Sep 29th 2009

Two Key Election Contests in 2009

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

The last time Democrats won the White House in 1992, they quickly lost ground in the 1993 and 1994 elections. The results were debilitating for President Clinton. With Republicans winning Governorships in Virginia and New Jersey (the only two states that hold elections in the year after a Presidential contest), and then gaining control of both Houses of Congress in 1994, the President's ability to promote his agenda was severely constricted.

Such swings are normal in U.S. politics. Incumbent presidents frequently lose their initial popularity, impacting their party. In fact, since 1900, the party of the incumbent president has lost an average of 28 Congressional seats in mid-term elections (one notable exception being George W. Bush, who, with the nation still reeling from the shock of 9/11, strengthened his position in the 2002 contests).

And so it is with some wariness and a watchful eye, attention is being paid to the outcome of this year's gubernatorial contests in Virginia and New Jersey, especially since, Despite Obama having won both states in 2008, and both having sitting Democratic governors, post-Labor Day polls show Democrats in trouble in both contests.

For many election cycles now, Virginians have proved ornery to incumbent Presidents. They elected three Democrats during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations, then proceeded to elect two Republicans during the Clinton years. And in 2001 and 2005, Democratic candidates won in Virginia.

Nevertheless, this is a southern state that traditionally votes Republican in Presidential elections. In fact, in winning Virginia in 2008, Obama became only the first Democrat to carry that state since Lyndon Johnson carried it in 1964.

One reason that Obama and other Democrats have done well in Virginia, of late, is the state's changing demographic composition. Northern Virginia, the most densely populated region, has been transformed both by suburban sprawl, bringing more liberal Washingtonians into its new neighborhoods, as well as an influx of tens of thousands of new immigrants of varied ethnic backgrounds-African, Asian, Latino and Arab. It was this latter group that reacted in disgust to an incumbent Republican Senator's racial slur, providing the margin of victory for his Democratic opponent in 2006.

This year's gubernatorial race features two long-time Virginian elected officials. The Republican candidate is current Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a traditional conservative. He is running against Creigh Deeds, a native-born rural Virginian who surprised many in the state by winning the Democratic primary against two well-known, better funded and more liberal candidates.

While Deeds has consistently been trailing in the polls, McDonnell has been hurt among more moderate Northern Virginian voters by the recent release of a thesis he wrote 20 years ago while pursuing an advanced degree at Pat Robertson's fundamentalist Christian university

A recent headline read that the GOP is counting on anti-Obama sentiment, over health care and other issues, to carry the day for their candidate. But this is overly ambitious, at best. Voters who are angry with Obama are already in the Republican camp, and, in reality, this election will be decided more by the capacity of the candidates and their parties to turn out their voters-than by pro- or anti-Obama sentiment.

The same holds true for New Jersey, although the nature of that state's contest is altogether different. In this, the "Garden State," as it is called, an incumbent governor, John Corzine, is running for reelection. He is facing Republican, Chris Christie, a former Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney who is running on an anti-corruption platform.

New Jersey is a traditionally Democratic state in presidential contests, although it, too, is known to elect governors of the opposite party from that holding the White House. A popular moderate Republican won during the Clinton years, while Democrats held the New Jersey governorship during Bush's two terms in office.

New Jersey's voters can be quite volatile and appear extremely frustrated both by the sagging economy, which has hit the state hard, and also by wide-spread political corruption. The recent arrest of dozens of local elected officials across the state (most of them Democrats) has given emphasis to this concern.

While Corzine is not to blame for the economic downturn, nor is he implicated in the corruption charges, his candidacy has been negatively impacted. He has been able to turn the tables, somewhat, on his GOP opponent with recent revelations of some questionable personal financial dealings which Christie has acknowledged were wrong. But while these have been much discussed and been embarrassing to Christie, they have not helped Corzine close the gap with his challenger.

The bottom line, here, is that with just six weeks left in both states, the Democratic candidates are lagging behind. Both contests will be hard fought to the finish, and the margins will close by Election Day. Whatever the outcome, it will not, in fact, be a verdict on the occupant of the White House. But should Democrats lose both, the perceptions will be hurtful to the President, which is why Democrats are working hard to maintain their 2008 momentum and Republicans are working to cast these contests as referenda on Obama.

Nevertheless, whatever the outcome of 2009, 2010 will not be a replay of 1994, when the GOP won sweeping victories taking majority control in the House and the Senate. The political landscape has changed since then. Republicans may chip away at the Democrat's majority, but there are not enough vulnerable Democratic Congressman and Senators for Republicans to win control of either House of Congress.

