- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

The early forecasts in this year’s two governor elections say the Democrats likely will remain in power in New Jersey, but the race in Virginia could become competitive.

The two gubernatorial battles, and two mayoralty elections, are not expected to have much of an impact on the national political terrain, though both parties are investing more money than usual in the off-year contests because of the momentum they sometimes give the winner heading into next year’s congressional and gubernatorial campaigns.

“Both parties are looking at the few races that are out there as opportunities to test messages and tactics,” said Jano Cabrera, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, which has poured $5 million into the Virginia race.

Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, a liberal multimillionaire who says he will bankroll his gubernatorial campaign out of his personal finances, is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. The seat became open when Gov. James E. McGreevey, a Democrat, resigned after announcing he had a homosexual affair with one of his aides.

Several Republicans are vying for the party’s nomination in the heavily Democratic state, including former nominee Bret Schundler and former Senate nominee Doug Forrester, who are tied in the early polls.

“At this point you have to say Corzine’s advantage is difficult if not impossible to overcome, but in New Jersey anything can happen,” Quinnipiac College pollster Clay Richards said.

Virginia is shaping up to be more competitive. Gov. Mark Warner’s running mate, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, is the Democrats’ choice to succeed him. He likely will face former state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the Republicans’ highest vote-getter in the 2001 election.

Polls give Mr. Kilgore the edge, but analysts say the race could tighten because Democrats plan to pour a lot of money into Mr. Kaine’s campaign.

But Mr. Kaine’s support for Mr. Warner’s tax increases and his opposition to the death penalty could cause problems for him with the state’s conservative voters.

“He will be put on the defensive on the death penalty and taxes,” said Earle Black, an Emory University political science professor who is a leading authority on Southern politics.

Among the biggest city hall races this year, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican, is trailing Democrat Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president and one of several challengers vying for the Democratic nomination, by eight percentage points.

The most contentious issue is Mr. Bloomberg’s plan to spend $600 million in city and state money to build a football stadium for the New York Jets, a proposal that is fiercely opposed by his rivals and most voters.

In Los Angeles, Mayor James Hahn is headed into a mid-May runoff rematch with City Council member Antonio Villaraigosa. Both are Democrats.

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