Lessons from Election Night

Republicans had their best night in five years yesterday, winning two governorships in states that went big for Barack Obama last year.  They came closer than some would have guessed in holding a California district while running a no-name against the state’s Lieutenant Governor.  And while the local GOP botched a district in New York just as bad as they possibly could, the news from NY-23 is actually not bad at all.

Let’s start with the special election in New York.  Many of us hoped that Douglas Hoffman could pull off a remarkable outsider bid yesterday to beat Bill Owens, and he came within a couple of points of making it.  That puts a Democrat in the seat for the first time since 1993 (not 117 years as has been previously reported).   It’s never a best-case for the GOP when a Democrat wins, but by keeping Dede Scozzafava out of the seat, the GOP has the chance to win this seat back in a year with a better candidate — perhaps Hoffman, perhaps another Republican who shares core principles of limited government and fiscal conservatism.  Dislodging an incumbent Republican would have been considerably more difficult, and a unified GOP should win this district — especially given the signals sent everywhere else to Democrats.

What signals?  The GOP trounced Democrats in two states that Barack Obama won big just one year ago.  Obama beat McCain in Virginia by 13 points; Bob McDonnell won it by 17.  Republicans swept the statewide offices, reversing Democratic gains made over the last few election cycles, and are set to take at least a half-dozen Democratic seats in the legislature.  It should be remembered that the current governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, is also the Democratic Party chair, put there in part to consolidate Democratic gains in his state.

In New Jersey, the news is even worse.  Chris Christie beat Jon Corzine by four points in a state that went for Obama by 15 points — and where a Republican hadn’t won in over ten years.  Unlike Virginia, Obama campaigned heavily for Corzine, calling him his “partner” and putting his prestige on the line.  Joe Biden made a couple of campaign appearances, too, and the White House supervised the campaign in the final weeks after Corzine initially fell behind.  Obama made the argument for Corzine all about Obama — and New Jersey, one of the bluest states in the nation, rejected him.

Obama will still be president for another three years, but the mystique is gone.  New Jersey just taught Democrats in Congress a big lesson — Obama can’t get them re-elected.  Being the President’s “partner” on his radical agenda is not a winning position; it wasn’t for Corzine in what should have been a secure blue state, and it certainly won’t be in moderate or conservative districts and states held by Democrats in the House and Senate.

That is a huge blow to Obama and his agenda, as Democrats now have to consider unpopular bills for ObamaCare and cap-and-trade in an entirely new light.  If they fall in behind Obama instead of listening to their constituents, they will find themselves in retirement after the 2010 midterms.   That’s the big lesson, and it will not be lost on moderate Democrats.

Update: Glenn Reynolds wonders whether the Obama magic is gone, too:

The Obama invincibility that was so much in evidence then seems to have lost its power. People can argue the reasons why these elections, all in places Obama carried handily, were so close. But if he were the political marvel he was thought to be, these races wouldn’t have been contests, but walkovers. So one consequence of this Election Day is the end of his special political magic.

That’s no surprise — as that magic was a largely substanceless froth whipped up by campaign consultants and compliant big-media cheerleaders.

The truth is, Obama wasn’t ready to be president when he ran in 2008. When he started, he probably thought he had no real chance — he himself admitted upon entering the Senate that he wasn’t qualified to be president — and that his first run would simply be a PR effort that would lift him to the top ranks of Senate Democrats. …

But he was right the first time about not being ready for the Oval Office. As president, he seems confused and a bit distant on the issues, leaving the details to congressional Democrats and an ever-growing number of “czars” while he golfs and launches attacks at Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

With the economy tanking (unemployment is much worse after Obama’s deficit-swelling stimulus than Obama’s advisers predicted it would be with no stimulus at all), with the promised post-partisanship dissolving into witch-hunts against hostile media and the promised post-racial America devolving into the awkwardly staged “beer summit,” with the “necessary war” in Afghanistan the subject of endless dithering and the promised “smart diplomacy” materializing as a series of awkward missteps by Hillary Clinton, the froth has become a lot less frothy.

Unfortunately, the froth appears to be all there was.  Read the whole thing.

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