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A Republican victory won’t erase party’s problems

GOP still faces divisions, woes as base shrinks

Chris Christie, Republican candidate for New Jersey governor, spoke to residents at a senior housing center yesterday. Chris Christie, Republican candidate for New Jersey governor, spoke to residents at a senior housing center yesterday. (Hiroko Masuike/ Getty Images)
By Liz Sidoti
Associated Press / November 3, 2009

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WASHINGTON - For Republicans, an election win of any size today would be a blessing. But victories in Virginia, New Jersey, or elsewhere won’t erase enormous obstacles the party faces heading into a 2010 midterm election year when control of Congress and statehouses from coast to coast will be up for grabs.

Republicans still have a long way to go because of their party’s own fundamental problems - divisions over the path forward, the lack of a national leader, and a shrinking base in a changing nation.

The GOP would overcome none of those hurdles should Republican Bob McDonnell win the Virginia governor’s race, Chris Christie emerge victorious in the New Jersey governor’s contest, or conservative Doug Hoffman triumph in a hotly contested special congressional election in upstate New York.

Still, one or more wins would give the Republicans a jolt, and a reason to rally in the coming months. Victories certainly would help with grassroots fund-raising and candidate recruiting. And they might just be enough to reinvigorate a party that controlled Washington through much of this decade, only to lose control of Congress in 2006 and then the White House in 2008.

Viewed from the other side, a GOP sweep would be a setback for Democrats. It could be seen as a negative measure of President Obama’s standing and could signal trouble ahead as he seeks to get moderate Democratic lawmakers behind his legislative agenda and protect Democratic majorities in Congress next fall.

Yesterday, New Jersey’s candidates for governor darted through the state on the last day of a campaign being billed as a vote on Obama’s popularity. Obama has made five appearances in New Jersey to make his case for Jon Corzine, the only Democratic governor seeking reelection, who is facing a tough challenge from Christie, a former prosecutor.

Republicans have not won statewide in New Jersey in a dozen years. Polls show the race a tossup heading into today, and a victory would sting the president in a state he carried by 15 percentage points a year ago. Third-party candidate Chris Daggett, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, could influence the outcome.

While Obama urged 11,000 cheering supporters Sunday to give Corzine the same level of commitment given him, Christie has also sought to tap into Obama’s support, suggesting that he is the candidate who will bring change to New Jersey.

The only other governor’s race this year, in Virginia, appears to be headed for a Republican victory.

Proof of the GOP divide is in the special election in New York’s 23d Congressional District. Potential 2012 presidential hopefuls trying to solidify their conservative credentials, Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty, endorsed Hoffman, a conservative third-party upstart, over the GOP-chosen candidate, moderate Dierdre Scozzafava.

Badly trailing in polls, she dropped out over the weekend and - in a slap at the GOP - endorsed Democrat Bill Owens.

While downplaying whether today’s races are a referendum on Obama, the White House is suggesting that the New York race shows that hard-liners are taking over the GOP and that the trend will affect the 2010 elections. Indeed, there are similar tensions in Senate primaries in Florida, California, and elsewhere, where conservatives are challenging establishment-backed candidates.

At an Owens rally yesterday in Watertown, N.Y., Vice President Joe Biden said conservatives’ view is narrow and a reflection of failed Bush-Cheney policies, espousing a philosophy that “you are either absolutely right or morally wrong.’’

“We need to bring people together, not divide them,’’ Biden said. “This is a place . . . where people have strong views but not closed minds.’’