November 2, 2009 in Nation/World

Elections will provide clues

Local races an indicator of voter attitudes
Liz Sidoti Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine listens as President Barack Obama speaks Sunday at a rally for Corzine.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot. Neither are all members of Congress, nor most governors.

But to varying degrees, the outcome of a few disparate elections Tuesday could provide clues about how people – particularly independents, who typically determine a winner – feel about their country, their president and the party in power one year after Democrats won the White House.

The results also could provide important lessons for Democrats and Republicans a year before the first major electoral test of Obama’s strength: 2010, when there are 37 races for governor, at least 36 in the Senate and all 435 in the House.

This year, Virginia and New Jersey are choosing governors, voters in upstate New York and Northern California are deciding who should fill two vacant congressional seats, and New York City and Atlanta are picking mayors. Maine will vote on whether to permit gay marriage while Ohio will choose whether to allow casinos.

To be sure, these races are hardly bellwethers; people are voting on local issues and personalities. Most voters in Virginia and New Jersey, for example, say their like or dislike of Obama won’t drive their decision. Still, national forces such as the recession are having an effect.

This much is clear: Tuesday will give a picture of public attitudes in certain places and measure which party has energy on its side heading into a high-stakes election year. Some questions will be at least answered partially.

Here’s what to look for:

Obama’s coalition

The president in 2008 won by cobbling together new voters from traditional Democratic base demographics, particularly blacks, youth and Hispanics, along with disaffected Republicans and self-identified independents nationwide and in traditionally GOP-leaning states such as Virginia.

The unknown is whether those voters will stay with Democrats or turn out at all if Obama isn’t on the ballot.

Both embattled Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in New Jersey and Democratic candidate R. Creigh Deeds in Virginia desperately need party loyalists and Obama 2008 voters to swamp the polls.

Obama went in big in both states, campaigning on the Democrats’ behalf and allowing his image to be used in TV ads for them, linking himself to their fate.

He didn’t really have a choice. The Democratic base would have chafed at the party standard-bearer turning his back on the rank and file, and Obama’s influence will be questioned regardless of whether Democrats win or lose the races.

Independents

Independents always have heft, but frustration across the country with both Republicans and Democrats is adding to it. How that anger manifests itself could signal anti-incumbent sentiment among a group that leaned left last year. Do independents stay home? Do they vote against the party in power?

Regardless, Democrats and Republicans almost certainly will have to revamp their strategies to ensure they’re attracting both independents and base voters next fall.

Virginia may offer the best measure of independent voters’ sentiments.

This longtime Republican stronghold has become a new swing state in presidential elections largely because of the swiftly growing far-flung suburbs outside Washington that are filled with independent-minded voters. Obama targeted such areas to become the first Democrat to win the state since 1964, and they will determine who wins Tuesday.

© Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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