CSG Elections 2008 Preview
By Kelley Arnold and Heather Perkins, CSG Elections Center
With talk of skyrocketing voter registration, record-shattering early turnout and effects named “Bradley” and “Coattail”—nothing’s certain in state races. The CSG Elections Center continues to monitor each election across the country until the last race has been certified. Learn more about what could happen in the 11 governor’s races, which state’s house and senate majorities could change, which states have supreme court seats up for grabs and what controversial issues are subjects of initiatives and referenda across the country.
11 States Will Choose Governors
Voters in 11 states will choose a governor in the 2008 election. If current polls are any indication, Democrats will emerge victorious in gubernatorial races in Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and West Virginia. Republicans will see victories in North Dakota, Utah and Vermont.
Polls are mixed on the status of the Indiana governorship, but that seat will most likely remain in Republican hands. Missouri, however, will likely go to the Democrats. That leaves North Carolina and Washington as the two wild cards in the race.
North Carolina: Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R) are locked in a tight race for the state’s highest office. Many thought Perdue would have no trouble winning the seat vacated by outgoing Democrat Michael Easley, but the immense popularity of McCrory with members of both parties has left the race in a perpetual back-and-forth in the polls. Projections indicate the race could come down to independent voter turnout come Election Day.
Washington: In a rematch of the recount-laden gubernatorial race of 2004, incumbent Gov. Christine Gregoire is fighting to hold on to her office against Republican Dino Rossi. While Gregoire won the primary by a slim margin over Rossi earlier this year—Washington has an open primary system where the top two candidates advance to the general election—most polls show the two are locked in a statistical dead heat. This is leading some to wonder if the outcome could be a repeat of the debacle four years ago.
Few Legislative Races Feature Both Parties
Despite more than 5,800 legislative seats appearing on statewide ballots, only 39 percent of those races will feature both a Democratic and Republican contender. The remaining 61 percent are races that are either uncontested or have only one major party candidate squaring off against one or more third party candidates. However, based on current majority controls, recent polls and the number of contested seats appearing, these are a few of the chambers that promise to be close:
Alaska Senate: While much attention focuses on the presidential race and Alaskan congressional races, little notice has been paid to increasingly competitive state Senate races. The current majority is actually a bipartisan block composed of Senate Democrats and six members of the Republican Party. Democrats speculate they could potentially pick up enough seats to win the majority outright.
Ohio House: The current Republican majority in this term-limited state could be altered after next week’s elections. Records show Democrats are outspending their Republican opponents in many of the closely contested House races. With the national spotlight on this battleground state, voters seem to have a renewed enthusiasm driving them to the polls, which could impact many races at the state level. With more than a dozen races really in play and with the Democrats only needing to pick up four seats to take the majority, it looks as though majority control of the Ohio House could flip.
North Dakota Senate: Democrats hope to build on their success in 2006 and overtake Republicans for majority control in the Senate. Throughout the state, Democrats have shown enthusiasm and successful mobilization and grassroots efforts, leading some to believe that a party switch is feasible. Three of the four open seats up for election this cycle are currently held by Republicans. Democrats see those openings as a good place to make up some ground.
Other chambers in play:
Arizona Senate and House
New Hampshire Senate
Wisconsin Senate and House
State Supreme Court Seats on the Ballot
More than one-third of the states will have one or more Supreme Court positions up for election on the ballot next week. Six states will be engaged in partisan races and 13 will hold nonpartisan races. Not surprisingly, an incumbent is running in all but seven of the 36 positions up this November to keep a seat on their states’ highest court. Fifteen of those incumbents are running unopposed; therefore more than 40 percent of the total races up have technically already been decided.
Many of the contested races have continued the recent trend of major spending for judicial positions. The extreme spending, along with the special interest and third-party involvement, has led to some tight races this election season. While a majority of the hotly contested races are for open seats, some states—including Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas—have incumbents that are also locked in competitive races.
It is interesting to note that even the nonpartisan races have not been absent of partisan politics. In Nevada, controversy has been brewing over one candidate’s appearance at a rally for Sarah Palin last month. In North Carolina, while the race is nonpartisan and publicly financed, many voters are aware of the candidates’ party affiliations. This race is particularly important because the outcome could affect the majority party control of the state Supreme Court.
In addition to the justice positions on the ballot, a dozen other states have Supreme Court justices up for retention vote.
Gay Marriage, Abortion Issues on Ballot in Several States
Voters across the country will head to the polls next week to make important decisions about a wide variety of issues. Two of the more controversial topics being taken to the voters in multiple states are marriage and abortion. Here’s a quick overview of how the electorate seems to be leaning:
Arizona Proposition 102—This proposition would amend the constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Recent polls suggest the amendment will have enough voter support to pass next week. In 2006, voters rejected a similar proposal to define marriage, but it would have also denied partner benefits, which led to its defeat. That provision is not included in the new proposal.
California Proposition 8—This proposition would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry and would define marriage as a union between a man and woman. Polls suggest support for the proposition has grown over the past month, with some even indicating that it now has enough backing to pass.
Florida Amendment 2—Recent statewide polls suggest there is not quite enough support for this amendment to pass. The amendment, which would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, doesn’t seem to have the 60 percent approval that it needs to pass. Many say it won’t pass because the language of the amendment would open it up legal challenges that could jeopardize domestic partner benefits for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.
California Proposition 4—This proposition would require parental or legal guardian notification and a 48-hour waiting period after notification for a minor to obtain an abortion. Polls indicate the proposition currently has enough support to pass, thanks to growing support from Latinos and women.
Colorado Amendment 48—This amendment would change the constitution to define the term “person” to include any human being from the moment of conception. Polls indicate the amendment does not have enough support to pass. Many voters have been influenced by talk that if passed, the amendment would lead to a ban on abortion, and outlaw birth control pills and in vitro fertilization because of the vague nature of its wording.
South Dakota Measure 11—If passed, this measure would prohibit all abortions except in the case of serious risk to the mother’s health or in cases of rape or incest before the fetus is 20 weeks old. State polls show voters are equally divided on their support for or against this amendment, which strongly suggests undecided voters may very well be the deciding factor on Election Day.
Additional CSG Elections Center resources