If Republicans sweep all three of the high-profile elections today, Virginia Governor, New Jersey Governor, and NY-23, we’ll no doubt hear much speculation on what that means for the Obama Administration. However, I don’t think that you can look at all three races as if they were one referendum on the Obama Presidency. Each one has it’s own local characteristics that, in some cases, outweigh whatever concerns voters may have about national issues in general or President Obama in particular.
As I argued in my column last week at Pajamas Media, for example, the Virginia Governor’s race has more to do with the fact that Bob McDonnell is just a better candidate than what Virginians think of Barack Obama:
Many pundits will draw national implications from what happens in Virginia on Election Day, and Democrats would do well to take notice that a state which went for a Democratic president last year is poised to overwhelmingly vote for a Republican for governor one year later. This race isn’t really a referendum on the Obama presidency, though. It’s confirmation of the fact that Republicans in purple states like Virginia can win if they concentrate on the issues that matter to voters.
And that’s a lesson that Republicans nationwide could stand to learn.
In New Jersey, though, it’s pretty clear that Barack Obama’s popularity will play a key role in Jon Corzine’s fate:
TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey’s candidates for governor darted through the state on the last day of a campaign being billed as a vote on President Obama’s popularity.
Obama has made five appearances in New Jersey to make his case for fellow Democrat Jon S. Corzine, the only governor seeking reelection, who is facing a tough challenge from Republican Chris Christie, a former prosecutor.
Republicans have not won statewide in New Jersey in a dozen years. Polls show the race as a tossup heading into Tuesday, and a Christie victory would sting the president in a state he carried by 15 percentage points a year ago.
The race will come down to whether Democrats can mobilize a significant turnout, particularly in cities, and whether voters who say they support Daggett stick with the independent despite his long odds, said Joseph Marbach, dean of arts and sciences at Seton Hall University in South Orange.
Obama urged 11,000 cheering supporters Sunday in Newark to give Corzine the same level of commitment they gave him.
“We will not lose this election if all of you are as committed as you were last year,” Obama said at the rally, the second of two appearances on Corzine’s behalf Sunday. “If you will let your voices shine through, you will not only reelect Jon Corzine, you will put New Jersey on a path for success for another four years.”
In fact, Obama has invested a lot more time, and a lot more of his credibility, in the outcome in New Jersey than he has in Virginia — largely because it became pretty clear by September that Creigh Deeds was doomed, no doubt — so a loss in the Garden State would certainly be a more clear rebuke of him and his policies than a loss in the Old Dominion.
In New York’s 23rd Congressional District, the situation is a bit different. This is a district that’s been Republican for a long time, so a win by Doug Hoffman — who is a Republican although he’s running on the Conservative line — arguably wouldn’t be that big of a surprise. At the same time, the Democratic Party has invested a lot of resources into the Bill Owens campaign, including a trip there yesterday by Vice-President Biden, and no less a person than Bill Clinton has already bestowed referendum status on the race:
Former president Bill Clinton, apparently straying from the White House line, even used the R-word in a fundraising appeal for Owens: “With the world watching, this race will be seen as a referendum on President Obama’s agenda.”
If all the GOP comes out of today with are wins in Virginia and NY-23, it will be hard to see the outcome as a referendum on Obama. If we see a sweep, though, then it’s pretty clear what the buzz will be come Wednesday morning. What impact that would have on the President’s agenda is anyone’s guess.