Skip to main content
ABC News
What Happened and Why?

The outcome of all seven contests that we were tracking tonight appears settled, or very nearly so:

Virginia Governor: Republican Bob McDonnell wins by 17 points, toward the upper end of the range predicted by the pollsters, although not to anybody’s great surprise. Democrats had major turnout problems here; exit polls show that the electorate which turned out in Virginia supported McCain in last year’s election 51-43, almost exactly the opposite of the actual margin. But Deeds also appears to have been the weaker candidate. The electorate was roughly spit on approval of Obama, but 20 percent of those who approved Obama nevertheless voted for McDonnell, while just 5 percent of those who disapproved Obama voted for Deeds.

New Jersey Governor: Republican Chris Christie wins 49-45. We had (somewhat tentatively) characterized the race as leaning Christie on the basis of superior enthusiasm and the incumbent rule. Corzine never polled at better than 44 percent in any individual poll of the race. It looked for a time like 44 or 45 percent might nevertheless have been enough to win him the election, but support for the third party candidate Chris Daggett collapsed, leaving him exposed.

Obama approval was actually pretty strong in New Jersey, at 57 percent, but 27 percent of those who approved of Obama nevertheless voted for someone other than Corzine. This one really does appear to be mostly about Corzine being an unappealing candidate, as the Democrats look like they’ll lose just one or two seats in the state legislature in Trenton. Corzine compounded his problems by staying negative until the bitter end of the campaign rather than rounding out his portfolio after having closed the margin with Christie.

NY-23: Democrat Bill Owens prevails in a result that will be regarded as surprising; the final tally isn’t in yet but it appears as though it will be something on the order of 50-45 over Conservative Doug Hoffman. I don’t think I’ve ever hedged more on predicting the outcome of a race; the main issue is that there was a rather large discrepancy between the polling, which heavily favored Hoffman, and what I perceived to be the facts on the ground. NY-23 is solidly Republican but not especially conservative (it voted for Barack Obama last year), and Hoffman was a relatively uncharismatic candidate with poor command of the local issues.

If New Jersey was a win for the incumbent rule, then NY-23 may have ben a win for the Median voter theorem, as Owens — a conservative Democrat — was actually much closer to the average ideology of the district than the capital-C Conservative Hoffman. It was also a reminder that all politics is local (sometimes). More than 95 percent of Hoffman’s contributions came from out-of-district, and the conservative activists who tried to brand him as a modern-day Jefferson Smith never bothered to check whether he resonated particularly well with the zeitgeist of the district. In any event, this is a Democratic takeover of a GOP-held seat and they expand by one their majority in the House.

CA-10: California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi has been declared the winner. His lead as of this writing is 10 points, almost exactly matching the margin in the only poll of the race, but smaller than the margins by which retiring incumbent Ellen Tauscher had grown accustomed to winning. Both sides will breathe a bit of a sigh of relief here: Democrats for avoiding an embarrassingly close result — although 10 points is closer than it “should” have been — and Republicans for not having to second-guess themselves for their decision not to put money into the race.

Maine — Question 1. Maine votes Yes on Question 1 — which means no on gay marriage — by a margin of about 52-48. Turnout was extremely high and should eventually surpass 500,000 voters, about where it was during the 2006 midterms. This fact was initially thought to favor the pro-gay marriage side — but, obviously, it didn’t. The results showed a very strong urban-rural divide, with the initiative being rejected by a margin of about 2:1 in Portland but racking up big margins in smaller towns and rural areas, especially in the north of the state.

We had given Question 1 about a 70 percent chance of being defeated based on a combination of an analysis of the polling and a statistical model. I don’t know how much time I’m supposed to spend defending being on the wrong side of a 70:30 bet — we build in a hedge for a reason — but here comes a little self-reflection. As for the polling, I think we have to seriously consider whether there is some sort of a Bradley Effect in the polling on gay rights issues, although one of the pollsters (PPP, which had a very bad night in NY-23) got it exactly right. As for the model, I think I’ll need to look whether the urban-rural divide is a significant factor in a state in addition to its religiosity: Maine is secular, but rural. At the end of the day, it may have been too much to ask of a state to vote to approve gay marriage in an election where gay marriage itself was the headline issue on the ballot. Although the enthusiasm gap is very probably narrowing, feelings about gay marriage have traditionally been much stronger on the right than the left, and that’s what gets people up off the couch in off-year elections.

I certainly don’t think the No on 1 campaign can be blamed; by every indication, they ran a tip-top operation whereas the Yes on 1 folks were amateurish. But this may not be an issue where the campaign itself matters very much; people have pretty strong feelings about the gay marriage issue and are not typically open to persuasion. There’s going to be an effort by many on the left to blame Barack Obama for his lack of leadership on gay rights issues; I think the criticism is correct on its face, but I don’t know how much it has to do with the defeat in Maine. A more popular Democratic governor, for instance, who had been a bit quicker on the trigger in his support of gay marriage, might have helped more.

Washington — Referendum 71: Moreover, it actually wasn’t all that bad an election for gay folks. Sources differ as to whether the race has officially been called or not, but it appears that Referendum 71, which expands domestic partner rights to an everything-except-marriage standard in Washington, will be Approved. The initiative leads by only about 22,000 votes right now, but about a third of the outstanding vote is from Seattle’s King County, which supports it heavily. I wonder to what extent measures like Referendum 71, which is sort of a separate-but-equal compromise on the gay marriage question, will come to be seen as an acceptable alternative by either side.

New York City — Mayor: Mike Bloomberg wins a third term, but the margin is stunningly close — just five points over Democratic rival Bill Thompson. Looking at the exit polling, however, I actually think the interpretation of this race is relatively straightforward. Voters in the exit poll approved of Bloomberg’s performance 70-29, but a quarter of those who approved of Bloomberg voted against him anyway. Why? Because 58 percent of voters said that Bloomberg’s decision to change the city’s term limits law to enable him to seek a third term was a significant factor in their vote, and those voters broke against him 2:1.

Everybody’s talking about reverberations here in New York City, although it’s not exactly clear what they’ll be, since most people are perfectly satisfied with Bloomberg’s job performance. One of the more obvious ones is that you may see a high profile Democrat, perhaps someone from the Congress, running for this seat in 2013.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.