It's a dreary, cloudy, damp day here in Philadelphia. I hate the weather this time of year. But I love the election run-ups.
In Pennsylvania, as most of the country, the post-presidential year is the political "off-year." It isn't across the river, though, as our nightly broadcasts air wave after wave of attack ads in the New Jersey governor's race between Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine and Republican businessman (and UFO enthusiast) Doug Forrester.
It's such a boring race -- two multi-millionaire businessmen who've self-financed their campaigns and are blowing fortunes on mass messages that say nary a nice thing about themselves or each other. Corzine'll win and Forrester's just... weird. It's not a way to select a chief executive.
My favorite race for the cycle is the contest for America's only single-term governorship in Virginia.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have family in Virginia -- they live in Lynchburg and work for Jerry Falwell (imagine the fun), and heading down there every so often provides a useful prism with which to view the world.
The election pits Republican Jerry Kilgore, the former Attorney General, against Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine. The race is marked by several exceptional dynamics: first off, the unusual popularity of Mark Warner, the outgoing Democratic governor, who leaves office with approval numbers in the 70% range. Even among Republican audiences, Warner is acclaimed for holding a moderate line on the God, guns and abortion questions which weigh heavy along the Southside and Southwest corridors of the Commonwealth.
Warner's glow hasn't exactly rubbed off on his designated standard-bearer -- the latest polls show Kaine and Kilgore head-to-head. And Kilgore's ads have drowned out the crucial economic and taxation questions which dominate in Northern Virginia (an area in which he's making inroads, albeit outside the Beltway) to cast the race as a referendum on Kaine's "faith-based" opposition to capital punishment. The dynamic of Virginia is such that Kaine's tried to side step the question by saying "No one can tell me to give up my faith." It's a fascinating message strategy, one I've never seen before anywhere, specifically crafted to play off the importance of religion to Virginia's heavy Evangelical presence in the electorate.
Kaine is Catholic and took a year off from Harvard Law to serve as a Jesuit missionary in Honduras. He claims that his death penalty stance would not inhibit him from signing and executing death warrants as governor, but a Kilgore ad which made hay out of Kaine's statement that he wouldn't even execute Adolf Hitler has had a mixed effect, serving to either revolt voters at the Kilgore campaign's gable or Kaine's statement.
Despite the sinister content, the Kilgore ads -- produced by Pennsylvania-based consultants BrabenderCox -- are the best gubernatorial ads I've ever seen. That said, however, Jerry Kilgore reminds me of a bobblehead doll.
Another race which I've been keeping an eye on is the campaign to succeed Michael Howard as leader of the UK Conservative party -- which resembles the Catholic church in so many ways.
After a second narrowing yesterday, the party activists will now have the choice between company man David Davis, a veteran MP, and the come-from-nowhere David Cameron, a 39 year-old moderniser, in a national ballot to be concluded in early December.
As only the Tories do can, the vying to this point has had a disproportionate presence of planted news stories involving drugs, denials and prostitutes.
More on that as time allows....