At last the results are in, and they show …. not a whole lot.
Here’s what Adam Nagourney wrote in The New York Times Monday before he forgot what he’d just said and joined everyone else swept up by the significance of this off-year election.
“Off-year elections are typically the subject of frenzied discussion and overinterpretation by political observers — though rarely, it seems as frenzied as this year, a reflection of the heightened interest in politics created by Mr. Obama’s rise.”
The reporter had it right the first time — lots of frenzied discussion, lots of overinterpretation, lots of malarkey. You’ll likely hear an earful of it from the chattering class all week, things like: “Is Obama on the ropes? …. Are Republicans poised for a big win in the Midterm elections? … Get ready for a sea change …” Or not.
In the end, the 2009 election produced but one vote of truly national significance — yet another close recall of a gay marriage law, this time in Maine. That battle mattered. It will continue and in time be won by gay rights supporters, whether next decade or in two or three. Everyone deserves civil rights, religious or personal reservations (the polite word) notwithstanding.
Yet most of the punditry so far has looked instead toward the much less significant, the outcome of three elected offices. Republicans won the governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey, in the latter unseating incumbent Jon Corzine in an historically Democratic state.
But Democrats had their own surprise in store, narrowly winning a House seat in Upstate New York for the first time in decades (159 years in some parts of the district). That race drew widespread attention when the True Believer wing of the Republican Party drove out of the race a moderate conservative who had received the Republican nomination and backed a Conservative Party candidate who passed all rigid litmus tests. (Long live Republican homogeneity. Or maybe short live it. We’ll see.)
So. Storm clouds on the horizon for Democrats? Not really. They even have New York District 23 to rally around. History and a few facts help, too.
Michael Tomasky notes in his British Guardian blog, that Democratic candidates for governor won handily in Virginia and New Jersey in 2001. And did it spell doom for the Republican Bush White House? Not exactly. Republicans gained eight house seats in the 2002 election, he notes, and, in case you’ve forgotten, the country elected W. for four more years in 2004.
But, hey. This is the age of Obama, where everyone goes ga-ga every time the man goes to the beach with his family, let alone to New Jersey to campaign for soon-to-be-ex-Governor Corzine. So Corzine’s loss, that’s gotta really hurt Obama, right?
Wrong again. Consider that CBS did exit polls showing a majority in New Jersey and Virginia cast ballots neither for nor against Obama. In New Jersey, the 40 percent making a statement by voting for or against a party split just about evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
Or note the results of a random NBC/Wall Street Journal poll less than two weeks old. Of the 1,009 people polled, just 6 percent identified themselves as “very positive” about the Republican Party, compared to 14 percent for the Democratic Party and 36 percent for Barack Obama. Republicans still trailed Democrats 19 to 28 percent in the category of those who felt “somewhat positive.”
Put another way, one in four Americans feel real good or somewhat good about the Republican Party. Now that is one resurgent party.
In the end, Frank Rich got it right even before the voting began. In his column last Sunday for The New York Times he ended with these words: There is only one political opponent whom Obama really has to worry about at this moment: Hamid Karzai. It’s Afghanistan and joblessness, not the Stalinists of the right, that have the power to bring this president down.
So, while the rest of the pundits settle back for days of political rumination, can I interest anyone in a game of tennis?