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More Current Affairs

May 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "But even a resounding Russian defeat is an ominous scenario. Yes, under such circumstances – and only such circumstances – Putin might be toppled in some kind of coup led by elements of Russia’s security apparatus. But the chances that this would produce a liberal democratic Russia that abandons Putin’s grand strategic designs are slim. More likely, Russia would be a rogue nuclear superpower ruled by military coup-makers with revanchist impulses. Germany after World War I comes to mind."
May 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "For citizens of states that are members of NATO, taking all possible steps, short of all-out war, to ensure that Russia does not conquer Ukraine is not even an altruistic sacrifice. It is a long-term investment, for themselves and their children, in freedom, democracy, and the international rule of law."
May 4th 2022
EXTRACT: ".....a remarkable transformation is taking place in Ukraine’s army amounting to its de facto military integration into Nato. As western equipment filters through to the frontline, Nato-standard weaponry and ammunition will be brought into Ukrainian service. This is of far higher quality than the mainly former Soviet weapons with which the Ukrainians have fought so capably. The longer this process continues and deepens, the worse the situation will be for the already inefficient Russian army and air force."
May 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: " The conventional wisdom among students of the Russian arts and sciences is that Russian culture is “great.” The problem is that, while there are surely great individuals within Russian culture, the culture as a whole cannot avoid responsibility for Putin and his regime’s crimes." ---- "Russianists will not be able to avoid examining themselves and their Russian cultural icons for harbingers of the present catastrophe. What does it mean that Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian chauvinist? That Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov were Ukrainian? That Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an unvarnished imperialist? That Aleksandr Pushkin was a troubadour of Russian imperial greatness? May these writers still be read without one eye on the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine?"
Apr 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "The following day Lavrov met his Eritrean counterpart, Osman Saleh, in Moscow. Eritrea was the only African country to vote against the UN resolution condemning the invasion. In this refusal to condemn Russia, Eritrea was joined by only Belarus, North Korea and Syria. Even longstanding allies such as Cuba and China abstained. It’s an indication of Russia’s increasingly limited diplomatic options as this war continues."
Apr 24th 2022
EXTRACT: "Although the milestone lasted only for a brief time, it points to a future in which California runs on 100% wind, solar, hydro and batteries, a future that will certainly arrive even faster than the state plans. As it is, California is ahead of its green energy goals." ...... "A world of 100% green energy and electric cars is not only a healthier and more comfortable world, it is a world where oil and gas dictators like Vladimir Putin are defunded."
Apr 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "Kazakhstan’s authorities have also showed uncharacteristic leniency in allowing public rallies in support of Ukraine. Thousands of protesters holding banners reading “Russians, leave Ukraine”, “Long Live Ukraine” and “Bring Putin to trial” marched across the capital, Almaty, wrapping monuments to Lenin and other Soviet-era figures with yellow and blue balloons symbolising the Ukrainian flag."
Apr 15th 2022
EXTRACT: "People’s identification with the Soviet Union appears to have a clear and growing basis in Russian public opinion. Surveys we have conducted throughout the Putin period show that Soviet identification among the general population – something that had been steadily declining after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – began to increase in 2014, when the Russian government annexed Crimea and supported rebellions in the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. By 2021, almost 50% of those surveyed identified with the Soviet Union rather than the Russian Federation."
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Worse yet, the Hungarian government has effectively been helping Putin by prohibiting the shipment of weapons to Ukraine across its borders. Hungarian public TV spreads Russian disinformation day and night. The day before the election, an assembly of ordinary people expressing solidarity with Ukraine was framed on state television as a “pro-war rally.” "
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "It may well be that the Russian army’s fate has already been sealed in what is likely to be a long war. The single qualification to this may be that Russia could default to escalation using “weapons of mass destruction” of one form or another – whether tactical nuclear warheads or chemical weapons."
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACTS" "Ukraine and Russia produce a substantial amount of grain and other food for export. Ukraine alone produces a whopping 6% of all food calories traded in the international market. At least it used to, before it was invaded by the world’s largest nuclear power." ...... "When it comes to cereals like wheat, corn, rice and barley, the big players talk about millions of metric tonnes, or MMTs. A single MMT of wheat contains about 3.4 trillion food calories,." ....."Ukraine produced about 80 MMT of grain (a category that includes wheat, corn and barley) in 2021, and is expected to harvest less than half of that this year. A shortfall of 40 MMT is enough missing calories that a country like the UK could only make it up by having everyone stop eating for three years. That’s the thing about tonnes of grain: a million here and a million there and pretty soon you’ve got a real issue on your plate."
