- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2005

Gubernatorial elections raced down to the wire today in New Jersey and Virginia in a volatile political storm intensified by voter anger over property taxes, the death penalty, ethics and illegal immigration.

Earlier this year, few if any political observers believed Republicans had any chance of picking up the governorship in heavily Democratic New Jersey or that Democrats would be able to hang on to the statehouse in GOP-dominated Virginia. But as the campaign sped into its final 24-hour lap yesterday, both state races were surprisingly close, confounding the political forecasters and forcing both parties to pour substantial resources into aggressive voter-turnout drives.

In New Jersey, Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine led Republican businessman Doug Forrester by 5 percentage points — 51 percent to 46 percent — according to the latest WNBC/Marist poll of likely voters. Other polls had Mr. Forrester trailing by 4 to 7 points. But New Jersey’s elections are famous for an abrupt turn in the homestretch, and voter anger over rising property taxes and concern over Mr. Corzine’s ethical troubles — issues played up in a barrage of Forrester TV ads — have hurt the senator in the past month.

“If this is truly a 4-point contest, then the Democrat is in trouble. Because he is the Democrat and the sitting senator, Corzine, possesses most of the attributes of the incumbent in the race,” elections tracker Stuart Rothenberg told his political newsletter clients yesterday.

“Given that, as well as the political environment in the state, [Corzine] cannot expect to get most of the undecided voters,” Mr. Rothenberg said.

In Virginia, the race between former Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, the Republican, and Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has been close for months. Most polls showed it in a virtual dead heat, with the latest Mason-Dixon poll giving Mr. Kaine the slightest of edges, 45 percent to 44 percent.

For weeks, Mr. Kilgore has been hammering his rival for opposing the death penalty, a law Mr. Kaine says he will carry out despite his deeply held religious views. More recently, the Kilgore campaign has been attacking the Democrat for refusing to endorse tougher enforcement actions against illegal aliens, a growing issue in Northern Virginia.

But some political strategists say the unexpected closeness of the Virginia race — in a conservative Republican state that President Bush carried by nearly 54 percent of the vote last year — is a result in part to the GOP’s eroding position in public opinion polls.

Outside of the two governors’ races, the only other major election is the mayor’s contest in New York, where the incumbent, Michael R. Bloomberg, was cruising to a second term in what was shaping up to be a landslide election.

For decades, New York City was seen as a bastion of Democratic liberalism, but Republicans have ruled the mayoralty for the last 12 years, beginning with Rudolph W. Giuliani who presided over the city’s comeback in the 1990s. The latest Quinnipiac University poll showed Mr. Bloomberg heading into today’s election with a 38 percentage-point lead over his Democratic opponent, Fernando Ferrer, a former Bronx borough president.

In California, the focus is on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s four government-reform referendums that would put the job of redrawing congressional and state political boundary lines in the hands of a judicial panel, crack down on the political use of union dues, cap government spending and toughen job-tenure requirements for schoolteachers.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has campaigned aggressively across the state for the proposals, which have triggered a massive lobbying campaign against them by some of the state’s most powerful labor unions and special-interest groups. Most polls show the ballot initiatives losing.

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