In Virginia and Maryland, statehouses may change hands, while in New York City, a new mayor is poised to take over for the current man of the hour. Mayoral races are on in several other cities across the country, and several states are voting on ballot initiatives.
New York, New York
The spirit of Rudy Giuliani looms large over the mayoral contest in New York City. Election rules bar the mayor from taking on another term, but that hasn’t kept him from his role as the power player in this year’s sharply contested race.
Democrat Mark Green, the city’s public advocate and a lifelong politico, is currently in a statistical dead heat with newly-minted Republican Mike Bloomberg, a liberal-minded media mogul who switched parties when he realized he’d be quickly overshadowed in a crowded Democratic field. Both men have positions on many issues (education, gay rights, the environment) that are virtually indistinguishable. At least their campaign styles are different: While Bloomberg seeks to capitalize on his outsider status ("A leader, not a politician," blare his campaign ads), Green embraces his years as a local politician.
For weeks Green seemed to be running away with the election. But all that changed last week, when Giuliani, who is enjoying staggering and nearly universal popularity for his careful and compassionate handling of the September 11th attacks and their aftermath, began appearing in pro-Bloomberg television ads, skillfully melding an endorsement with his own farewell message. The response was immediate: In just a few days, Bloomberg’s numbers shot up to match Green’s, found a footing and stayed there.
As the contest enters its frenzied final 24 hours, nearly 20 percent of New Yorkers consider themselves undecided. Translation: By sundown Tuesday, precious few babies will be left unkissed and, if the weekend’s frenzy of recorded answering machine messages is any indication, no home phone number will be left undialed.
Green spent the weekend doing what little he could to convince the city’s Latino population that he is not a racially divisive figure, as his rivals have charged. A bruising and exceedingly nasty run-off battle with Fernando Ferrer battered Green’s reputation among minorities, and the Democratic candidate spent much of the weekend among black voters, playing up his liberal credentials.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s spin doctors kept busy Monday trying to downplay a years-old sexual harassment case against the billionaire businessman. (The suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum).
The Garden State
Across the Hudson, Democrat Jim McGreevey holds a double-digit lead over Republican Bret Schundler in the race for New Jersey governor. Schundler, a former mayor of Jersey City, is leaning heavily on claims that his opponent will raise taxes. McGreevey, the current mayor of Woodbridge, hopes to appeal to left-leaning and centrist voters by portraying Schundler as an anti-choice, pro-gun conservative.
McGreevey’s lead, while substantial, is not immune to an election day surprise, as New York Governor George Pataki reminded Republican voters over the weekend. Pataki himself was expected to lose the 1994 gubernatorial race to Mario Cuomo; he wound up winning in an upset. Sunday, McGreevey left his last-minute campaign schedule to be with his wife, who is in stable condition after being hospitalized with complications from her pregnancy.
The latest polls give Democrat Mark Warner a very slight edge over Republican Mark Earley. In this race the Republicans hold the experience card; Earley is a former state attorney general, who warns that a Democratic governor will bring a tax hike. An old-fashioned Republican in an old-fashioned Republican state, Earley often shows up for campaign appearances wearing a business suit and cowboy boots.
Warner, a wealthy businessman with no previous time in office, is hoping Virginia voters will pin blame for the state’s financial woes on the current GOP leadership. Conscious of the state’s center-right sensibilities, Warner has tailored his message carefully emphasizing, for example, his support of gun rights. The tactic appears to be working; several local GOP leaders have crossed party lines to endorse the Democrat.