US governor elections may shape debate in 2016 presidential race

New York looks set to elect first Democrat mayor in 20 years

New York City Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio greets commuters while riding the R train from the Bay Bridge neighborhood of Brooklyn on his way to a campaign stop, in New York.

New York City Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio greets commuters while riding the R train from the Bay Bridge neighborhood of Brooklyn on his way to a campaign stop, in New York.

Tue, Nov 5, 2013, 01:00

The election of two state governors in the US today may raise some telling pointers for the 2016 presidential race, Meanwhile, a Democrat will likely become New York mayor for the first time in 20 years in the other major ballot battle in the 2013 off-year elections.

The three most significant roles being filled today – the mayor of New York, and the governors of New Jersey and Virginia– are notable this year for the absence of significant competition.

Democrat Bill de Blasio in New York, Republican Chris Christie in New Jersey and Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia all hold commanding leads in the opinion polls.

Barring a shock, De Blasio looks set to succeed Michael Bloomberg as mayor of America’s biggest city as he leads his Republican rival Joe Lhota by more than 40 points.

Pushing a “tale of two cities” metaphor to describe the income inequality in New York, de Blasio, a progressive, has connected directly with less well-off New Yorkers with a brand of left-wing populism and a promise of more jobs and a lower cost of living.

Married to a black woman with two mixed-race children, De Blasio has helped his appeal by putting his inter-racial family prominently in his campaign and attacking the New York police department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policing and racial profiling around suspected criminality.

Christie in lead
In New Jersey Christie leads little-known Democrat challenger Barbara Buono by an average of 28 percentage points, three new polls show.

Significantly in the context of the White House race, the Republican governor, whose response to Hurricane Sandy last year has helped his popularity, has polled well among Democrats, pitting him as a potential presidential candidate in three years’ time.

Victory for Christie, a relatively moderate Republican, in the traditional Democrat stronghold of New Jersey, and defeat for Republican right-wing Tea Party favourite Ken Cuccinelli at the hands of McAuliffe in Virginia, a state that can go either way in a presidential election, may set the debate among Republicans in preparation for the bigger national election battle ahead.

The fight between Cuccinelli and McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign chairman, has turned into a microcosm of the national fight between Republicans and the US president.

Democrats are hoping that voters in Virginia will be angrier with Republicans over the government shutdown than with Obama for the calamitous rollout of his healthcare law.

Apart from the two gubernatorial and other mayoral polling tests across the US, another election in Alabama – a run-off between two staunchly conservative Republican candidates for a vacant seat in the House of Representatives – will prove an important bellwether on the far right wing of the party.

The establishment candidate, Bradley Byrne, a political veteran, and Dean Young, a businessman and a candidate of the extreme Tea Party faction, are neck-and-neck in polls.

While both support strong conservative policies, Byrne may lose to Young because he is not conservative enough.

Young, who has said that Obama was born in Kenya and that “homosexuality is wrong”, has attacked Byrne as a “country club Republican” and for wavering on his belief in the literal truth of the Bible.