President Obama speaks at a campaign rally
for New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine at Susquehanna
Bank Center in Camden, New Jersey,
November 1, 2009.
BY STEVE HOLLAND
WASHINGTON – Republicans rolled to victory in governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey on Tuesday in a sharp blow to Democrats that showed the limits of U.S. President Barack Obama’s influence.
After suffering a one-two punch in those two states, Democrats were trying to salvage a victory over a conservative candidate in a congressional district in upstate New York.
The election outcome in Virginia and New Jersey could offer clues on the mood of America a year after Obama was elected president and a year before 2010 congressional elections that will represent the first clear referendum on Obama’s time in office.
While the votes may not have been a referendum on Obama himself, voters clearly expressed concern about the direction of the U.S. economy, which suffers from a 9.8 percent jobless rate the president has been unable to reduce.
Republican Bob McDonnell scored an easy victory over Democrat Creigh Deeds in Virginia. In New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie had a tougher time with incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine but prevailed.
The outcome suggests Democrats have a challenge in trying to attract voters to the polls without Obama’s name on the ticket as they prepare to defend their strong majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2010.
A year ago, Obama became the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Virginia since 1964. Obama campaigned twice for Deeds but Democrats were unable to muster a large turnout the way they did a year ago.
Republicans had not won a statewide race in New Jersey since 1997. Obama won the state by 16 percentage points and traveled there to campaign for Corzine three times.
U.S. television networks projected Christie had scored a narrow victory over Corzine, a former Wall Street executive who pumped $23 million of his own money into the campaign.
The president was described by the White House as not watching the election returns, and spokesman Robert Gibbs earlier dismissed the potential impact of the governors’ races on Democrats and the 2010 elections.
“I don’t believe that local elections in New Jersey and Virginia portend a lot about legislative success or political success in the future,” he said.
But the Republican Party was eager to blame the policies of Obama and the Democrats.
“Tonight voters sent a warning shot to Democrats and the White House they are tired of the spending, tired of the waste, and tired of the over-reach they see coming out of Washington,” said Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. House.
ABC News said majorities of voters in both Virginia and New Jersey approved of Obama’s handling of his job — 51 percent in Virginia and 57 percent in New Jersey.
But it said 90 percent in New Jersey and 85 percent in Virginia said they were worried about the direction of the nation’s economy in the next year.
Democratic strategist Bud Jackson said the long night for Democrats could be seen as an indication of impatience with Obama.
“A lot of these people who voted for Obama last year, they voted for the hope. Well, hope hasn’t had time to meet reality so there are a lot of independent voters who aren’t completely sold on Obama yet and they won’t be until they start seeing some results,” he said.
WILD RACE IN NEW YORK
A wild race was taking place in New York’s 23rd congressional district for a House seat left vacant when Obama picked Republican John McHugh as his Army secretary.
Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman was battling Democrat Bill Owens in the traditionally Republican district. The race took a bizarre twist over the weekend when Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava withdrew because of flagging support and endorsed the Democrat.
Democrats charged the race was an example of how divided the Republican Party has become between conservatives and moderates as it tries to rebound from losing control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008.
Hoffman had been endorsed by conservative Republicans such as Sarah Palin, last year’s Republican vice presidential nominee.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who engineered a rules change to allow him to run for a third term, was re-elected, local media declared. The billionaire mayor defeated Democrat Bill Thompson by a narrower margin than expected after spending almost $90 million on the campaign to Thompson’s $7 million.
In Maine, a “citizen’s veto” is on the ballot to overturn a May 2009 law allowing same-sex marriage. If the law is upheld, Maine would become the sixth U.S. state to allow gay marriage, but the first to approve such a law at the ballot box — a potential turning point for gay rights after a stinging 2008 defeat in California.
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