Election preview: New Jersey and New York

In addition to Virginia (previewed here), New Jersey also votes tomorrow for its governor and legislature. While they are the only two states with off-year elections, it’s logical to group with them the city of New York, which is bigger than most states and certainly looms larger in the American consciousness.

The common thread in New Jersey and New York is that neither election is going to be close. New Jersey governor Chris Christie will be re-elected by a large margin, and Bill de Blasio will be comfortably elected as mayor of New York, replacing retiring incumbent Michael Bloomberg.

Christie is the more interesting front-runner because his ambitions so clearly extend beyond his own state. He is already regarded as one of the top two or three candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Unlike such other party favorites as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, his appeal reaches well beyond Republican loyalists, making him potentially a strong contender if his party can bring itself to nominate him.

That’s why Christie, despite his overwhelming lead in the polls, has left nothing to chance for this week’s election. He wants to build as big a margin as possible to demonstrate his electoral appeal; as the New York Times report puts it, his aim is to “present himself to Republicans nationally as a presidential nominee who can win in places where the party has traditionally struggled.”

Christie has some features that can endear him to his party nationwide. Prominent among them is his combative streak; a couple of years ago John Chait noted his image as “the brawler who kicks Democratic ass.” But in actual policy terms he is well to the left of the current Republican mainstream – if he were not, he would not be leading by 24% in the polls in New Jersey.

Equally important for his standing at home, but equally destructive with Republican primary voters, is Christie’s response last year to the disaster of hurricane Sandy, in which he praised the work of Barack Obama to the considerable embarrassment of Mitt Romney’s campaign. As Bill Maher put it last week, “he put his arm around President Blackenstein.”

In other words, the things that make Christie so formidable tomorrow, and lead people to write off Barbara Buono, his Democrat opponent, also make him an unlikely standard-bearer for his party nationwide. That’s the paradox that the Republican Party has to somehow overcome if it’s to recover its standing with the electoral middle ground.

The New York mayoral race is one-sided in the other direction, with Democrat de Blasio an unbackable favorite to beat Republican Joe Lhota. The Democrats have been out of office for 20 years (the longest period in the party’s history), but they retain an overwhelming advantage in the city’s underlying partisan allegiance. Polls give de Blasio a lead approaching three to one.

Bloomberg, who started out as a Republican but became an independent during the second of his three terms, has left large shoes to fill. New Yorkers, however, might be ready for someone with a more understated style, and de Blasio would seem to fit the bill.

Results in both races should start coming through around lunchtime on Wednesday, eastern Australian time.

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