On election night 2009, the political spin machines were working overtime. The talking heads were opining on what the results meant for the president's standing with the electorate. But the problem is most Americans didn't go to the polls, and the ones who did were not given the option of voting for the president.
In New Jersey, people who voted against incumbent Gov. John Corzine were not doing it to send a message to Barack Obama. Poll after poll showed that the state's high property taxes and John Corzine's low approval ratings were driving the race. A vote for John Corzine, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, was not a vote for Barack Obama.
Election watchers have been saying that the president's late campaign efforts for Corzine show he doesn't have the grip on the electorate that he had a year ago. The real question should be why an incumbent governor who was outspending a relative newcomer 4 to 1 needed Obama to campaign heavily for him in the closing days of the campaign. Obama wasn't able to rescue John Corzine, but I'm willing to bet he would have won New Jersey in a landslide if he was the candidate on the ballot.
In Virginia, Creigh Deeds ran an old-style campaign where he tried to tear down his opponent before defining what he was for. That is not the change Americans voted for last November. Creigh Deeds was the most conservative candidate the Democrats have nominated for governor in decades, yet he was was painted by his opponent as being to the left of past nominees. The Republican, Bob McDonnell, ran a populist campaign focusing on jobs and the economy; the title of McDonnell's last campaign ad was "Hope." Creigh Deeds, not Obama, lost Virginia.
Does anyone think Bob McDonnell could have beaten Barack Obama?
Now we move to the two congressional races. The Democrats won both races, one of which they have never held before.
Probably the most absurd spin has been talk that the race in the 23rd Congressional became so heated because of voters' dissatisfaction with Obama. The special election in this district is the result of the president choosing Rep. John M. McHugh to be Secretary of the Army. A Republican has been winning in the 23rd district by large margins since it was created. There is only one other Republican district in New York. This is the district in which Sara Palin made headlines by endorsing the third-party candidate Doug Hoffman, leading to a "civil war" between conservative republicans and party moderates. The conservatives won and the Republican candidate dropped out of the race and endorsed the Democrat.
How can anyone make sense of the vote here? It is a solidly Republican district; the Democrats have never cracked 40 percent of the vote in the district. This race was a Republican affair, the Democrats were on the sidelines watching Republicans fight each other. Amazingly on election night the Democrat recieved close to 50 percent of the vote and won.
The pundits want to tell us that the results of two state races and two congressional districts show a trend. Why not wait until next year when everyone goes to the polls?
But ultimately, let's wait until 2012 to see how the country thinks Obama is doing. That is the next time his name will be on the ballot.