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2009-11-04

Election Day 2009: GOPers Sweep Governor Races; Bloomberg Wins Tight NYC Mayoral Race; Dems Take House Seats; Maine Repeals Gay Marriage

Guests

Tom Robbins, reporter for the Village Voice.

Adele Stan, Washington bureau chief of AlterNet.

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Republicans have won the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, while New York’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg survived a stunningly close race against William Thompson. Bloomberg spent an estimated $100 million, making this the most expensive race in history outside the presidency. Meanwhile, Maine voters repealed a state law that would have allowed same-sex couples to wed. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We begin today’s show looking at Tuesday’s election results. Republicans won the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, while Democrats won the only two House seats up for grabs.

In New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie beat incumbent Democrat, Governor Jon Corzine, the former senator and former CEO of Goldman Sachs. Christie becomes the first Republican to win statewide office in New Jersey in twelve years.

    GOVERNOR-ELECT CHRIS CHRISTIE: We are in a crisis. The times are extraordinarily difficult. But I stand here tonight full of hope for our future, full of expectations and dreams, not just for my children, but for all the children of New Jersey. And Kim and I are going to get to work to make that happen, starting tomorrow.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In Virginia, Republican Bob McDonnell easily beat Democrat Creigh Deeds. McDonnell won 59 percent of the vote.

    GOVERNOR-ELECT BOB McDONNELL: Leading Virginia will require innovation and cooperation. My promise to you as governor is the same as my promise to you as candidate for governor, and that is to strengthen the free enterprise system, to create more jobs and opportunity, so that every Virginian can use their God-given talents to pursue the American Dream in liberty here in this great commonwealth.

AMY GOODMAN: Conservatives were dealt a surprising defeat in upstate New York as Democrat Bill Owens beat Conservative Party candidate Douglas Hoffman in a closely watched special election for a congressional seat. In the only other congressional race, California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi beat Republican challenger David Harmer.

The most surprising result of the night may have been here in New York City, where the mayor’s race between billionaire incumbent Michael Bloomberg and William Thompson was far tighter than many analysts had projected. Unofficial returns showed Bloomberg with 51 percent of the vote and Thompson with 46 percent. Bloomberg poured at least $90 million of his own money into the race — it’s probably going to be around $100 million — and spent at least fourteen times as much as Thompson.

During his victory speech, Mayor Bloomberg said New York voters had defied the national trend by supporting an incumbent.

    MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: And I’m committed to working twice as hard in the next four years as I did in the past eight. And during the good times, we showed that New York City could outperform the nation in creating jobs, improving schools, fighting climate change, even extending life expectancy. And now, in these tough times, we’re going to show that we can keep outperforming the rest of the country.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In other election news from New York City, John Liu was elected comptroller, becoming the first Asian American elected to citywide office in the city’s history.

Meanwhile, in the state of Maine, voters have repealed a state law that would have allowed same-sex couples to wed. This marked the first time voters had rejected a gay marriage law enacted by a legislature.

And the mayor’s race in Houston, Texas is headed to a runoff next month after no candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote. A victory for city controller Annise Parker would make Houston the largest US city with an openly gay mayor.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Tuesday’s elections results, we are joined by two guests. Tom Robbins is with us, longtime reporter for the Village Voice here in New York. And Adele Stan is the Washington bureau chief of AlterNet.org.

Adele, let’s begin with you with Virginia and New Jersey. The significance of the Republicans taking both governorships?

ADELE STAN: Well, it is significant, but it’s different in each case, I believe.

In Virginia, I mean, you have a — you know, it has to do with who votes in off-year elections and who votes in gubernatorial elections. And Virginia is overall — even though it’s been trending more liberal, is, you know, a pretty conservative state. You also had really the muscle of the astroturfing group Americans for Prosperity, or at least some of its better minds, behind that campaign, and they ran a very good campaign. The Dems had a very bad candidate.

In Jersey, I really think what happened there is that Corzine really became the emblem of, you know, all that’s wrong with the economy right now for — you know, I mean, he got slammed for higher property taxes, which the governor has really no control over, although municipalities do have to raise their property taxes when state services are cut. And, you know, the recession was very forward-leaning in New Jersey, and there’s nearly ten percent unemployment there, things that the governor has very little control over.

