Fixed terms in the United States mean elections every year on the day
after the first Monday in November. Most of the action is in the
even-numbered years – congress every second year, the presidency every
fourth year, and most states in the same cycle – but there are always
some races worth watching in the off years. Last night saw voting for
governors in New Jersey and Virginia, mayor of New York, referenda in
California and a host of local elections across the country.

The hunt for national implications focuses mostly on the two governor’s
races. Virginia is a conservative state that hasn’t supported a Democrat presidential
candidate since 1964, but state elections are much more even. The
retiring governor is a Democrat – Mark Warner, seen as a possible
presidential candidate –- and the contest is between his deputy, Tim
Kaine, and the Republican challenger Jerry Kilgore.

Polls show them to be neck and neck. As The New York Times
points out, for the last seven elections Virginia has elected a
governor of the opposite party to the sitting president, so Democrats
will be hoping the trend holds.

New Jersey also looks close, with
polls showing Democrat Jon Corzine narrowly ahead of Republican Doug
Forrester. Both candidates are multi-millionaires, and the campaign has
been extravagant even by American standards. It has also been incredibly
dirty, with the candidates trading sexual allegations in their last
televised debate, and the Republicans running a campaign ad featuring
Corzine’s ex-wife. It’s been all downhill for New Jersey in this respect
since previous governor Jim McGreevey resigned last year after
confessing to an affair with his (male) security adviser.

In California, voters will decide eight referendum questions, including three
proposed by governor Schwarzenegger and a fourth supported by him.
Schwarzenegger is trying to regain the initiative from the
Democrat-controlled legislature, but his poll ratings have been in
free-fall and his prospects don’t look good.

The New York mayoral race is the most one-sided of the lot: incumbent billionaire Republican
Michael Bloomberg is set for a landslide victory against Democrat
Fernando Ferrer. But since Bloomberg is a very atypical Republican – as
he has to be, to win in an overwhelmingly Democrat city – no-one thinks
there will be any lessons to draw for the national scene.