(CNSNews.com) - Voters in New Jersey and Virginia will select new governors Tuesday - Democrats are favored in both states - but the elections will gain much more national attention as possible predictors for the 2006 mid-term congressional races.
Carlos Kearns, who worked for former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the races "could well be seen as a barometer as to how well or how poorly the Democratic and Republican parties are doing nationally."
The New Jersey political establishment was rocked last year when Democratic Gov. James McGreevey stepped down following revelations that he had an affair with a male member of his staff.
Sherry Sylvester, the campaign director for this year's Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Forrester, noted that New Jersey has "become infamous for corruption [and] scandal.
"As you know the last governor had to resign in disgrace. The last U.S. senator (Democrat Robert Torricelli) had to step down in disgrace," Sylvester told Cybercast News Service .
U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine is favored to beat Forrester and become New Jersey's next governor. Six separate polls show Corzine with leads of anywhere between four and 12 points over Forrester.
But Sylvester was still optimistic on Monday. "We believe this race comes down to a choice for real change for New Jersey, or more of the same. We have all kinds of waste and abuse and fraud in this state, and that's why we're going to win," she said.
Corzine, an obscure but rich investment banker, ran the most expensive U.S. Senate campaign in American history in 2000 and emerged victorious. Forrester also has amassed a small fortune from Benecard Services, a healthcare company he founded 15 years ago. Forrester is also a former assistant state treasurer and state pension director.
Combined, both candidates have spent almost $44 million since the primaries, much of it on negative advertising, some of which has been criticized for stretching or even abandoning the truth.
Both candidates ran ads related to Corzine's voting history in the Senate on tax issues. According to James Ficaro of FactCheck.org, Forrester's allegation that Corzine voted to raise taxes 133 times is incorrect, but so is Corzine's assertion that he voted to lower taxes 70 times.
"Both lists are padded with multiple votes on the same tax measure, and most of the votes Forrester says are for 'higher taxes' actually would not have resulted in any tax increase at all. Laughably, both men are counting some of the same votes," said Ficaro.
A Corzine ad that debuted Friday alleged that "in the final days of the campaign, Doug Forrester has brought the Bush-Rove smear tactics to our state.
There's no place for the politics of personal destruction in New Jersey," the ad declared.
While Forrester has not aligned himself with President Bush, he did feature former New York Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani in an ad, reinforcing Forrester's promise to cut property taxes 30 percent in three years.
In Virginia, Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine and Republican Attorney General Jerry Kilgore are caught in a close battle for a single four-year term since the state prohibits consecutive terms. Both are seeking to succeed Democrat Mark Warner in Richmond. State Sen. Russell Potts, a Republican running as an Independent in the race, won't win, but he could end up hurting one of the more prominent candidates.
Kaine appears to have a slight lead, although a Washington Post poll released last week showed that Kaine's advantage was within the poll's margin of error. Forty-seven percent of likely Virginia voters favored Kaine, 44 percent favored Kilgore and 4 percent liked Potts.
Before running for lieutenant governor, Kaine was the mayor of Richmond. Before serving as the state's attorney general, Kilgore worked for former Republican Gov. George Allen and was a state and federal prosecutor.
Seventy-five percent of likely voters in Virginia have a favorable view of Warner, who is on the lips of many pundits looking ahead to the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign. Kaine was trying to capitalize on Warner's popularity by using the governor's endorsement in his latest ads and campaigning with Warner at his side. It appears to have done some good. The Washington Post poll indicated that 40 percent were more likely to vote for Kaine because Warner endorsed him.
"I feel that the Democratic ticket of Tim Kaine, Leslie Byrne, and Creigh Deeds is going to be victorious tomorrow, and they're going to continue the legacy of Gov. Mark Warner to keep Virginia moving in the right direction," Mark Bergman, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia told Cybercast News Service on Monday.
But Kilgore has tried to distance Kaine from Warner, running ads accusing Kaine of being "too liberal to be governor," especially on the death penalty. Unlike Warner, Kaine opposes capital punishment on religious grounds, but would uphold state laws.
"That's not a popular position in Virginia, which has executed more prisoners than any other state save Texas," said Matthew Barge of FactCheck.org.
While Kaine is aided by his endorsements, 47 percent of Virginians also said they would be less likely to vote for Kilgore because of President Bush's endorsement.
Although Bush flew from the nation of Panama to Richmond Monday for a Kilgore event, the Republican gubernatorial candidate had previously shied away from the president's attention and declined to attend a recent rally with Bush in Norfolk, Va.
"What you've seen this year in Virginia is the president and the Republicans across the Potomac's culture of corruption seeping into Virginia's campaign and it has not been helpful for Jerry Kilgore," said Bergman.
But not everyone is convinced Tuesday's elections will say much, if anything about 2006.
"For New Jersey and Virginia, it matters a lot who wins and who governs for the next four years. For everybody else, the elections probably don't mean much," said Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
"President Bush and the Republicans are in deep trouble in 2005. Whether these calamities will extend all the way to November 2006 is anyone's guess and early indicators such as New Jersey and Virginia can be spot on ... or very misleading," he added.
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