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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish, this week at NPR West in California.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block in Washington, D.C.

It is election day across the country. And while tonight's results may lack the drama of a presidential election year, some of the races have national implications.

In New Jersey and Virginia, there are high-profile gubernatorial races. Those elections could shape the future of the Republican Party and perhaps the next presidential race. Among the lesser known contests, there's a special congressional runoff in Alabama that perfectly displays the broader rift in the GOP. And Boston and New York City are both ending political eras as they replace long-time mayors.

Joining us to talk about these races is NPR digital political editor Charlie Mahtesian. Hey, Charlie.

CHARLES MAHTESIAN, BYLINE: Hi, Melissa.

BLOCK: And let's start with those two big gubernatorial elections that I mentioned. First, let's talk about the race in New Jersey where the Republican Governor Chris Christie is asking for voters for a second term.

MAHTESIAN: Well, this is a race where all the evidence points to a pretty clear path to re-election for Republican Governor Christie over Democrat Barbara Buono. But the margin that Christie wins by is a pretty big deal because this is a situation where a big win will serve as a springboard to a 2016 presidential bid for Christie, especially if the governor shows any kind of coattails and state legislative races or gets any kind of traction with Hispanic voters or African-American voters.

And so while the governor rubs a lot of conservatives the wrong way, his pretty straightforward and down-to-earth political style has made him very popular in New Jersey. And so a landslide victory in one of the nation's most Democratic states would give him a pretty compelling case to make for a presidential candidacy. Republicans have always had this kind of soft spot for governors as nominees, and Christie will be positioned very well to argue in 2016 that he's a conservative with blue state appeal, which will be very hard for Republicans to ignore especially after two consecutive presidential losses.

BLOCK: Well, let's move on to Virginia. There's a lot of outside money that has poured into the governor's race there. How does it look?

MAHTESIAN: Well, Republican prospects are a lot dimmer in Virginia than New Jersey. And in Virginia where Democrat-turned McAuliffe has led in the polls for months, GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli has been badly outspent, and he's really struggled to connect with independent voters and with female voters. That's not to say McAuliffe doesn't have his own problems. Polling suggests that voters find him maybe a little too glib and a little too superficial. It's not entirely clear what kind of turnout he can expect from traditionally democratic African-American voters.

But all in all in Virginia, Republicans are the ones who are bracing for the worst because since the Republican outlook in both the governor's race and the lieutenant governor's race isn't promising, many insiders in Virginia are holding their breath and watching the attorney general's race very closely because at the moment, that seems to be the party's best chance of avoiding a democratic sweep of all the state's top offices.

BLOCK: I mentioned the runoff in Alabama for a special election to fill a vacancy. It's a congressional race that exhibits all the forces fighting for control of the GOP that we've been talking about. And it's a race that is getting national attention.

MAHTESIAN: Right. And typically, this is the kind of race that flies under the radar because it's a heavily Republican seat that's all but certain to replace its Republican congressman with a new Republican congressman. So the likely outcome isn't going to change the balance of power in Congress. But the twist is, in this case, the kind of Republican who wins the runoff today makes a very big difference.

On the one side, you've got an establishment-backed conservative named Bradley Byrne. He's the beneficiary of - infusion of cash and support from House Republican leaders, and also, more important, from the Chamber of Commerce. On the other side, Bradley Byrne's opponent, Dean Young, hails from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. His campaign is powered by conservative grassroots energy since he's being badly outspent and he needs that kind of energy. And it's also notable that Young has gone out and publicly said he will not vote for speaker - House Speaker John Boehner.

BLOCK: And briefly, let's just talk quickly about the mayoral elections in Boston and New York City.

MAHTESIAN: Well, there's a big roster of mayoral elections across the map and places that (unintelligible) in Seattle, in Minneapolis, Detroit, Boston and New York. And I think Boston and New York are probably the most interesting or at least noteworthy today because it's the end of a political era in both of those cities as they prepare to replace long-time mayors Tom Menino and Michael Bloomberg.

BLOCK: OK. That's NPR digital political editor Charlie Mahtesian. Charlie, thanks so much.

MAHTESIAN: Thank you, Melissa.

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