The more one digs into Tuesday’s election results, the worse they look for Democrats. Let’s start by reviewing once again the three high profile races: New York’s 23rd Congressional District special election, and the gubernatorial in New Jersey and Virginia.
The Democrats have to know that NY-23 was a fluke – they can’t count on gross Republican miscalculation in 2010. Meanwhile, Democratic efforts to write off the New Jersey and Virginia losses by blaming them on bad candidates simply don’t ring true.
In Virginia, Creigh Deeds was not a bad candidate. In the primary, despite being vastly outspent, he hammered the powerful Terry McAuliffe. He had the endorsement of the Washington Post, which argued that of three strong Democratic primary candidates, in the general election, “Deeds’ moderate platform would have the broadest appeal.” On liberal blog sites, Deeds was the overwhelming favorite as the best candidate, the one most likely to win the general election.
Jon Corzine was not a bad candidate, either – he could self-fund his race, an enormous advantage, and outspend any opponent 3 to 1, as he did to Chris Christie. He had been elected statewide twice before. What Corzine was, was a bad governor. And why was he a bad governor? Because he followed the same type of policies that the Democrats are now pursuing on a national level. Maybe someone will notice that.
It has been noted lately that the Democrats plan to hold on next fall is to go negative, and to do so early – to “vaporize” opponents, as Harry Reid says. But that is exactly what both Deeds and Corzine tried to do. Corzine, who won by 11 points in 2005, lost by 4 this year. Deeds, who lost to the same man in the attorney general race 4 years ago by fewer than 350 votes, this time lost by 18 percentage points. Meanwhile, President Obama embraced and campaigned with both men. Yet McDonnell won by the biggest margin for a Republican ever, and Christie by the largest margin for a Republican in 24 years. Thus, the Democrats’ two key strategies to hold on in 2010 (other than pray for a better economy) failed miserably – Obama couldn’t save them, and relentlessly negative campaigning couldn’t save them. These men were not bad candidates, as their past success and praise for them suggests – rather, they were running on bad issues in a time in which Democrats are increasingly blamed for the nation’s difficulties.
In the other Congressional special election, California’s 10th District, Lt. Governor John Garamendi won by 11 points after heavily outspending his opponent in a district won by his predecessor in 2008 by 34 points, in which Democrats have an 18 point edge in voter registration, and which Obama carried by 31 points. Not much to crow about.
Down ballot, in races for lower offices, including state legislatures and mayors, it gets worse. Republicans rolled to easy double digit victories in the Virginia Attorney General and Lt. Governor races. In the Lt. Governor’s race, Bill Bolling, who won by just 1 percent in 2005, won by 12 points. Republicans gained 6 seats (pending one recount) in the State Assembly, giving them a 61-37-2 majority. Republicans gained a seat in the New Jersey House. Republicans took control of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and won six of seven statewide races in the Keystone State. Republicans gained in the heavily populated New York City suburbs , taking control of both Westchester County and Nassau County for the first time in a decade. They even gained a couple seats on the New York City Council (in addition to the re-election of their sort-of Republican Mayor Bloomberg). In Michigan, in a special election for a state senate seat that had gone Democratic by 61-39 when it was last up in 2006, the Republican flipped the landslide around and won 61-36. Republicans also flipped a New Hampshire state house seat in a special election.
When the Republicans are rolling up victories in the northeast corridor and in Michigan, the Democrats have to be worried. But Republican successes weren’t limited to such recent Democratic stomping grounds. In liberal Washington state, a Republican captured 58 percent of the vote to win a state House seat controlled by Democrats for 22 years, and Republican candidates steamrolled to landslide victories to easily retain seats in two other special elections for state house.
We might also note that the Republicans picked up two Democratic seats in special elections last month, winning a previously Democratic state house seat with 63% of the vote in a special election in Tennessee last month, and also picking up a formerly Democrat held state house seat in Oklahoma.
Even in the safest of Democratic bastions, the Democrats underperformed. In a special state house election in Missouri, for example, Democrats held a safe Democratic seat with 61 percent of the vote. Sounds impressive, but in 2008, in what was also an open seat race, the Democrat carried the district with 69 percent of the vote . This year’s showing, in fact, was the worst for the Democrats in the district since at least 1994. Meanwhile, Republicans romped to victories in safe Republican state legislative seats in South Carolina, and two races in Georgia.
Democrats held most of their big city mayors, but Republicans did to as incumbent mayors did well throughout the country, in what were mostly non-partisan races. But a few offices changed party control, however, usually away from the Democrats, and many in the battleground Midwest and in the northeast, where the GOP is supposed to be dead.
Toledo elected independent Mike Bell, ending 20 years of Democratic control. An independent also defeated an incumbent Democrat in Dayton. Republicans picked up the Mayor’s office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In an open seat race in Manchester, New Hampshire, Republican Ted Gatsas kept the Mayor’s office in GOP hands with the best showing by a Republican in the city in more than a decade. In another open seat Mayor’s race, in Norwich, Connecticut, Republican Peter Nystrom easily won election to an office previously held by a Democrat. Republicans also won the Mayor’s office in Stamford for the first time since 1993, winning 55 percent of the vote in a city with a 2-1 Democratic edge in voter registration. A Republican ousted the Democrats from the Mayor’s office in Stratford, Connecticut, and the GOP picked up council seats throughout the state. You have to wonder if Chris Dodd was watching.
Republicans picked up Mayor’s offices out west, too. In a non-partisan race in Washington’s 4th largest city, Republican Tim Leavitt defeated labor-backed, 14 year incumbent Royce Pollard, saying, “My opponent seems to think government creates jobs. Creating jobs is done by the business community. Where government can help out is by getting out of the way.”
The Democrats did pick up one mayor’s office of note, in Charlotte, North Carolina, but Republicans returned the favor by taking the Mayor’s slot away from the Democrats in Greensboro. Democrats were left to find solace in such holding actions, such as not losing as many state assembly seats in New Jersey as they had thought they might.
Republicans ought not, and probably cannot, sit around and hope they can ride into office in 2010 merely on a bad economy and Democratic ineptitude. For one thing, the economy is resilient enough, and the Democrats and the Fed have thrown enough money into it, that the economy and the unemployment numbers should be improved and improving a year from now. We need to press forward with common sense solutions to everyday concerns, and be explaining now why the President’s economic policies are retarding, rather than helping, the economy to recover. And we should keep emphasizing the value of freedom. But we can’t just expect 2010 to fall into our laps. That said, Tuesday was a very good night for Republicans, and the more one looks at it, the harder it is for Democrats to claim otherwise.