Elections Pose First Test for Parties After U.S. Shutdown

Voters today select mayors in New York, Boston and Detroit, governors in New Jersey and Virginia, and decide ballot issues in six states in the biggest test for the parties since the Tea Party-led U.S. government shutdown.

In New York, Bill de Blasio is poised to become the first Democrat since 1993 to lead the nation’s most populous city, while Boston will have its first new mayor in 20 years. Detroit is picking a new leader amid bankruptcy and state control. The Virginia governor’s race has become a proxy for the fight between national parties, while Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is favored for a second term ahead of a possible 2016 presidential run.

Politicos are watching for what today’s so-called off-year election may portend for congressional balloting next year, especially after the government’s 16-day partial closing last month raised questions about the direction of the Republican Party, exposing a split with business interests.

“There is always a tendency to try to read into off-year elections more than they are, but they often do provide insights that are important,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Connecticut, said in a telephone interview. “There clearly is information about how the Republican Party goes forward.”

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In Virginia, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, 56, campaigned two days before the election with President Barack Obama. He has sought to associate his Republican opponent, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, with the Tea Party and the 16-day government shutdown that affected federal workers in Virginia.

Cuccinelli, 45, who filed a suit designed to stop the 2010 Affordable Care Act the day Obama signed it, has linked McAuliffe to the law and its troubled roll-out.

In New Jersey, polls show Christie, 51, heading to a clear victory in a Democratic-leaning state over challenger Barbara Buono, 60, who has accused Christie of being more focused on a presidential run in three years than a second term. He was 28 percentage points ahead in the latest poll.

In another lopsided race, New York Public Advocate de Blasio, 52, has held a lead of about 40 percentage points in polls over Republican Joseph Lhota, 59, a top aide to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. They are competing to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, who is barred from a fourth term.

While Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 6-to-1 in New York, voters haven’t elected a Democrat as mayor since 1989, when David Dinkins beat Giuliani. De Blasio is campaigning against income inequality and calling for higher taxes on the rich.

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In Detroit, former hospital executive Mike Duggan, 55, faces Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, 58, for the right to succeed Mayor Dave Bing, who didn’t seek a second term. The winner will take office with the city in a record $18 billion U.S. municipal bankruptcy and under the control of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. Duggan, who has led in polls, would be the first white mayor since 1974 in a city where 83 percent of residents are black.

Massachusetts state Representative Martin J. Walsh and City Councilor John R. Connolly are vying to replace Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the city’s longest-serving chief executive, who declined to seek a sixth term because of his health. Walsh, 46, and Connolly, 40, both Democrats, beat 10 other candidates in the Sept. 24 primary to run in Tuesday’s nonpartisan election.

Voters in 312 U.S. cities with populations ranging from 8.2 million in New York City to 12,950 in Fairburn, Georgia, are selecting a mayor today, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington.

Poll Watching

In other votes:

-- Coloradoans are deciding whether to impose taxes of as much as 25 percent on the retail sale of the marijuana, legalized there last year. Voters in Broomfield, Lafayette, Fort Collins and Boulder also are considering bans or moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing.

-- New York would become the most populous U.S. state with Las Vegas-style casinos on non-Indian land if voters approve a constitutional amendment to allow as many as seven of them in the Catskills, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) northwest of Manhattan, and elsewhere upstate.

-- In Washington state, voters may require labels on genetically modified food including most raw agricultural commodities, processed foods and seeds. Washington would be the first U.S. state to require such labels.

-- Voters in Stockton, California, formerly the biggest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy prior to Detroit, will consider a proposed sales-tax increase that’s a key part of its plan to become solvent.

-- Across the country, voters will consider $18.6 billion of bonds for schools, hospitals and streets, less than half the 2007 record for an off-year election, showing officials’ reluctance to take on borrowing.