In what otherwise appears to be a quiet, off-year election, both parties are watching three hotly contested elections—the governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia, and a House race in upstate New York—to determine whether the political winds have shifted since President Obama took office. Republicans, hoping for a sweep, say their inroads in Democratic leaning states are a sign of Obama fatigue, while Democrats say the elections hinge on entirely local issues. Is this a referendum on Obama's performance in the White House?
The elections are an Obama referendum—but not entirely: A common thread in Virginia, New Jersey, and New York, says Marc Ambinder in The Atlantic, is "out-party, conservative enthusiasm, which is inversely correlated to how well Obama is perceived to be leading the country." But the connection only goes so far—New Jersey's Democratic governor, Jon Corzine, is "much less popular" in his state than Obama, and Republicans backing Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in New York are angry at local party leaders, not Washington.
"Think again: Breaking through the election spin"
Tuesday's elections mean nothing: "All this punditry about these races is mostly nonsense," says Michael Tomasky in Britain's Guardian. In 2001—when George W. Bush was at the same point in his presidency as Obama is now—Democrats won the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, and Republicans picked up eight House seats the following year. All this talk about this being an Obama referendum is "a function of the fact that it's a dead time" in the political cycle and political reporters need something to do.
"On the importance (or not) of off-year elections"
Clearly, much has changed since Obama's election: Obama tried to help Gov. Jon Corzine in New Jersey, says Jeremy Pelofsky in Reuters, and he tried to help Democrat Creigh Deeds in Virginia. But Obama's support may not have been enough this time. If Republicans win both races, they could "rebuild some momentum after being trounced by Democrats last year."
"The First Draft: off-year election day could spell trouble for Obama"
This is a referendum on Republican ideas: This could be a "good day for the right," says Kathryn Jean Lopez in National Review. If Bob McDonnell beats Creigh Deeds in Virginia, the message will be that Republican candidates can win if they "attract people with ideas and plans." And the media will try to spin the Republican infighting in NY-23 as a sign of "a self-destructive 'vast right-wing conspiracy,'" but Doug Hoffman's strong showing proves that the GOP can win once it "figures out what the heck it wants to fight for."
"The Right returns?"