NEWARK, N.J. — From rural Iowa to urban New York, voters across America will render judgment in a slate of political contests Tuesday.
The biggest: elections for governor in New Jersey and Virginia, where outcomes could highlight the Republican Party’s division between pragmatists and ideologues.
New York will elect a successor to Michael Bloomberg after 12 years in office, while Boston’s mayoral race pits white collar against blue collar, and Detroit’s spotlights the city’s bankruptcy — just three of the many mayoral contests from coast to coast.
Many observers will be looking to see if Tuesday’s contests provide any clues to political trends likely to influence next year’s larger fight for control of Congress. Turnout is expected to be low across the country, typical for elections held in years when the White House and Congress aren’t up for grabs.
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Polls suggest New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie likely will cruise to a second term over his little-known Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono. A potential presidential candidate, Christie could become the state’s first Republican to exceed 50 percent of the vote in a statewide election in 25 years. A Republican victory in a Democratic-leaning state also could stoke the notion within part of the GOP that a pragmatic approach is the answer to the party’s national woes.
To the south, a defeat of a conservative Republican in the swing-voting state of Virginia also could feed into that argument.
Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who comes from the party’s right flank and promotes his role as the first state attorney general to challenge the health-care overhaul, is struggling against former national Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe, and polls suggest that Cuccinelli could lose. He has been hurt both by the government shutdown, for which Republicans are bearing most of the blame, and by a political scandal involving accusations of lavish gift-giving by a political supporter to Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family.
A McAuliffe victory would break a three-decade-long trend: Virginia has elected a governor from the party not occupying the White House in every gubernatorial election since 1977.
One obscure race is an unlikely arena for the larger ideological battle between right and left.
In Coralville, Iowa, population 19,000, the national tea-party ally Americans for Prosperity is saturating mailboxes and telephone lines to support conservative candidates for City Council as the area struggles to control its debt.
The outside group, backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, spent $36 million last year mostly supporting Republican candidates and attacking Democrats in the presidential and U.S. Senate races. In Iowa, the group is showing that no race is too small to fight government spending.
The issues extend beyond public debt in Colorado, where voters will decide on a tax rate for marijuana, a suggested 25 percent tax to fund school construction, and regulation of the newly legal drug. Also, 11 counties in northern and eastern Colorado were taking nonbinding votes on secession to create a new state.
Mayors will be elected in some of the nation’s largest cities.
In New York, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is the heavy favorite, with polls suggesting that he’s on the verge of being the first Democrat to be elected mayor since 1989.
De Blasio, an unabashed liberal, positioned himself as a clean break with the Bloomberg years, promoting a sweeping progressive agenda and emphasizing the income inequality so visible in that city. He faces Republican rival Joe Lhota, former head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a one-time deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani. Lhota has largely campaigned on continuing the policies of both his former boss and Bloomberg.
In Boston, it’s a race of blue-collar Democrat against white-collar Democrat as state Rep. Martin Walsh and City Councilor John Connolly vie for the chance to succeed longtime Mayor Thomas Menino.
Walsh, a union laborer before being elected to the state House, has highlighted his life story, including surviving cancer as a boy and overcoming alcoholism as a young adult. Connolly, a corporate attorney, has focused on education issues. Polls suggest the race will be close.
Detroit may feature the nation’s most unusual contest. Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and former Detroit Medical Center chief Mike Duggan are competing for a mayor’s title that will have little immediate power as the debt-ridden metropolis is guided through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history by a state-appointed emergency manager.
One of the top remaining issues for both candidates: Who can work better under the thumb of the state turnaround expert, who will continue to run the show for at least another year.