventional view is that running away from the center hurts a party's electoral prospects, but I'm not at all convinced the American electorate is quite so rational in its decision-making. It could just be that the pendulum swings back and forth between whatever two parties happen to exist at the moment, regardless of the content of their positions. As I wrote back in May:

More and more I think there's only two possibilities: Either the GOP is in fact in a death spiral and will actually disappear as a national party within the next decade, or the GOP has realized that in a two-party system you don't actually need to say you're sorry; you can just sit back and wait for your opponents to have bad luck, then go crazy once you're back in office. After that incumbency will protect you for a good, long while, and even to the extent it doesn't you can accomplish long-term goals in a very short timespan with party unity, weak opposition, and a compliant, mendacious press.
Jury's still out. NY-23 will be an interesting first data point.