Politics & Policy

Two Losses For Bush?

That's how Corzine and Kaine wins will be spun.

If Democrats Tim Kaine and Jon Corzine win their elections today, technically they would only be holding the states of Virginia and New Jersey after previous Democratic victories. Nonetheless, if today’s elections turn against the GOP, you can expect them to be explained and understood as a referendum on the Bush administration’s second-term agenda.

After leading Kaine for most of the past year, Republican Jerry Kilgore has seen his one-time ten-point lead evaporate into what polls now show as a slight deficit. The latest poll numbers show Kaine with a three-to-five-point advantage. If Kilgore has slipped in the race as the polls indicate, is it because of President Bush’s nagging unpopularity, or mistakes made by the Kilgore campaign? Kilgore staffers are already starting to blame the president in advance of a possible defeat. “If Kilgore loses, his staff will blame Bush. They’re openly saying Bush has been a seven-point negative for their campaign,” a source close to the campaign said last night. He added, “And if he wins, Bush gets the credit.” However, there is evidence at least one of Kilgore’s own campaign moves deserves some of the blame for his drop in polls. The latest Rasmussen numbers show that Kilgore’s death-penalty campaign against Kaine may have backfired:

Half of all voters (51%) say Kilgore is closer to their views on the Death Penalty. Thirty-three percent (33%) say Kaine holds an opinion closer to their own.”

However, the Kilgore commercials on the death penalty may not have helped his campaign. Eighty-two percent (82%) of Likely Voters say they saw the commercial. Of those who did, 26% said it made them more likely to vote for Kilgore while 36% said they were more likely to vote for Kaine because of the ad.

President Bush could stand to receive credit for a Kilgore victory. After returning from his South American trip last night, Bush made his first stop a Kilgore campaign rally in Richmond. Perhaps it had something to do with simply being home, but Bush clearly appeared energized by the visit, telling the crowd of thousands, “I know a man of character and of integrity, and he’s standing right next to me, and that’s Jerry Kilgore.”

“The thing I like about this fella is he’s from Virginia and he grew up on a farm,” Bush continued. “That means he’s a down-to-earth person. He doesn’t have a lot of fancy airs, a person who knows how the common man thinks.”

There is more potential good news for Kilgore. A revised Survey USA poll released last night showed a large discrepancy in weekend polling versus data collected on Monday. From Friday-Sunday, the poll saw a five-point average lead for Kaine. However, data in the most recent collection shows that lead dropping all the way down to a single percentage point. Finally, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman is leading the get-out-the-vote effort for Kilgore today. Even with stagnant poll numbers, if Mehlman can tap into the so-called “lazy voter,” he may be able to deliver this conservative-leaning state for the GOP.

In New Jersey, Republican Doug Forrester has closed the race with Jon Corzine to its smallest margins yet. The most recent Rasmussen data shows Corzine with a 44-to-39-percent advantage, with a full 12 percent of voters remaining undecided. Rasmussen describes the undecided totals as “extraordinarily high for this point in a campaign.” By comparison, only 3 percent of Virginia voters said they have yet to make up their minds. Some of Corzine’s drop may have come at the expense of Forrester’s personal favorability ratings. After Corzine’s ex-wife Joanne went to the New York Times to complain of troubles in their past marriage, the Forrester campaign used the words in an ad attacking Corzine. The words of Mrs. Corzine flash across the screen telling voters her ex-husband, “let his family down, and he’ll probably let New Jersey down, too.” According to Rasmussen, 73 percent of New Jersey voters have seen or heard about the ad with 31 percent saying it will have an impact on their vote today. Still, the decision to run the ad was criticized by some Forrester supporters.

Neither Forrester nor Kilgore are considered superstar candidates. However, they both have performed reasonably well for being campaign challengers. A Corzine victory may be seen as a missed opportunity for Republicans, but few will place the blame squarely on Forrester’s shoulders, or explicitly blame the political woes of President Bush. At the same time, a Kaine victory in Virginia would be a legitimate loss for Republicans. Democratic governor Mark Warner is leaving office with a 70-percent approval rating, but it’s also a state President Bush won in 2004 by 9 points; and there is no shortage of those waiting to blame the loss on a vulnerable White House. Off-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia are rarely indicative of larger trends. But another round of negative press is something this administration would certainly like to avoid.

Eric Pfeiffer reports for National Review Online.

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