Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The end of the world

Three big elections today. The governor's race in New Jersey. The governor's race in Virginia. A special election for House across the lake in New York. If you've been reading the press reports, you know what these elections mean, right?

Exactly. If the Democrats lose these elections it means that Obama is all washed up, the Democratic Party might as well close down and surrender, and the Republican Party is now on top again, probably permanently.

All from three data points.

This is obviously nonsense. We are looking at three different elections, with three different sets of issues and personalities, and at least three different sets of reasons for whoever wins winning.

Let's take Virginia first, since we already know that the Republican won there. Virginia is a traditionally Republican state, and last year was the first time a Democrat won the presidential vote there since 1964. Although he was looking to succeed a Democratic governor, Creigh Deeds apparently ran a weak campaign, and wasn't able to generate the kind of turnout that Obama generated just a year ago.

Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean told TPMDC that Deeds "just did not run the kind of campaign we'd all hoped for," in part because he was a surprise winner of the primary.

"He had a lot of ground to make up in terms of finances," Dean said.


So Deeds lost, but nobody is surprised by that.

Next, let's look at New Jersey, the state where I grew up. Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine is trailing challenger Chris Christie and the AP has called the race for Christie. Still, in this race that has been personally nasty, the outcome is much more likely to be determined by who voters dislike more, Corzine or Christie.

Finally, in the NY-23 House race, a three-person race has been reduced to a two-person race, with Republican Dede Scozzafava dropping out and throwing her support to Democrat Bill Owens, leaving the conservative field to Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman. This is a district that never elects Democrats, and might not elect one this time. What we see here in microcosm, though, is the meltdown of the Republican Party, and Dede Scozzafava the latest victim of the purge of the Republican Party by the right wing extremists. Whatever happens, it doesn't look like bad news for the Democrats.

One final note about what this means for Obama. Exit surveys have asked voters what they think of Obama's performance so far. In Virginia, 50% of the voters say they disapprove of Obama's performance and 49% saying they approve, so he's basically breaking even there. In New Jersey, underscoring the impression that the election is being decided on personalities, 58% of the voters say they approve of Obama's performance, and even 25% of them are voting against the Democratic incumbent.

So are today's elections a referendum on Obama's performance? Like other myths that have been retailed as conventional wisdom lately (read: the public has rejected the public option) this clearly appears to be false. Instead, what we see is that neither Creigh Deeds nor Jon Corzine had the unprecedented combination of personal appeal, campaign organization, and a historic move for change that Obama was able to generate to put them over the top.

Maybe it's premature to measure Obama for his coffin.

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