|High profile issues on 2007 ballots
What typically is a quiet, off-year election is anything but this year.
Voters in Kentucky today (Nov. 6) will decide whether to oust their sitting governor. In three states, both parties have a fighting chance to wrest control of statehouse chambers. And contentious questions on school vouchers and stem cell research are among 34 measures on the ballot in seven states.
In a warm-up to the high-voltage 2008 presidential sweepstakes, voters will go to the polls to pick governors in both Kentucky and Mississippi and to fill legislative seats in Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia. Louisiana votes Nov. 17 for statehouse races and other statewide offices.
"These odd-year elections are a good bellwether for party strength," said Tim Storey, a state elections expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures. However, Storey cautioned against reading too much about 2008 into this year's handful of contests because the issues and concerns are very state specific. From scandals in New Jersey to term limits in Louisiana, "there are a lot of unusual circumstances," Storey said.
The 2007 election season already has gotten off to a historic start in Louisiana
. Voters there last month elected the country's first governor of Indian descent by choosing U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) to succeed Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat, who opted not to run for re-election after she was roundly criticized in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Jindal garnered 54 percent of the vote in the Oct. 20 open gubernatorial primary over several challengers, enough to avoid a runoff in November. Jindal, 36, will become the youngest sitting governor in the nation and first Republican Louisiana governor since 1996.
Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) is struggling to overcome his Democratic challenger, former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear, whom the governor has trailed consistently by double digits through much of the campaign. Fletcher, the first Republican governor in the Bluegrass State in more than 30 years, has been dogged by a hiring scandal for the past two years.
"The outcome is pretty clear. It looks like Gov. Fletcher won't be re-elected," said Joe Gershtenson, director of the Center for Kentucky History and Politics at Eastern Kentucky University. Gershtenson said the 2007 contest is similar to the race four years ago when voters selected Fletcher more because they were weary of scandals under then-incumbent Gov. Paul Patton, a Democrat, and wanted change than that they were enamored with Fletcher's proposals. "Whoever the Democratic nominee would be against Fletcher, that person would be in pretty decent position," he said.
Joel Turner, a professor of political science at Western Kentucky University, said if Fletcher loses by more than 18 or 20 points, some Republicans for statewide positions lower on the ticket could get swept up in an anti-GOP tide. Incumbent Secretary of State C.M. Trey Grayson is in a tight race against Democrat S. Bruce Hendrickson. Democrat Jack Conway, however, is leading the polls over Republican Stan Lee to succeed Greg Stumbo as attorney general. Stumbo ran unsuccessfully as lieutenant governor in the primaries this year on W. Bruce Lunsford (D)'s ticket for governor.
The third and final governor's contest this year also is in the South, where the GOP looks to have a lock on the race. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi appears in a strong position to best Democrat John Eaves, an attorney and evangelical Christian who has declared "I am a Democrat because I am a Christian" as part of his pro-life, pro-guns, pro-Bible campaign.
Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State University's Stennis Institute of Government, said, "Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, here in Mississippi you try to 'out-conservative' each other and religion is a big part of that." Wiseman said he expects Eaves to win 42 percent of the vote, not enough to beat Barbour but enough to give him name recognition for a future campaign.
Mississippi and Louisiana also are electing lieutenant governors, secretaries of state and attorneys general and here, too, there already has been an upset. Losing in the Oct. 20 primary was Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti, a Republican, who made a name for himself after Hurricane Katrina when he unsuccessfully prosecuted a physician and nurses for the deaths of patients in a flooded hospital. Louisiana voters will chose between James "Buddy" Caldwell (D) and Royal Alexander (R) won they go to the polls Nov. 17.
States with legislative races could be nail-biters. Possibly four chambers could flip to the opposing party after today's voting and after Louisiana casts ballots Nov. 17. That's especially important now because the party that controls the statehouse will have an upper hand when new legislative and congressional districts are redrawn after the 2010 census.
In Virginia, Democrats are aiming for the state Senate
. Republican candidates have stressed immigration
in several campaigns in an effort to keep control of the General Assembly, where they currently are in the minority 17 to 23. Democrats would like to provide some needed legislative muscle for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat nearing the midpoint of his four-year term.
New Jersey Republicans hope to take advantage of a series of scandals involving Democrats and recent retirements. Going into today's elections, Democrats have a 22-to-18 lead in the Senate and are ahead 50 to 30 in the General Assembly. The N.J. election is seeing a record number of women
jumping in the race.
Republicans are fighting to keep control of the Mississippi Senate that they won for the first time since 1873 after a Democratic lawmaker defected to the GOP earlier this spring. Republicans currently hold a 27-to-25 edge in the Mississippi Senate but are in the minority in the House.
Next door, when Louisianan voters go to the polls Nov. 17, the GOP will be in striking distance of taking control of the House for the first time since Reconstruction, thanks to new term limits that threaten more Democrats than Republicans.
Drawing voters to the polls in seven states will be an array of ballot measures
, and the outcome could sway strategies for the 2008 contests. Utahns, for example, will decide whether to launch the nation's broadest statewide program to provide tax-funded vouchers to pay for private schools. If approved, it could give momentum to school-voucher advocates who have seen their efforts at the ballot box fail in recent years. Voucher programs were defeated in both California and Michigan in 2000, the last time voters weighed in on the issue.
Many also are watching Oregon, where voters will decide whether they want to scale back a 2004 initiative that made Oregon a model for property-rights
advocates. The existing law requires state and local governments to compensate landowners if land-use restrictions lower their property values - and if the government can't pay, to allow the owners essentially to develop their land as they see fit.
In the 2006 elections, California, Washington and Idaho voters all rejected measures similar to Oregon's 2004 initiative while Arizona approved a version of it. This year's Oregon measure would put some restrictions on what property owners can do, for example, limiting large subdivisions and commercial-development projects on land reserved for residential and farm use.