America’s “permanent Democratic majority” ran smack into the economy’s apparent “new normal” of high unemployment and big deficits. Score one for the economy — and for Republicans.
Now the Democratic spin on losing the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey is this: All politics are local. A weak candidate in one state, an unpopular governor in the other. Plus voters are cranky about the economy.
No broader conclusions should be drawn. Now let’s move forward and go pass healthcare, OK, America?
But the political reality is not nearly that sunny for Democrats’ political fate or the Obama domestic agenda. Jon Corzine lost in deep-blue New Jersey — a state Candidate Obama won by nearly 15 percentage points — despite outspending Republican opponent Chris Christie by some three to one.
And not only did Republican Bob McDonnell lead a GOP landslide sweep of major offices in swing-state Virginia, his 344,000-vote victory came against an opponent he defeated by just 360 votes in 2005 for attorney general.
And it wasn’t just the bad economy. Yes, exit polls showed great voter anxiety about high unemployment. But also notice huge Republican margins among New Jersey and Virginia independents, voters traditionally suspicious of government spending and budget deficits. These are the sorts of folks who left the GOP in 1992 to vote for Ross Perot and parted ways again in 2006 and 2008 because they felt Republicans had morphed again into big spenders.
(And the unemployment rate isn’t even that terrible in Virginia: 6.7 percent versus 9.8 nationally.)
Voter revulsion at trillion-dollar deficits and impatience about unemployment is creating a toxic environment for the Obama White House and congressional Democrats. Major legislative items like healthcare, energy and financial reform are already slipping into next year.
History suggests that incumbent parties who get big things done, get them done in the first year of a presidential term, such as the Reagan tax cuts or Clinton’s successful push for NAFTA. Midterm election years are where big policy dreams turn into nightmares, such ashealthcare reform in 1994.
It’s hard to imagine that the 84 House Democrats from districts won by either John McCain in 2008 or President Bush in 2004 are now more inclined to support either an expensive health plan or a cap-and-trade energy plan. Already Democrats are hinting at shrinking the former and putting the latter on the backburner. (One policy that might get more attention is a second stimulus package to create more jobs.)
Tuesday’s election results are a roadmap for political gridlock in Washington and a possible Democratic electoral disaster in 2010.
A respected political forecasting model by Ray Fair Yale University calculates that Democrats and Republicans should split the 2010 vote because of the economy. If that scenario unfolds, then David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, according to an interview with The Hill, thinks “Republicans will probably be winning back the House.”
Did Candidate Obama really transform the American electorate a year ago? Perhaps. (Though, then again, having the economy collapse right before Election Day may have helped artificially inflate his vote totals just a bit.)
But dissatisfaction at the policies of President Obama looks to have quickly transformed it right back.