I'm not sure the big elections this week told us much we didn't already know. The two takeaway lessons have been long understood by both sides of the aisle – it’s the economy, stupid; and divided you fail.
The Virginia gubernatorial race featured a very good challenger and a poor incumbent in a swing state. Thus, the switch to the Republican side of the column wasn’t a big surprise. Certainly, politicians play close attention to voter demographics and the massive swing among independents, while the enthusiasm among the two bases will be analyzed, parsed and considered.
The New Jersey vote and the upstate New York congressional race were more significant. That’s because New Jersey is overwhelmingly Democratic, and the New York congressional district is equally as strong on the Republican side; yet, the stronger parties lost both races.
New Jersey's incumbent Gov. John Corzine had large disapproval ratings; the only reason this race was close going into election day was poor campaigning by the Republican candidate and the presence of a third-party candidate. In the end, the third-party candidate only received about half the anticipated votes, turning a nail biter into a comfortable margin for the Republican winner.
The race that meant the least had both sides preposterously claiming victory. New York’s 23rd District was and is a Republican district. The Democrat won only because the Republicans waged war on themselves when conservatives rebelled against the handpicked candidate and ran a third candidate. The Republican-endorsed candidate eventually withdrew and threw her support to the Democratic candidate. The resulting split gave the Democrats a close win.
So what did we learn? For one thing, I think we learned that people are more concerned about the economy than health care, climate change and the big government social agenda that have been Washington's focus. While the election results might cause some serious soul-searching in Washington regarding priorities, these elections were not a referendum on either those issues or the Obama administration.
Without question there are concerns about unprecedented deficit spending at the national level and consternation about the scope of change being proposed, but that’s no surprise, either.
Progressives knew that nationalizing health care, and accepting the notion that we’re indebted to the world because our more carbon-based economy prospered at the world's expense, were not going to be minor issues. In the best of times these proposals would mean significantly higher taxes and a less robust economy. In the midst of a recession it becomes an even tougher sell.