What do the GOP triumphs in New Jersey and Virginia mean for Obama, mainstream Democrats and their agenda?
Ignore the palaver of the punditry; there’s no “megatrend” here. But the important micro question is: in the Democratic cloakroom, what will be the gut assessment of Obama’s power to punish or reward foes and friends–already an Obama weakness.
(Cloakroom calculations are no small thing; Reagan’s congressional successes rested on fear of reprisal and hunger for reward, which, as I saw again and again in the 80s, were powerful enough to buckle the knees of even stalwart Democrats. Conversely, Carter carried all the sock-’em of a ball of lint, and look where that got him and the Ds’ 50-year congressional majority.)
Nate Silver runs what savvy pols regard as the most accurate political forecasting website on the Net at Fivethirtyeight.com–a “must” bookmark. Silver explains that if the party’s wayward-leaners, especially Southern Democrats, conclude that The O is a non-factor in their backyard, they’ll be less inclined than ever to follow him on issues which are tough for them at home (i.e., health care, banking reregulation, etc.)–but which the national party desperately needs to stimulate its base.
In this calculus, Virginia’s loss spells Dixie trouble for Democrats because, unlike New Jersey, where an intensely disliked incumbent was sacked, the border state represented a general repudiation of all things Obama and Democratic. The GOP romped in down ballot contests and picked up at least five state legislative seats.
So if you’re a congressional Democrat from the South, this morning you’re likely planning to put more–not less–distance between yourself and Obama, Pelosi and Reid. But if you’re a Democratic centrist from any other region, nothing in the results suggest that it would be profitable to do the same. It’s up to party leaders to drive home this point:
Corzine’s repudiation in the Garden State was personal and contained. Democrats lost but one seat in the legislature there and won local elections across the country. Moreover—not inconsequentially—Ds took New York’s 23rd congressional district, the Republican bastion where Sara Palin’s populist Movement Conservative bit it bad.
Obama should feel relieved that only 18 of the 50 House Blue Dog Democrats are Southerners and in the Senate, only one Southern Democrat, Blanche Lincoln, will face voters next year.
That’s the upside.
The downside? The 2010 elections, as with all off-year elections, are a referendum on the “in” party, meaning Democrats had better act smartly on not just health care reform but also unemployment, Afghanistan and climate change.
Without counting on nominal Democrats from Dixie.