Unusual Results Anticipated For Governors' Races

Voters in Virginia and New Jersey go to the polls Tuesday to pick their next governor. NPR's Scott Horsley joins host Arun Rath from Northern Virginia, where President Obama just held a rally for Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Voters in Virginia and New Jersey will cast ballots for governor on Tuesday. And if the polls are right, we're likely to see a winner from both parties. Republican Chris Christie is expected to win re-election by a wide margin in New Jersey. While in Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe is the favorite. That's not necessarily the outcome you'd expect given the history of those two states.

NPR's Scott Horsley joins me now to talk about the contests. Scott, in Virginia this afternoon, Terry McAuliffe got some help from a prominent Democrat, a guy named Barack Obama. What can you tell us about that?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: That's right. The president spoke just a short while ago at a get-out-the-vote rally for Terry McAuliffe. It was in a high school gym in suburban Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. And he noted that a lot of prominent Democrats and some Republicans have also been out campaigning for McAuliffe, notably Bill and Hillary Clinton. The president said he wanted to get in on that act. And while McAuliffe's leading in the polls right now, Obama urged the Democrat supporters not to take anything for granted.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Nothing makes me more nervous than when my supporters start feeling too confident. So I want to put the fear of God in all of you.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: All right?

HORSLEY: If McAuliffe goes on to win on Tuesday, he will be bucking recent history. Virginia always elects its governors in the year after the presidential election. And for more than three decades now, they've always chosen a governor from the party that didn't win the White House. So if the pollsters are right, that pattern looks likely to change on Tuesday.

RATH: Of course, President Obama is not at his most popular right now, and Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate in Virginia, has been trying to make President Obama a liability for McAuliffe. Is that working?

HORSLEY: Well, we'll see. Cuccinelli in recent days has been stressing the disastrous rollout of Obamacare as he campaigns around the state with some Republican stars like Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Tomorrow, Cuccinelli will be campaigning with Florida Senator Marco Rubio. But, you know, he comes from the Tea Party wing of the GOP, and that has cost him support among more moderate voters in Virginia. The Tea Party, of course, was behind last month's government shutdown, and that didn't play very well in a state where, you know, a lot of people work for the federal government or for government contractors.

Terry McAuliffe has also been hammering away at Cuccinelli for his social conservatism on issues like abortion, and that's also hurt Cuccinelli with women in particular. So there's a big gender gap in Virginia, a state that is no longer nearly as conservative as it once was.

RATH: Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a traditionally blue state, Republican Chris Christie is really popular, looks like he might win in a landslide.

HORSLEY: Yeah. The politics of New Jersey and Virginia, of course, are very different. But it is striking that here, you have a conservative Republican trailing in once red, now purple Virginia, and a moderate Republican way ahead in the once blue state of New Jersey. This could deliver a lesson for Republicans as they look ahead to the 2016 presidential contest. It's certainly a lesson that Chris Christie will be, if not pushing, at least eager to see Republicans adopt for themselves. But whether this is a lesson that the GOP actually takes to heart after Tuesday, we'll just have to wait and see.

RATH: NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

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