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Election results hearten Republicans, deal blow to Obama

New Jersey Governor-elect Chris Christie
REUTERS/Jeff Zelevansky
New Jersey Governor-elect Chris Christie greets supporters before delivering his victory speech in Parsippany, New Jersey, Tuesday.

WASHINGTON — Republicans won two big races Tuesday – the governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey – in a rebuke to the Democratic Party and a blow to President Barack Obama.

Though most voters in both states said in exit polls the election was not a referendum on the Democratic president, the result sends a warning to moderate Democrats nationwide concerned about their reelection chances next year. That could deal a blow to Mr. Obama’s ambitious agenda, foremost healthcare reform and energy legislation, amid continuing high unemployment.

In one bright spot for Democrats, the party’s candidate won the special election for the House seat in New York’s 23rd district – a takeover of a historically Republican seat. It was a wild contest, marked by dissension within the national GOP, as conservatives effectively drove the Republican nominee out of the race for not being conservative enough.

In the long run, Democrats might actually have preferred that the Conservative candidate win, as it would have emboldened conservatives nationally to take on moderate Republicans in districts and states where the moderate may be a better fit. But for the short term, the victory of Democrat Bill Owens in NY-23 provided the one bright spot in a gloomy night for the party.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s unexpectedly narrow win for reelection to a third term, in which he spent $100 million of his own money, highlighted another theme of the evening: It was a bad night for incumbents. That warning shot, just a year after Obama won on a promise of change that favored Democratic candidates, puts incumbent candidates of both parties on notice for next year. But Democrats, who currently enjoy big majorities in the House and Senate, have more to lose.

The GOP sweep of statewide races in Virginia, in which the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general all went to Republicans, marked a sharp turn from a year ago. Then, Barack Obama put the state in the Democratic column for the first time in a presidential race since 1964. On Tuesday, Republican Bob McDonnell beat Democrat Creigh Deeds by a whopping 18 percentage points, returning the state to GOP control for the first time in eight years. The Republicans also picked up seats in the state legislature.

In New Jersey, incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine lost his bid for reelection against Republican Chris Christie, in a heavily Democratic state. Mr. Christie, a former US attorney, won with a plurality 49 percent of the vote, versus 45 percent for Governor Corzine and 6 percent for independent Chris Daggett. Voters in that race told exit pollsters that the economy and jobs were the No. 1 issue, followed by high property taxes. But in a sign that Mr. Christie has his work cut out for him, a majority of voters said they did not believe any of the three candidates had a workable plan to lower property taxes. New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the country.

In general, the economic anxieties of New Jersey and Virginia voters showed Obama and the Democrats that they could face a stiff headwind next November. Though important indicators show an economy on the mend, unemployment approaching 10 percent – and likely to get worse before it gets better – dominates public consciousness.

“Vast economic discontent marked the mood of Tuesday’s off-year voters, portending potential trouble for incumbents generally and Democrats in particular in 2010,” wrote ABC News pollster Gary Langer in an exit poll analysis. “Still, the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey looked less like a referendum on Barack Obama than a reflection of their own candidates and issues.”

In Virginia, 48 percent of voters said they approve of Obama’s job performance. In New Jersey, that number is 57 percent. Nationally, Obama’s job approval rating averages just above 50 percent in major polls.

But Obama’s personal popularity was not enough to carry either Democrat across the finish line in either state. In New Jersey, in particular, Obama put his own prestige on the line by making last-minute appearances with Corzine, to no avail. In Virginia, Mr. Deeds distanced himself from Obama at times, which dampened enthusiasm among voters who had flooded polling places a year ago to support Obama. Most tellingly, Deeds lost even in suburban Fairfax County, an increasingly Democratic stronghold. Deeds was generally seen as a weak candidate, who failed to articulate a clear, positive message for himself. McDonnell, in contrast, was well-spoken and disciplined, and did not allow the surfacing of his 20-year-old master’s thesis laying out ultraconservative social views to distract from his core economic message.

McDonnell effectively put to rest concerns about his views on women, by running TV ads featuring women who have worked for him over the years speaking positively about him. He also highlighted one of his daughters, who was a platoon leader in Iraq. In his master’s thesis, he said women who work outside the home harm families. He also laid out conservative views on abortion and birth control, but did not highlight his social positions in the campaign.

Already, analysts are touting McDonnell’s campaign style, demeanor, and message as a winning model for Republican candidates. In a party desperate for appealing, fresh faces who could play well on the national stage, McDonnell is a figure to watch. If he succeeds as governor in what is now a swing state, watch for Republicans to start mentioning him as possible presidential material – not in 2012, when he will be finishing his term, but in 2016. Virginia governors are allowed to serve only one term.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/04/2009 - 10:53 am.

    World reaction to Democrat SmackDown

    ….My favorite?

    “Obama Gets Run Over by the Change Bus”


  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/04/2009 - 04:56 pm.

    Perhaps the GOP simply had the better candidates.

  3. Submitted by Morgan Matthews on 11/04/2009 - 09:33 pm.

    I think it was Truman who said something like, “If you run as a Republican against a Republican, the real Republican will win.” If he didn’t, he should have. And Obama and the Democrats should take heed. They were elected to end the wars, put the finance industry back into its box, to stop running the country exclusively for corporate interests, lessen the gap between rich and poor, fix health care, improve our foreign relations, etc. I see little to no movement from them in these directions. Corzine was a poor candidate and Deeds was even worse. And no Democrat will win with the party itself trying to be what Republicans were 30 years ago. We should expect to see much more of this next year.

  4. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 11/05/2009 - 06:33 am.

    As I forecast on this website numerous times, the American people rose up and crushed the Obamination on Tuesday. The August movement in America is similar to the rebellion in Germany in 1989 which toppled the communist government there, and took down the Berlin Wall.

    Jon Corzine represents all the evil policies of the Obamination: Goldman Sachs, which runs the government (Larry Summers) and Wall Street (Tim Geithner) , ripped off billions in derivative casino bets, and took down the world’s most productive economy. Then this parasite: Corzine, spends his ill gotten millions in blood money to buy a Governor ship.

    Then Obama goes to New Jersey, and says “I need more Corzine to loot America”. And the liberal lap dogs Klobuchar, Franken, Ellison, and McCollum will follow him like lemmings off a cliff to oblivion in 2010.

    The three most insane policies in the history of the United States: 1) Obama’s Tarp, which he voted for in 2008, 2) Cap and Tax – an insane tax on energy during a global cooling period, and 3) obamacare, which will cut Medicare by $500 billion when millions more people need it during the economic depression.

  5. Submitted by Mike Haubrich on 11/05/2009 - 06:59 am.

    Right, Glenn. The people of Virginia and New Jersey have spoken for the nation, ousting an unpopular Gov. in New Jersey for a likable guy and in Virginia choosing a guy with spit and polish over a country bumpkin. And the guy in Virginia, despite his claims of a move to moderacy is at heart a Robertson-style Dominionist who thinks women should be at home, barefoot and preggers. We’ll see how high that wave crests next year.

    In the meantime, even the Republicans couldn’t stand the tea-bagger in New York 23rd, and choose a Democrat for the first time in decades.

    In 2010 you will find that crow tastes pretty good with lots of ketchup.

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