The Republican victory in the Virginia and New Jersey Governor races provided an important clue to the Obama administration about the mood of the American people. Demographic information about the voting results in both states showed clearly that the independent voters who overwhelming helped elect Obama last year decided that the Democratic choices even though heavily financed by the party and provided with Obama’s support did not reflect their positions on the economy, the role of government and the size of the deficits.
The Virginia contest was a landslide drubbing of Creigh Deeds and the Democrats who held the Governor’s chair for the last 8 years and hold both senatorial seats. When the Commonwealth went for Obama last year for the 1st time in 44 years, commentators noted it as a seismic shift away from Republican political positions and conservatism. After last night’s vote, the shift back was clear. In Northern Virginia in particular which is exposed to more political news than any other region in the country if only because of its proximity to the Capitol, the voters that strongly supported Obama turned away from Deeds even though Obama campaigned for him.
The result in New Jersey may be the clearest omen for Obama and the Democrats that the population even in a Democratic stronghold like New Jersey is not buying the story line that liberal politics will solve the state’s and the country’s fiscal problems. Jon Corzine, the incumbent, leaned heavily on the President to change the poll ratings which showed that he trailed his opponent, Chris Christie. Obama came to the state several times and announced that Corzine was the right man for the “change” the President has promised. He told the crowds that he needed Corzine to help make the changes that were needed a reality. The voters felt otherwise. Corzine was very unpopular for the very same policy reasons that Obama’s policies are proving unpopular. He raised taxes, especially property taxes, in one of the highest taxed states in the nation, and he failed to halt programs that grew the size and cost of government. The results also showed that money cannot buy victory. Corzine with his substantial personal wealth and financial backing of his party out spent Christie by a 2 to 1 advantage. Financial strength, presidential backing and a big liberal voter base could not help an unpopular and ineffective incumbent keep his seat.
While the Republicans will make the most of the outcome and view it as the best example that voters want smaller government, less bureaucracy and no tax increase – direct or indirect ones, the Democrats will feel good about their victory in New York’s 23rd congressional district which has been a traditional GOP bastion. Voters in this large district have had Republican representatives in Congress since the Civil War. The result, however, was tainted by the ineptitude and infighting with the Republican national and state leadership over who was the best candidate. At the last minute, the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, withdrew and threw her support to the Democratic candidate. Democrats can also point to a trend over the last 20 years for the party winning the White House to lose the gubernatorial races in both states the following year.
The potential implication of Tuesday results will be quickly in view during the upcoming debate about the health and cap and trade bills that have been strongly endorsed by the Obama administration. Democrats even in red states will have to be careful in judging the mood and viewpoint of their voters as they determine if and to what degree to support this and other legislation that will impact the size of government and likely increase the deficit.
Overall it was a bad night for Obama and the democrats, but they still control by wide majorities both houses of Congress. Time will tell for how long.