As mentioned above, there are two special congressional elections today in Ohio and Virginia. Both are GOP-held seats, NBC's Doug Adams notes, and Republicans are favored to win them. But if a Democrat wins either one, it could be a telling development heading into 2008.
The Ohio seat opened up when Rep. Paul Gillmor (R) died in a fall at his apartment in September, and today's race pits state Rep. Bob Latta (R) and Robin Weirauch (D), who lost to Gillmor in 2004 and 2006. The district leans Republican -- Bush got about 60% here in 2000 and 2004, although Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) carried it last year -- but the DCCC decided to get involved and has spent about $250,000. The cash-strapped NRCC and the GOP interest group Freedom's Watch responded with their own help. "As bad as it is for Republicans [to have to spend money in this district], it would be worse if they lost it," nonpartisan political analyst Stu Rothenberg tells First Read.
Latta is a longtime state legislator, and his father (Del Latta) served in Congress for three decades, representing this very district. Latta is a staunch conservative: He opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, backs tax cuts, and has been vocal about illegal immigration in this campaign. Weirauch, meanwhile, has made domestic issues like opposing trade pacts and clean energy the focus of her campaign. She also strongly opposes the war, and Democrats have used past GOP scandals in Ohio (remember Tom Noe, Bob Taft, and Coingate – which helped topple Ohio Republicans last year?) to hammer Latta. As a result, Rothenberg says, this race might have more to do with last year than next year. "Right now, that election is more of a postscript on 2006 than a preview of 2008." Still, Rothenberg expects Latta to pull out a victory. Polls open in Ohio at 6:30 am ET and close at 7:30 pm ET.
The open seat in Virginia became vacant when Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R) died in October after a long battle with breast cancer. Republican state legislator Rob Wittman is a moderate, favoring bringing the troops home but not immediately. He's also a strong environmentalist, having spent years as an environmental health specialist for local and state health agencies. The Democrat is Paul Forgit, a Navy reservist who won a Bronze Star in 2005 while serving in Iraq. This is Forgit's first run at elected office.
The bottom line: Wittman is probably going to keep the seat in GOP hands. Turnout will be key, but Bush won this district with 60% in 2004. As one analyst put it, "This may be the election where we see what happens when you have an election and no one comes." Polls open in Virginia at 6:00 am ET and close at 7:00 pm ET.