National Political Fallout from the Off-Year Election Voters on Tuesday will pick governors for New Jersey and Virginia, and mayors for New York City and Detroit. They will also decide ballot initiatives in many states, including controversial propositions in California backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Alex Chadwick talks with NPR political editor Ken Rudin about the national implications of various state elections held today.
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National Political Fallout from the Off-Year Election

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National Political Fallout from the Off-Year Election

National Political Fallout from the Off-Year Election

National Political Fallout from the Off-Year Election

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Voters on Tuesday will pick governors for New Jersey and Virginia, and mayors for New York City and Detroit. They will also decide ballot initiatives in many states, including controversial propositions in California backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Alex Chadwick talks with NPR political editor Ken Rudin about the national implications of various state elections held today.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Two states are choosing new governors today: New Jersey and Virginia. And New York and Detroit vote on mayors; some other cities do as well. And there are initiatives on various state ballots. Can we read into this some kind of national significance about how people feel about political leadership? Joining us is NPR political editor Ken Rudin.

Ken, first, quickly, what's at stake in today's elections?

KEN RUDIN reporting:

Alex, as you say, Virginia and New Jersey will be electing new governors. In New Jersey, Jon Corzine, the US senator, is running against Republican businessman Doug Forrester. In Virginia, Mark Warner, the governor, the Democratic governor, very popular Democratic governor, is term-limited. And the two choices there are lieutenant governor Tim Kaine and former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore. We also have New York City mayor election, which is interesting. You have--it's a 5:1 Democratic city, but Michael Bloomberg is trying to become the fourth Republican in a row or at least fourth election in a row where a Republican would win. That's never happened before. And then you have cities like Detroit, Cleveland, St. Paul, where the incumbents are in some kind of trouble and could be fighting for their lives.

CHADWICK: But what about this national trend? People can look at these results and say, you know, the Republicans are in trouble or they're not in trouble?

RUDIN: Well, Democrats are certainly pointing to the fact that President Bush's numbers are down nationally, and they're down in Republican states like Virginia, too, so they're hoping that if President Bush's fortunes are sagging, they could hurt the Republican turnout today in Virginia. Also, everybody's pointing to and the Democrats are pointing to the war and gasoline prices and hurricane relief, and they're saying that this is bad news for the Republican Party.

And if it's a Democratic sweep today, then perhaps it portends some Democratic wins in the 2006 election, then perhaps recapturing the White House in 2008. Republicans, for their part, will of course say all politics is local, as Tip O'Neill once said. These are really local elections that really don't have much to do with any national trends. National trends will not be seen in today's results.

CHADWICK: You know, the 2006 election--that's a year from now--that's called an off-year election--Right?--because it's not a presidential election year.

RUDIN: That's right, Senate, governor and Congress, right.

CHADWICK: This is the off-off, isn't it? I mean, are there historical--do people study historical trends about what happens in this election?

RUDIN: Well, people are paid to do that, and that's why people will come out with great pronouncements tomorrow about what this all means. Sometimes, it does mean something. We saw in 1989, for example, an African-American, Douglas Wilder, became the first governor elected, popular vote, in Virginia. A black was elected mayor of New York City for the first time in history, and abortion rights supporter Jim Florio was elected governor of New Jersey. Three years later, there were a record number of blacks elected to Congress, and Bill Clinton used the abortion issue to help him into the White House. So sometimes you can see trends there.

But look at 2001. It was right after 9/11 attacks, President Bush's popularity were at an all-time high, and yet Democrats won not only the Virginia race, but the New Jersey race, as well. And yet in 2002, 2003 and 2004, Republicans picked up big victories, too. So sometimes you can say, yes, it means something, and sometimes say, well, it's a complete aberration.

CHADWICK: A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Bush was out here in Los Angeles for a fund-raiser, and I was struck by the fact that Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did not go to that event.

RUDIN: Obviously, Republicans are nervous about associating themselves with President Bush. In Schwarzenegger's case, obviously, Schwarzenegger's appeal has always been as a non-politician, a non-party politician, and obviously, associating himself with President Bush, who is clearly identified with the Republican Party, could hurt his chances in getting some referenda passed today.

CHADWICK: NPR political editor Ken Rudin. You can find a rundown of the key candidates and issues nationwide at our Web site, npr.org, put together by Ken.

Ken, thank you again.

RUDIN: Thank you, Alex.

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