Apr 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "I don’t even know the little girl’s name. All I do know is what a friend of a friend wrote on Viber: that her relative, a senior nurse in one of Kyiv’s hospitals, “saw in the morgue a child with 20 varieties of sperm on her small body.” Since this information was conveyed in a private conversation, there is no reason to doubt its veracity."
Apr 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian society has so far failed to stop Putin, just as German society failed to stop Hitler. And so, like a poisoned chalice, that task has fallen to the West, as it did in 1939. The West must now treat Putin and his regime the same way that Winston Churchill treated Hitler: Don’t talk to him, just defeat him. Dead-enders such as Putin are too fanatical and desperate to be reliable negotiating partners."
Apr 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: "From 1807 to 1814 on the Iberian peninsula, Napoleon had to fight Spanish, Portuguese and British armies while beset by ubiquitous, ferocious insurgents. He described this war as his “bleeding ulcer”, draining him of men and equipment. It is the west’s aim to make Ukraine for Putin what Spain was for Napoleon. In the absence of a negotiated settlement, Ukraine and Nato will continue to grind away at Russia’s army, digging away at that bleeding ulcer and prolonging Russia’s agony on the military front, as the west continues its parallel assault on its economy. If Putin’s plan is to proceed with the Korea model, he will fail. There is a strong possibility that Putin has only a limited idea of how badly his army is faring. So be it – he’ll find out soon enough that there is now no path for him to military victory."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Policymakers expected that the country would be able to secure its energy supply entirely from renewable sources, so they resolved to phase out coal and nuclear energy simultaneously. The last three of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants are set to be shut down this year." ---- ".... the share of wind and solar power in Germany’s total final energy consumption, which includes heating, industrial processing, and traffic, was a meager 6.7%. And while wind and solar generated 29% of the country’s electricity output, electricity itself accounted for only about a fifth of its final energy consumption." ----- "If Germany suddenly halted Russian gas imports, gas-based residential heating systems – on which half the German population, approximately 40 million people, rely – and industrial processes that rely heavily on gas imports would break down....."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "For Putin, the past that matters most is the one the dissident author and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn exalted: the time when the Slavic peoples were united within the Orthodox Christian kingdom of Kievan Rus’. Kyiv formed its heart, making Ukraine central to Putin’s pan-Slavic vision. ---- But, for Putin, the Ukraine war is about preserving Russia, not just expanding it. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently made clear, Russia’s leaders believe that their country is locked in a “life-and-death battle to exist on the world’s geopolitical map.” That worldview reflects Putin’s longstanding obsession with works of other Russian emigrant philosophers, such as Ivan Ilyin and Nikolai Berdyaev, who described a struggle for the Eurasian (Russian) soul against the Atlanticists (the West) who would destroy it. ---- Yet Putin and his neo-Eurasianists seem to believe that the key to victory is to create the kind of regime those anti-Bolshevik philosophers most detested: one run by the security forces. A police state would fulfill the vision of another of Putin’s heroes: the KGB chief turned Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Ukraine, known as the breadbasket of Europe, is struggling to export last year’s harvest, and may be unable to produce much this year either. In addition, the war has caused a global fertiliser shortage, which will push up food prices around the world too. Coming at a time when the global pandemic had already increased food insecurity and depleted resources around the world, many countries may not be resilient to a major food crisis brought on by the war. Back-to-back global catastrophic events like this have not happened for close to 100 years." ----- "Another useful analogue is the case of Germany during the first world war. When war broke out in 1914, the German authorities had anticipated a short conflict – not too dissimilar to Russian assumptions a few weeks ago. Just like in Ukraine now, the first world war severely disrupted German farming."
Mar 31st 2022
EXTRACT: "The horrors of World War II – the death camps, slave labor, and inhumane experiments on people – produced a global commitment never to permit such crimes to be repeated. This began a transformation of international politics whereby appreciation of the value of every person’s life and dignity ensured that even most authoritarian governments at least paid lip service to human rights.  ----- But the Soviet Union and many of its successor states, particularly Russia, never internalized this change. More than three decades after the USSR collapsed, most post-Soviet countries are still governed according to the old “imperial” paradigm. So, it should come as no surprise that we are now witnessing a clash between fundamentally different sets of values and ultimate goals for statehood."
Mar 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "Referencing past legacies as a justification for present-day political decisions is often effective – such appeals trigger emotional reflexes and contribute to thinking about politics in terms of rivalry and defence. The irony within the tragedy of the current situation is that Putin will assuredly go down in history as the figure that did more to unite the Ukrainian people (albeit against Russia) than any other in recent memory."
Mar 24th 2022
EXTRACT: " Despite the death and destruction that Russia rains down daily on them, the vast majority of Ukrainians are bullish about the future: 77% believe the country is moving in the right direction, 93% think they can beat back Russia, and 47% expect to win in the next few weeks.  Ukrainian policymakers are no less bullish, driving a hard bargain in negotiations with the Russians. Several factors account for this remarkable optimism."