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Governors' races end on November 2nd, unless they don't

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October 30, 2010

The Deep South sees little reason to call it a campaign just because Election Day is past.

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Sleep deprived campaign staffers and voters exasperated with the deluge of campaign ads may be looking forward to the end of the election season, but in some gubernatorial races, it may be too soon to schedule that vacation.

Florida, where Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink are commanding obsessive national media attention, drawing massive sums from their party's respective Governors Associations, and broadcasting every event of the campaign to an election weary nation, could be gearing up to make the 2010 gubernatorial race a repeat of the 2000 Bush v. Gore case.

If Election Day goes at all like polls are indicating, then Florida could be in for another recount. With redistricting set to beign in 2011 and most experts on the Electoral College expecting Florida, already the 4th biggest state, to gain two more Congressional seats, neither side would be holding anything back in a recount battle.

Aside from driving voters to distraction, the enormous focus on Florida could also be generating a lot of 'noise' in forecasts and statistical models, making it even harder to know if there will be a narrow, but, definite, victory, or a dreaded recount.

Sunshine State voters are being polled every day and the flood of information has forecasts changing by the hour. If this year has a contest that could trigger fist fights among race trackers, Florida might just do it. Native Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog recently moved the race from having the slightest Republican cast to barely favoring the Democrats.[1] RealClearPolitics, who aggregate and weights polls to give an overall edge in races, calls Florida a tie. Their exhuastive list of polls shows that neither Sink nor Scott has had a double digit lead since August 9th.[2]

Most race trackers, either from an unwillingness to call the race and be proved wrong or from a genuine lack of any reason to favor one candidates, still have Florida listed as a "toss-up." The Cook Political Report, Congressional Quarterly Politics, and the Rothenberg Political Report have all had Florida in the "toss-up" category for the duration of the election season. Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball, making its final calls on October 28th, pegged the race as Leaning Republican after having it as a "toss-up" for much of the summer and fall.[3]

Rasmussen Reports, which tends to give the GOP a one-to-two point edge in polls and which also tends to move races more frequently than other trackers, moved the race twice. From September 23rd to October 1st and again from October 18th to the 28th, Florida was placed in the "Leans GOP" category, largely on the strength of Rasmussen's own polls. Currently, Rasmussen has the race back as a "toss-up."[4]

While Florida's race is so tight that it's hard to tell who would even have the initial win going into a hypothetical recount, another state likely knows who will win. It's just that the margin is likely to be so small that it will trigger a runoff.

Not far away, in Georgia, the aftermath of Election Day could be even meaner. The Republicans are expected to win, but they may have an extra round of fighting to do so. The respective Democratic and GOP nominees, Roy E. Barnes and Nathan Deal, are both career politicians with enough baggage to keep the political and tabloid pages busy. Barnes has already served one term as Georgia's governor and is seeking his old job back. Deal resigned his Congressional seat to put all his energy behind a gubernatorial bid.

The latter initially lost his primary to Karen Handel, Georgia's former Secretary of State and a Sarah Palin endorsed Mama Grizzly. However, Handel's margin was small enough to trigger a runoff election. She lost to Deal, again by a margin small enough that, had she wished, Handel could have demanded a recount. Stating a need for Georgia to know its nominees and get on with the campaign, Handel declined to do so. The same law that triggered the post-Primary runoff applies in the General Election.

For months, Deal and Barnes have attacked each other endlessly and series of ethical flaps have begun to slow down Deal's momentum is a race still favorable to the Republicans. At the time he resigned his seat in the House of Representatives, Deal was under ethical investigation in Congress. Since then, four more formal charges of ethical violations have been brought against him and his personal financial situation has raised questions of the wisdom of putting him in charge of an entire state's budget.[5]

He leads Barnes in most polls but cannot break the 50% threshold, leading analysts to predict a possible runoff after the Election.[6] If it happens, the runoff will be on November 30th, meaning Georgia would have four more weeks of campaigning. Democrats who need to hold down their losses and who are hungry for the symbolic victory of winning a reliably Republican state would inundate the state with money and support. The GOP would be equally motivated to avoid the embarrassment of such a loss. Their strategy would also have to consider that extending the race by a month would allow more time for the ethical clouds around Deal to catch up with him.

In 2008, a three-way Senate race denied Senator Saxby Chambliss a clear victory by mere inches. The resulting runoff brought Sarah Palin, along with former President Bill Clinton, to the state. That year, Republicans were desperate to get any wins they could and the threat of losing Chambliss' Congressional seniority upped their stake in the race. This time around, the Democrats are facing a worse electoral landscape than their opponents did two years ago. Looming redistricting gives them an added reason to hold nothing back. On top of it all, both sides know that Deal presents weaknesses and openings for attacks that are unlikely to come around again anytime soon.

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