So I think you have two different cases, though I do think they portend a certain amount of difficulty for the Democrats going into 2010.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Adele, much of the coverage last night on television and in the press today, in the mainstream press today, tried to suggest that this was definitely a defeat for President Obama, who campaigned heavily for both of these candidates. Three times in New Jersey he came to stump for Jon Corzine. Your analysis of that?

ADELE STAN: Well, I think, you know, the Corzine case, you know, you could make that case. However, again, I mean, you didn’t necessarily have Obama voters voting in this election. I mean, this is an election that, you know, the Obama electorate — when we talk about the electorate, we think of it as this constant body, but it’s really not. I mean, different people vote in different elections. And, of course, presidential elections bring out a much larger voter turnout. So, I think for the Corzine — in the Corzine case, I mean, what you had, Obama really did try, but, I mean, they had a candidate that was going in at a great disadvantage, to begin with, given the state of the economy. Whether or not you can say that that’s a defeat for Obama himself, I don’t know.

In the case of Deeds in Virginia, that’s a quite a different case. Obama only, I believe, went into Virginia once for Deeds. There was a lot of tension between the Deeds campaign and the Obama campaign. The Obama campaign wanted to see Deeds take a different tack, which he didn’t. He was a very weak candidate. He wasn’t a good campaigner.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the tack that Obama wanted him to take?

ADELE STAN: Well, I mean, what Obama wanted to — from what I understand, I mean, where Deeds really kind of blew it was by trying to attack to close to the center, not being aggressive enough in embracing, you know, goals that are being talked about now on Capitol Hill. And he just was a generally weak candidate who did not want to take advice from Obama’s political operatives. You know, in Jersey, Corzine had at the top of his campaign someone who had worked on the Obama campaign. Deeds’ people were, you know, less enthusiastic about following that game plan.

AMY GOODMAN: And in New Jersey, robocalls on the Republican side from John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani. But however many times President Obama went down to Virginia, it was that many more times than he came to New York. He did not campaign for William Thompson at all. That is shocking, considering the, you could almost just say, stunningly close race. Tom Robbins, talk about what happened in New York, Bloomberg versus Thompson.

TOM ROBBINS: We saw one of the big upsets of standard wisdom and conventional thinking last night. Everyone — every poll going into last night had the Mayor winning reelection by at least double digits. Some of them were almost as high as 20 percent. This is a mayor who spent more than any incumbent or any non-incumbent official ever in history. We think it’s going to be $100 million. He got about a half-million votes, we think. That’s going to translate into to 200 votes that he paid — $200 per vote that he paid. It’s an absolutely amazing failure of big money in a campaign. And it says something. We don’t know what it says about Bill Thompson, but it certainly says something about how New Yorkers feel about this mayor headed into a third term.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But, Tom, what I was struck by was the astonishingly low turnout. About 1.1 million New Yorkers voted. There are four million registered. That means 25 percent of the electorate turned out in this vote. So I think the Mayor may come into office with the lowest vote total in modern history of any mayor of New York City. But talk about that turnout and what it means.

TOM ROBBINS: Well, you know, it’s illustrative of the same fact that the Mayor couldn’t turn out votes for himself, he couldn’t turn out people to the polls at all. And people reported getting as many as a dozen robocalls from the Mayor, from — I got robocalls from Al Gore on this guy that were put together with his voice on it. These were — this was an all-out push by the Mayor to barrage New York voters that he had on his list as potential —-

AMY GOODMAN: Al Gore for the Republican-turned-Independent Bloomberg.

TOM ROBBINS: Well, to be fair here, Al Gore had an appearance with Mike Bloomberg right before the election, in which he said very nice things about the Republican mayor, and the Mayor used that clip over and over again in his robocalls, indicating that he had the support. He did the same thing with Bill Clinton. He did a string of quotes that he patched together from prominent Democrats to try to show how much support.

And yet they didn’t come to the polls. I mean, to go to Juan’s point, they didn’t even turn out, which shows that -— I mean, two things. One is, they were not excited about Bill Thompson, who was, I think, a fairly lackluster candidate in many ways. But they also were less excited about reelecting Mike Bloomberg.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, of course, the issue, the big issue, for many voters was that he had overturned — Bloomberg had overturned term limits. He had gotten the city council, despite two referendums setting term limits, to overturn the limits last year so that he could run for a third term.

