Next Tuesday, more than 17 million Americans, or 5 percent of the U.S. population, will have elections for their state governments. The elections in New Jersey and Virginia have gained outsized national attention over the years because of their unusual timing: These are the only two states to hold their elections the year after the presidential election. Thus political observers often watch them as referenda on the president, and reporters and pundits crashing from the buzz of the election flock to cover them. Money from across the country has funded thousands of hours of omnipresent campaign ads that seemed to start on New Year's Day.
The students at UR have a big stake in the 2013 elections: Nearly 20 percent of the student body comes from Virginia, and another large chunk are New Jerseyans. And many more students from across the U.S. have registered to vote in Virginia because of the efforts of campus groups during the last two elections.
It's been hard to miss the Spiders for Terry when walking through the Commons. This impressive organization has managed to staff a table with eager young Democrats almost every day since school began, and they're persistent. I've been asked dozens of times whether I'm registered to vote in Virginia, and I don't even walk through the Commons that often.
The "Terry" these students are fighting for is Terry McAuliffe, a businessman and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. After a failed attempt to enter the last gubernatorial race, McAuliffe won the nomination this time by being essentially the only Democrat with enough standing and cash to run. He is a fundraising master, and he's been able to get big names like former President Bill Clinton to endorse and come campaign for him. His perceived slickness at raising money, along with the murky financial dealings of an electric car company he purchased in the past, have left him with a bruised reputation among voters, and his lack of prior electoral experience is easy to question.
The Republican candidate for voters to turn to is Ken Cuccinelli, the current state attorney general. An attractive and charismatic politician and lawyer, Cuccinelli used his office to its full extent through lawsuits against University of Virginia over research supporting climate change, and the federal government over Obamacare. His passionate opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage has made him the standard-bearer for Virginia social conservatives, but his radical views do not appeal to the mostly moderate electorate in the state. He has also been tied in to a complex ethics scandal involving the outgoing Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, but I will spare you the details of that.
With these two besmirched candidates, its no wonder that apathy in Virginia is at record highs. Although McAuliffe is leading in the polls, it appears that many voters are picking him only because he is not Cuccinelli.
Of the two other major races in the state, only one appears even close. Democrat Ralph Northam, a doctor and state senator, is a shoo-in over Republican E.W. Jackson, a former pastor who has been shunned by his fellow candidates because of radically conservative statements and views that make him truly unelectable. For attorney general, two qualified state senators named Mark are duking it out in a tight race. Right now, Democrat Herring has a narrow lead over Republican Obenshain.
It's likely that most of the New Jersey voters at UR have already sent in their absentee ballots, so I'll save you the suspense: Chris Christie will be re-elected. The Republican governor has at least a 20-point lead in nearly every poll taken, and his massive cash reserves have ensured that the majority of campaign ads in the state are his. His opponent, state senator Barbara Buono, was in effect the only Democrat brave enough to run against the powerful governor, but the national party has given her little support, ensuring her loss.
In an otherwise ugly and apathetic election cycle, it's heartening to see the dedication of UR's campus political groups to respectfully spreading their message. Some of these groups have written about their views of the Virginia elections in this issue, and I urge you to read and be informed if you plan to vote next Tuesday.
Contact staff writer Ben Panko at email@example.com
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