In the 2004 Presidential election Ohio was a crucial battleground state, its electoral votes deciding the outcome. The surge in GOP activism and the excitement in the party have since subsided due to a series of high profile corruption scandals resulting in guilty pleas by the Governor, a chief Bush fundraiser, and a sitting congressman. All of these scandals will likely depress Republican voter turnout in a state with a toss-up Senate race, an open governor’s mansion, and four close House races. Local corruption issues, just like national ones, look to have a big impact on the midterm elections in important races.
Bloomberg news service reports that in Ohio, “A public backlash over the scandals has hurt Republicans across the board. A Columbus Dispatch poll released on Sept. 25 found Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland leading Republican Ken Blackwell by 19 percent, and had Brown holding a 5-point lead over incumbent Republican Senator DeWine.” Four House races, OH-01, OH-02, OH-15, and OH-18, are all polling incredibly close.
Washington Post reporters Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza write, “In a year when Republicans are battling low poll numbers nationally, there are few places where the GOP brand is more scuffed than in Ohio, where, since President Bush’s election-night triumph here two years ago, national and local scandals have polluted the political atmosphere for GOP candidates.”
The national political mood does not usually feed into local corruption stories as is evidenced in the New Jersey Senate race. Speculation is growing that for the second straight Senatorial election New Jersey Democrats may have to replace their candidate. (In 2002, Frank Lautenberg replaced Sen. Robert Torricelli on the ballot after “The Torch” was implicated in a campaign finance scandal with a Chinese businessman.) Sen. Bob Menendez, locked in a tight race against State Sen. Tom Kean, Jr., is already under investigation for allegedly collecting $300,000 from a Union City nonprofit while providing the nonprofit with millions of dollars in government contracts. Today, Menendez dropped his closest political advisor who “was secretly recorded seven years ago boasting of political power and urging a Hudson County contractor to hire someone as a favor to Menendez”. Menendez, who was tapped to fill the seat when Jon Corzine won the 2005 gubernatorial election, has fallen behind in recent polls.
Another tight Senate race is facing the effects of local corruption scandals. In Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (D-Tenn.) is hitting his opponent former Chattanooga mayor and real estate developer Bob Corker over a real estate deal that destroyed an environmental easement to build a Wal-Mart shopping center. Prognosticators had initially predicted that Ford would be the candidate to face ethics charges with his uncle facing bribery charges and the long political history of his family. Unfortunately for Tennessee Republicans they failed to realize that real estate developers almost always are involved in something shady. Ford, unexpectedly, has pulled ahead of Corker in the polls.
Luckily, Senate Republicans do not have to worry about the potential disaster that a continued Jeanine Pirro challenge to Sen. Hillary Clinton would have been. Pirro, who flopped as Senate candidate and is now running to replace Elliot Spitzer as NY AG, is “under investigation for allegedly attempting to hire disgraced nominee for head of Homeland Security, Bernard Kerik, to allegedly record her husband having sex aboard his boat with a woman she is allegedly recorded as calling a good friend of hers”. Now that would have been a midterm election scandal to remember. Too bad it’s an AG race.