TOM ROBBINS: I don’t think anybody really understood how angry New Yorkers were until last night about that move. I mean, there was some reflection of it in the Democratic primary last month, when we saw two Democrats win office, both of whom who had been militant opponents of extending term limits: John Liu for controller and Bill de Blasio for public advocate. But it wasn’t clear whether or not that was going to carry over to Bloomberg.

To some extent, he seemed sort of Teflon on this issue, because of the fact that he had had a fairly successful, or what’s perceived as a successful, record as mayor. Last night’s results show that that wasn’t true. I mean, there’s no question the fact that the anger over term limits and his incredibly profligate spending really annoyed New Yorkers, and they showed it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, let’s talk about that. We’re talking about $100 million that it is believed that Bloomberg spent of his own money. I think William Thompson spent something like $8 million. The airwaves blanketed with ads for Bloomberg, or, I should say, against William Thompson. But that $100 million doesn’t reflect all the money that went into this campaign. You’ve been looking at this, Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Oh, no, no. I mean, I think the unwritten story is that I think Michael Bloomberg has now spent, in his three runs for mayor of New York, not just about $70 million each time and $100 million this time for the races themselves, but the amount of philanthropic money that he has given to nonprofits in New York City is astounding. It was reported that Calvin Butts, the minister of one of the biggest black churches in New York City, Abyssinian Baptist Church, received a $1 million personal donation from Michael Bloomberg. Jeffrey Canada, who runs a bunch of Harlem charter schools, received a $600,000 personal donation from Michael Bloomberg. You can’t —- the number -—

AMY GOODMAN: And the role Canada played in Obama not coming to New York?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, reportedly — the New York Times reported today that Canada called Valerie Jarrett at the White House in recent days to try to persuade Barack Obama not to campaign for Bill Thompson, the Democrat, and that Valerie Jarrett and the people in — and the White House operatives assured Canada that the President would stay out of New York, would not campaign for Bill Thompson, the Democrat, so that —-

AMY GOODMAN: And he was right here, Obama -—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — because he came here for the weekend for Corzine.

JUAN GONZALEZ: He was here — he was here in New York.

AMY GOODMAN: In Jersey.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And he was also campaigning in New Jersey. But he agreed not to campaign. So you had a situation where these personal donations that the Mayor has been giving to virtually — you name the nonprofit in New York, and they all have an anonymous donation that they all know was from Michael Bloomberg. So he has been essentially buying the entire nonprofit community of New York City, donating at least $100 million a year of his personal money in philanthropic contributions for the last decade. So I think the combination of his philanthropic giving and his own political campaign spending means that he has spent money like no one in history has ever spent for political office.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Bloomberg News. I mean, we’re also talking about the media here, Tom Robbins.

TOM ROBBINS: Yeah, he’s ever-present. I mean, you know, this is a man who named, you know, a television station, a radio station. And now he’s got BusinessWeek magazine. Maybe he’ll change that to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. We’ll see what happens.

I mean, his ability to be able to use his money, surely in effective ways — I mean, the fact that he was able to — I mean, some people — Corzine, who’s also a incredibly wealthy individual, was not able to get there. Bloomberg has used his money to be able to reach people that he knew — like Canada, like Calvin Butts, people who he knew were influential and that he could basically — I don’t know if they buy their support, but he could use it — as Calvin Butts said to a Bloomberg biographer earlier this year, it sure doesn’t hurt to be able to get that money.

AMY GOODMAN: And the unions’ closeness to Obama and not coming out for William Thompson, Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, you had two of the biggest, most powerful unions in New York City, the teachers’ union and the SEIU 1199 union — both of them stayed out of the race, unusual for these powerful unions that are always the kingmakers in many of the political races. They stayed out of the races, which was, in effect, again, helpful to Mayor Bloomberg in his efforts.

