I appeared on CNN American Morning yesterday to discuss today's highest profile elections. You can watch the segment here -- I tried to make the point that while these elections are important, and while the Democratic Party certainly has its problems right now, these contests do a better job of illustrating severe Republican weakness than anything else right now.
Karl Rove and the Beltway Punditburo are busy trying to tell us all why the three big elections today -- the Virginia gubernatorial, the New Jersey gubernatorial, and the New York special congressional election -- are a referendum on President Obama and the progressive agenda, and a bellwether for future elections. While Chris is absolutely right in saying that the national Democratic Party clearly has some issues it needs to work through, the idea that these three races are big-time commentaries on progressivism itself is is just plain moronic -- even for a Washington chattering class that is made up mostly of morons.
Virginia has long been a conservative, Republican-leaning southern state, and it is coming off four successive statewide wins by Democrats (Warner for Governor, Kaine for Governor, Webb for Senate and Warner for Senate). On top of that, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Creigh Deeds, has run a pretty lackluster general election campaign, making the strategically stupid decision to run away from Obama. For all these reasons, Virginia's gubernatorial race was bound to go for the Republicans in 2009. Indeed, if this race is even close I'd say it's a reflection that Virginia Republicans are incredibly weak.
New Jersey has always been a much more "purple" place in statewide elections than the Punditburo would have you think. Twelve years ago, New Jersey had a Republican governor. In 2004, John Kerry managed just 52 percent of the vote in the state. In 2005, Jon Corzine racked up only 53 percent of the vote in his run for governor. Add that stealth swing quality to the fact that A) Corzine is a former Goldman Sachs CEO running in the shadow of a Wall Street meltdown and B) high-profile New Jersey Democrats like Bob Torricelli and Jim McGreevey did their level best to ruin the Democratic Party's name in the Garden State, and it's amazing Corzine is even running close.
Finally, when it comes to the supposed "bellwether" special election in New York's 23rd district, everyone seems to forget what the ultraconservative Weekly Standard quietly admits: This seat has been held by Republicans for 138 years. The idea that a district that has been in GOP hands since the end of the Civil War is some sort of telltale gauge of national trends is absolutely laughable - especially when you consider that, as In These Times notes, organized labor has been split between the Democratic and Republican candidate. Again, in a state where high-profile Democrats like Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson haven't exactly helped their party image, the real news here is that a Democrat has even managed to put up a serious fight -- not that Republicans might hold onto a seat they've controlled for more than a century.
Now, I'm not saying these races aren't important unto themselves -- they are. Virginia and New Jersey are some of the biggest states in the country, and who controls their state government has real consequences for millions of people living there. Additionally, all congressional races are important in how they affect the overall control of the U.S. House.
But again, when has-been bloviators like Karl Rove claim with a straight face that Republican victories in these races would mean "support for Obama's policies is risky to the political health" of Democrats all over the country, they just discredit themselves by ignoring the undeniable facts.
Indeed, if there is real cause for electoral/political concern for Obama and the national Democratic Party, it is the opposite of Rove's thesis -- namely, that Democrats may not fulfill the progressive promises they made, not that they have fulfilled them too aggressively. Polls (see here and here for examples) are starting to suggest that with the economy is still hurting, that health care reform may be watered down and that Wall Street reform is being gutted by financial lobbyists could create a NAFTA-style effect in the mid-term elections - that is, it could drive down turnout/enthusiasm among millions of progressives who thought they voted for change in 2008.
That Rove and so much of the Punditburo refuse to acknowledge this reality and instead forward this fantastical story about today's elections being a pro-Republican "bellwether" is to be expected. More and more of the political prognostication industry has been taken over by biased shills who are wielding a partisan axe. But the objective truth is clear: Democrats certainly have some weaknesses and problems, but the fact that Democrats are even competing in these supposedly "key" races suggests Republicans have their own -- and arguably far bigger -- weaknesses and problems as well.