Lawmakers Join Fight in Gov. Races

Posted October 31, 2005 at 6:33pm

With voters in Virginia and New Jersey set to go to the polls a week from today, Members in each state’s Congressional delegation are campaigning furiously for their respective gubernatorial nominees in a last-minute push to get out the vote.

In Virginia, the race between former state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R) and Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) is essentially a dead heat, and Members on both sides of the aisle are taking an active role in the campaign.

Meanwhile, in the Garden State, Sen. Jon Corzine (D) appears to be widening his lead over businessman Doug Forrester (R), although Republicans remain upbeat about their prospects.

While next Tuesday’s outcome in GOP-friendly Virginia will be debated and dissected for possible implications for next year’s midterm elections, Members from New Jersey have a much more immediate stake in Corzine’s fate because if he is elected he will appoint his Senate successor.

Virginia’s election is also important for two popular politicians with national aspirations, outgoing Gov. Mark Warner (D) and Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), who is expected to glide to re-election in 2006. While both have played prominent roles in the race as surrogates for their respective nominees, House Members on both sides have been actively involved as well.

Over the weekend, at least four Members from the Old Dominion were out stumping on behalf of their party’s ticket.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) attended a get-out-the-vote rally for Kilgore on Saturday in Fairfax, while Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman campaigned in Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) south central district.

Among Democrats, Rep. Bobby Scott (Va.) attended rallies in Norfolk and Richmond on Sunday, as Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) campaigned for Kaine and the Democratic ticket in an effort to boost black turnout. On the other end of the Commonwealth, Rep. Rick Boucher (Va.) said some 15 Democratic rallies were planned over the weekend in his southwestern district.

Rep. Jim Moran (D) said he, too, has been cramming campaign events into his legislative schedule. Last Thursday alone he attended three events: a luncheon with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), a rally with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) and a reception with Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.).

“It’s Kaine around the clock, 24/7,” Moran said.

Turnout in Moran’s suburban Washington, D.C., district is among the biggest keys to a Democratic win statewide. A Washington Post poll released Sunday showed Kaine with a comfortable lead over Kilgore in the area. It also revealed that while Kaine leads in heavily Democratic Arlington and Alexandria, he also is ahead in the outer suburbs of Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, traditionally Republican territory.

“If Northern Virginia turns out, Tim Kaine wins,” Moran said.

Moran also predicted that Democrats, who currently look likely to make at least a one- or two-seat gain in the state House, could pick up as many as five or six seats. Moran has considerably closer ties to those local races than other Democrats in the delegation because his brother, state Del. Brian Moran, is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus in Richmond.

“We’re seeing momentum,” he said. “All of the Democrats seem to be getting closer.”

The Post poll conducted last week found Kaine leading Kilgore 47 percent to 44 percent, a gain of 3 percent for the Democrat since early September.

If Democrats win in Virginia next week, there is little doubt that party operatives will spin the victory as a foreshadowing of what could come in 2006. Warner also can be expected to seek national momentum from a Kaine victory.

Davis, seeming to downplay expectations of a GOP sweep on Election Day, warned against reading too much into the Virginia results as a bellwether for the national atmosphere.

“Sometimes it’s a precursor to the national [elections], sometimes it’s not,” Davis said. “But a year is an eternity.”

A more telling statistic, he said, is that in the past seven gubernatorial elections the Commonwealth has gone against the party of the president — good news for Kaine.

Davis noted that while it’s always tougher for Republicans in Northern Virginia, because of the region’s cultural differences with the rest of the state, turning out the vote this year poses even more of a challenge considering neither candidate is from the area.

Meanwhile, Boucher’s rural, socially conservative constituency stands to be another critical battleground for Democrats. Boucher cut a radio ad for Kaine last week that is airing in the district.

Boucher’s constituents vote overwhelmingly for Republicans on a national level, but in 2001 a majority of voters there backed Warner, helping to boost him to victory.

Kaine’s ability to repeat Warner’s performance is unlikely because Kilgore hails from southwestern Virginia, Boucher said, but he believes that Kaine will still do well there because of Warner’s success and Kaine’s focus on fiscal issues.

“I think that Tim gets and deserves a lot of credit for the progress Virginia is making,” Boucher said.

Back in New Jersey, the latest polling in the gubernatorial contest showed Corzine ahead of Forrester 51 percent to 42 percent.

Still, Republicans on the Hill remain optimistic.

Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.) said he’s hopeful Forrester will pull out a victory on Election Day, saying that momentum is on his side. He said the polls are showing a late surge for Forrester that may defy Republican voter registration disadvantages and trends.

“If he can sustain this for a couple more weeks he’s going to be our governor,” Ferguson said. “He’s very much in the ballgame. With Doug, people are looking at the person, not necessarily the party.”

Ferguson said he’s doing his part to help elect his fellow Republican through surrogate speaking engagements, district events and fundraising.

Most recently, Ferguson said Forrester joined him in his district for a hospital charity event that draws hundreds of potential voters.

While Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) said the election was extremely important for what it means for 2006, he said Forrester, a moderate who supports abortion rights, might have trouble turning out the party’s base.

“I would have advised him differently as to how to deal with the Republican base, but hopefully Republicans know that we need a Republican governor,” said Garrett, a social conservative.

As for Corzine, he has more than his fair share of support from fellow Congressional Democrats who have been spending the better part of the year helping elect their senior Senator to the governor’s seat.

Of course, most of those Democratic House Members are also eyeing Corzine’s Senate slot.

If elected, Corzine would likely tap his Senate successor soon after he takes office early next year. If he loses, he must decide whether to seek a second Senate term in 2006.

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), a Corzine campaign co-chairman, said he’s optimistic Corzine will win not only because he has the right message and ideas, but because polling shows New Jersey wants him to serve.

He said voter turnout should be solid, and thousands of Democratic volunteers will be working on Election Day.

“If we do what we’re capable of doing we will win,” Andrews said. “If we are lazy and overconfident, we won’t.”

Andrews, who has indicated he wants to be Corzine’s replacement, has spent recent months traveling throughout his district on Corzine’s behalf, and has played the role of Forrester in the Democratic Senator’s debate preparation.

Meanwhile, Rep. Frank Pallone (D) is working equally as hard in the final days, saying he has been hitting “meet ups” or house receptions across the state as a surrogate to Corzine. He said he’s also served as a surrogate speaker and attended numerous dinners, rallies and events on Corzine’s behalf.

“There’s lots of enthusiasm and it’s growing,” Pallone said. “I’m really confident. I think voters are getting energized and enthused and that will result in a victory.”

Pallone is also actively seeking Corzine’s appointment, and was the first to begin a public campaign for the position. Rep. Bob Menendez (N.J.) is the third Democratic House Member under serious consideration for the slot, and is widely viewed as the frontrunner.