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Washington Week Ahead: Focus on State Elections, Gay Rights

  • Michael Bowman

While the Obama administration continues to play defense on the latest U.S. spying revelations and the technical failures of America’s newly implemented health care law, Washington is also focused on two state elections with national political implications.

Bordering Washington, Virginia picks a new governor Tuesday. Trailing in the polls is Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, a fierce critic of President Obama’s signature health care law.

“Obamacare represents one of the largest and most reckless expansions of government in the more than 200-year history of our nation,” he said.

The rhetoric echoes that of Republican lawmakers whose dogged opposition to Obamacare helped provoke last month’s partial U.S. government shutdown.

Some political observers would view a loss by Cuccinelli to Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe as a rebuke of the Republican Party as a whole -- and a possible indicator of trouble for the party in next year’s mid-term congressional elections.

Republican prospects are considerably brighter in New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie is expected to win reelection. Christie has not shied from national issues, and recently commented on U.S. spying activities.

“I have always felt like these programs are necessary and important but they have to have appropriate oversight,” he said.

Christie’s success in a traditionally Democratic-leaning state has drawn national attention -- and speculation he will run for president in 2016, a possibility the governor is not ruling out.

“We will see what happens,” Christie said.

Meanwhile, the issue of gay rights returns to Capitol Hill this week. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a bill to prevent employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The measure has the backing of majority Democrats as well as President Obama.

“We’re making clear to every senator who may be on the fence or may not have expressed support for it that we strongly believe that a ‘yes’ vote is the right vote on this legislation,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Should it pass the Senate, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act’s fate in the Republican-led House of Representatives is far from clear. In many U.S. states, gay people currently have no legal recourse if they are fired on the basis of sexual orientation.