Politics & Policy

Off-Year E-Day

Your guide to today.

Certain states and cities hold their elections in off years for a variety of reasons. Off-year elections have the benefit of letting state officeholders run for federal offices in even-numbered years without putting their jobs in jeopardy. They have helped Democrats retain control of legislatures and (in some cases) governors’ mansions in several southern states, by shielding their candidates from the strong Republican vote in federal elections.

Winning parties often cite off-year wins as a sign of good things to come, but there is usually little reason to believe them. Still, some of this year’s low-turnout odd-year races will have national implications for other reasons.

What follows is a guide to tonight’s election-night races, with states ordered by poll closing times.

Mayoral contests in three major cities — Houston, San Francisco, and Philadelphia — will all go Democratic and are therefore omitted. A race for mayor of Pittsburgh will likely go Democratic as well.

7 P.M. EST

Kentucky

Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s (R.) career is expected to end today at the hands of former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear (D.). Fletcher’s promising start at the helm of state government turned sour when the state’s Democratic attorney general pursued him for hiring political employees in circumvention of the state’s civil service laws. Fletcher pardoned staff who had been involved in the hiring. He has also incurred the wrath of gamblers with his opposition to casino gaming in the state. In the final moments of the campaign, Fletcher has reopened a case involving a public display of the Ten Commandments, but this will not save him from at least a ten-point loss.

Democrats will also win statewide races for attorney general and possibly secretary of state, although a Republican will continue to hold the office of agriculture commissioner.

The state legislature does not stand for election this year.

Virginia

This year’s state-senate battle is the one truly consequential contest whose outcome is in doubt. It also has national implications, as it could help Democrats cement control of the U.S. House in the next decade.

Aside from questions over governance in Virginia, the senate battle is critical because it will be the last such election before the 2010 census and reapportionment process. Whoever walks away from today’s election with control of the state senate is guaranteed a place at the table when the new lines are drawn, and that could have an effect on the composition of the U.S. Congress for the next decade.

Turnout in Virginia state elections is notoriously low, and all of the races could be decided by a mere handful of votes.

Republicans hold a 23-17 majority in the state senate right now, but there are enough seats in play that it could go either way. Three Republican incumbents face strong challenges, and the weakest link is Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R.), the more conservative wife of moderate Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Davis. Also on the chopping block, but considered stronger in today’s race, are Sens. Jay O’Brien (R.), and Ken Cuccinelli (R.). There are also three open Republican seats at risk. In two of them, conservatives could gain ground, or else Democrats could take over. Immigration has become a big issue in many of the hottest senate races.

Republicans are expected to hold the state house, where they enjoy an 11-seat majority.

7:30 P.M. EST

Ohio-5

This is not a by-election at all, but a special primary to replace deceased Rep. Paul Gilmore in a solidly Republican district to the south of Toledo. It happens to fall on the same date as all the others, however.

The Club for Growth has endorsed state Sen. Steve Buehrer (R.) and calls his opponent, state Rep. Bob Latta (R.), a “liberal.” This is probably an overstatement, but the reason for the endorsement is clear: Latta voted for former Gov. Bob Taft’s (R.) 2003 tax hike, whereas Buehrer voted against it.

The campaign, which includes four minor candidates as well, has seen much mudslinging, drawing at least two rulings by the state elections board. The time-compressed campaign has left a very high number of undecided voters going into Election Day, but Buehrer has the edge.

8 P.M. EST

Mississippi

Gov. Haley Barbour (R.) is expected to win reelection comfortably over wealthy lawyer John Arthur Eaves (D.), but he probably will not win by the enormous margin originally expected. Eaves has run a largely substance-free campaign focusing on religion and advocating “school prayer.” His campaign, according to one conservative reporter, has had the feel of something dreamed up in a focus group of liberals, trying to think up something that the state’s conservative voters will buy. The real issue at hand is tort reform.

Most of the excitement is gone from the state-senate contest, which had been expected to give Republicans control for the first time since Reconstruction. A pair of party-switches, from Democrat to Republican, already put that chamber in GOP hands earlier this year, and Republicans are likely to increase their new majority slightly. Republicans will probably not have the chance to increase their number of U.S. House seats here after the 2011 reapportionment, but control of the senate would guarantee that Democrats cannot unilaterally give themselves an advantage, as they tried in 2001.

New Jersey

Democrats will not lose either the state house or the state senate, but the parties are expected to trade one senate seat for another. One of the races will have national implications as Democrats groom state Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D.), a candidate for state senate against Nick Asselta (R.), to run against Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R.) at some future date.

Republicans, meanwhile, hope to pick up a senate seat as state Rep. Jennifer Beck (R.) takes on state Sen. Ellen Karcher (D.).

Voters will probably approve a referendum on borrowing $450 million for use in speculative embryonic research, but recent polling shows a much closer race than expected. Another referendum would borrow $200 million for parks. New Jersey is already the third-most-indebted state in the nation.

10 P.M. EST

Utah

Voters here will decide whether to allow a voucher program for private education to go forward. They appear likely to vote down the proposal after massive expenditures by teachers’ unions.

The unions circulated petitions to force the referendum after the state legislature passed the program earlier this year. This voucher program defuses many of the unions’ stated concerns about vouchers, but it opens the public system up to competition, which they view as completely unacceptable, even though the program would have the effect of increasing per-pupil spending and decreasing class sizes in public schools.

The measure gives a modest $500 to $3,000 voucher, depending on family size and income. Utah currently spends about $7,500 per public-school pupil, and none of that money would be taken away from public schools. This means that the voucher program will decrease class size and increase per-pupil spending automatically, for every student who opts into a private school.

– David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.

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