FHQ would argue very little. After examining the polling in both states for the better part of five months, it is fairly clear that these races have virtually no national implications. In New Jersey, the election last night was as much about Jon Corzine as 2006 and 2008 were about George W. Bush. That is to say that each was about an unpopular incumbent. Corzine had not, as FHQ mentioned yesterday, broken the 45% barrier in polling all year and he needed to round his percentage of the vote share up to get there last night. The Democrat's chances hinged completely upon Chris Daggett's ability to siphon off votes from Christie and make 44 or 45% the winning total. When Daggett came up well short of where FHQ and most other monitors expected the independent to end up (He pulled in about half of his expected share; 5%.), Corzine basically had no chance. As was talked about on The Monkey Cage earlier today, someone viewed negatively and behind in the polls has to attack and bring his or her opponent down to their level. Lee Seligman put it better: "It’s not so much that attackers lose as that losers attack." Corzine had to attack, but in the end couldn't bring Christie down to a beatable level.
The end result in Virginia was the same -- the Republican won -- but the process of getting there was very different. I don't think that Chris Christie or Jon Corzine were particularly great candidates, but in the commonwealth, Bob McDonnell just outclassed Creigh Deeds as a candidate. McDonnell basically held an advantage throughout the year no matter which Democratic candidate was pitted against him; an advantage that crescendoed rapidly when the votes began to be cast a day ago. Deeds, seeing that McDonnell had been spotted an edge, was essentially in the same position John McCain was in a year ago relative to Barack Obama, except the Democrat was without a presidential-level campaign team. [I'm not talking about folks from within the Obama administration. I'm talking about campaign staff that is steeped in experience. McCain had that. Deeds did not.] FHQ isn't here to throw Deeds under the bus. I just think that McDonnell was in the position of being able to take the high road (as most frontrunners are) through the thesis ordeal. Deeds' campaign, meanwhile, latched onto that story and quickly became associated with it to the point that once the issue faded there was no previously constructed message on which Deeds could lean.
One other thing that might also be mentioned (that I haven't seen discussed anywhere) is how the primaries in this race played out. The parties tinkering with their presidential nomination rules would be wise to take note of this. FHQ won't argue that the Democratic primary battle hurt Deeds. It didn't. But Bob McDonnell was ceded the Republican nomination. In the absence of competition, the former attorney general was never forced to run to the right. Not only did that not provide Deeds or any other Democrat with any fodder for the general election campaign, but it also helped McDonnell, even with the thesis out in the open, to foster a more moderate image. In the end, it isn't the primary battle that's negative so much as the easy road to nomination is beneficial.
Fine, both New Jersey and Virginia were "all politics is local" elections. They were, but they weren't without their cautionary tales for next year's midterm elections. Neither race or outcome is a harbinger, at least not directly, but the underlying numbers present the Democratic Party with a real problem. Let's look at the numbers from 2008 and 2009. No, I don't think that is a fair comparison either, but I did want to compare the level of drop-off from last year to this year across parties. In other words, how much bigger was the drop-off difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates at the top of the ballot?
|2009 New Jersey & Virginia Voting Drop-Off (vs. 2008)|
|New Jersey||Obama: 2,215,422|
|*Numbers may have changed slightly since these data were collected on the afternoon of Nov. 4, 2009.|
Sources: NJ 2008, 2009; VA 2008, 2009
In both cases, turnout dropped by approximately 50% from 2008 to 2009. But the difference between the way in which the number of votes decreased was not uniformly distributed across each party. These are aggregate numbers, so were not talking about the same people in 2008 and 2009, per se. However, it is more than obvious that the Republican Party maintained more of its voters than did the Democrats. In Virginia, Deeds could only hold about 40% of Obama's voters from a year ago. McDonnell, on the other hand, was able to maintain about two-thirds the level of McCain voters. The story in New Jersey was similar. Corzine held but 47% of Obama's level of turnout to Christie's 71% of McCain's.
But that's not all. Some of the exit polling was noteworthy as well. Race actually didn't play that big a role in either state, for instance. The African American share of the electorate on Tuesday was actually higher in New Jersey (14%) than it was in 2008 (12%). In Virginia, there was a decrease in the black share from 20% a year ago to 16% yesterday, and Deeds got the same 92% of those voters that Obama got in 2008. The exit polling breaks on age were also interesting. McDonnell won every age group on Virginia (not surprising when you win by 17 points), while Obama lost narrowly among 40-49 year old and over 65 year old Virginians. In New Jersey, Obama just lost among the senior set while Christie only lost among the very youngest (18-29) group.
The real difference, though, was in the partisan make up of the 2008 versus 2009 electorates (at least through the lens of the exit polling conducted).
|2008 vs. 2009 Exit Polling in NJ & VA (Party ID)|
|New Jersey||41% D|
|*Christie won independents 60-30. Obama won them 51-47 over McCain.|
**McDonnell won independents 66-33. Obama won them 49-48 over McCain.
Sources: CNN (NJ and VA) -- 2008, New York Times (NJ and VA) -- 2009
That paints a fairly stark contrast between the two elections. Republicans made up a larger share of the electorate in 2009 and both Republican gubernatorial candidates ran away with the independent vote. If yesterday's results mean anything for 2010, it is that the Democrats may have an enthusiasm gap riddle to solve between now and next year this time. FHQ still contends that these elections were decided based on local forces, but the tie that binds them is the fact that Democrats seemingly sat these races out. Resting up for 2010, or simply complacent post-2008? That is the question.
Outside of that, I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out what a pro-medical marijuana/anti-same sex marriage voter in Maine looks like. Politics is great.
Election Night 2009: Live Blog (ME-ref, NJ-gov, NY-23, VA-gov)
State of the Race: New Jersey Governor (11/3/09) -- Final
State of the Race: Virginia Governor (11/3/09) -- Final