So, when you look at that five percent margin, given the fact that the entire political establishment of New York, virtually all of the newspapers, dailies and weeklies, with the exception of the black-owned Amsterdam News and the Spanish-language El Diario, supported Bloomberg and that the major unions and the national Democratic Party basically turned its back on the race, it’s astonishing that it was so close.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, William Thompson would have been the second African American mayor of New York. We’re talking about now a 50,000-vote difference, Obama coming out for the former CEO of Goldman Sachs over and over, Jon Corzine, coming here repeatedly over the last weeks for different events, but not campaigning for William Thompson.

TOM ROBBINS: You know, listen. You certainly can have a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking about this, in terms of the White House’s role, but I think there’s a couple of things going on for President Obama. One is, I think that he looks at Mike Bloomberg still as a potential presidential candidate himself. Remember, he almost ran in 2008. He thought very seriously of it. And he still could throw a monkey wrench into the 2012 elections, if he decided to just spend his money, whether or not he’d be a viable candidate or not. Or he could try to get involved in the midterm elections. So, I think, for Obama, there was a certain [inaudible]: “Do I want to really get this guy mad at me? Do I want to make myself a target for him, particularly on behalf of a candidate who everybody thinks is not going to win?” And he’s reading the same polls we are, the same polls that Bill Thompson was reading, that he was double digits behind.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask Adele Stan also about another race in New York, in upstate New York, where Bill Owens — Bill Owens ended up winning the — the Democrat ended up winning a congressional race in the northern part of the state.

ADELE STAN: Right.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you talk about that race and its significance?

ADELE STAN: Well, this race is significant in a lot of different ways. I mean, not only did the Democrat win for the first time a Democrat has prevailed in that district since the Civil War, but the way that that came about is what’s so significant. And that is, of course, via the third party candidacy of a guy named Doug Hoffman, who sort of came out of nowhere, was a terrible candidate, but earned the backing of the tea party movement and other right-wing operatives, really a candidacy launched in many ways by Dick Armey, who heads another astroturfing group called FreedomWorks.

And what makes this so significant is — you’re going to hear a lot of talk now from — is that the right, the far right of the Republican Party, as if the Republican Party wasn’t right-wing enough now, you know, threw down a gauntlet, and there was this great contest of wills between the party establishment, which, you know, used to be a flamethrower called Newt Gingrich, who is now party establishment, who backed the Republican candidate, a woman named Dede Scozzafava. And Scozzafava was determined by the right to just not be right-wing enough. She was —- she is pro-labor. She supports the Employee Free Choice Act, which I think is really what drew Dick Armey’s group in. And on the cultural issues, she’s a liberal. She supports same-sex marriage. She’s pro-choice. So the right threw in behind this third party candidate, in defiance of the party establishment, which is House Minority Leader John Boehner and Newt Gingrich and RNC Chairman Michael Steele. So -—

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Sarah Palin weighed in, as well.

ADELE STAN: Well, and then she was really the thing, Amy, that put Hoffmann over the top and pushed Scozzafava out of the race. Once Sarah Palin came in — and she did it by a note on her Facebook page and with a little link to Hoffman’s site, where you could, you know, donate to him. And, I mean, it was all over for the Republican establishment candidate.

Now, you’re going to hear a lot of talk from the right that even though Hoffman lost to the Democrat, that it’s still a victory for them, because they managed to, you know, kind of frame out what’s — who’s an acceptable Republican and who isn’t. And, you know, that’s not just happy talk. That’s not just the next day spin. That’s true for them. In having done what they did, they have put the fear of God into Republican candidates across the country. Dick Armey is now promising that other Republican candidates in the 2010 elections — he’s promising, you know, ten or twelve will kind of be facing this sort of litmus test, and there’s a real battle for the — you know, the direction of the party. And this is how the right plays it. They do this inside-outside game. You know, they’ll launch a third party that — to exert pressure from the outside onto the established party, where the money is. But the outside often has the organizational prowess, which you’re seeing with this tea party movement, which is constructed not unlike the religious right of the 1990s.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you, Adele Stan, for being with us. Of course, that is the seat of John McHugh, a longtime Republican, stepped down to be the secretary of the Army under President Obama, now filled by Bill Owens. He just won yesterday, first time a Democrat has taken the seat in more than a century. Tom Robbins, thank you also for being with us, reporter now for the Village Voice.

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