Not always about parties
Much has been made of the gubernatorial elections that took place in New Jersey and Virginia three days ago. Some are calling it a refutation of President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party as a whole; others are saying the elections were meaningless and point to the election in New York's 23rd Congressional District, where the Democrats picked up a long-held Republican seat in a special election, as proof that the Democrats have much less to worry about than is being reported.
It seems difficult to find a broad electoral pattern in just two elections, especially considering the elections were of governors, not of members of Congress. Despite the media's attention to the possibility of these elections being a harbinger of electoral losses to come for the Democratic Party, it seems unlikely that the results of two isolated governor races will be much of a predictive factor in the 2010 midterm Congressional elections. In fact, considering that in the only two Congressional races that did take place this year — that being the New York election already mentioned and a California special election for a vacated Congressional seat — both went to Democratic candidates, there is a case to be made that the Democratic Party's loss of influence has been minimal. The margin of victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election and Jon S. Corzine's loss in the Democratic stronghold of New Jersey would serve as strong evidence, however, that the Democrats may have some work to do ahead of the next elections in order to hold onto that influence.
A factor in the New Jersey elections for which the media has not accounted is the widespread distaste for Corzine. He presided over an economically disastrous governorship and is widely seen as being an inept, possibly even corrupt public official. One got the feeling from talking to New Jersey voters that this election became more of an election of "Corzine vs. Not-Corzine," in which any candidate the Republican Party put forward had a fair chance of winning with independent and conservative Democrat voters. That the Republican Chris Christie, who was hampered by a connection to former President George W. Bush and possible ethics violations during his tenure as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, was able to beat Corzine says more about voter dissatisfaction with the now lame duck governor than about public support for the Republican Party, especially considering Christie's margin of victory. Even with widespread dissatisfaction with the Democratic incumbent, Christie could only manage a plurality of 48.8 percent, hardly a resounding rejection of the Democratic Party. Regardless of the fact that a solid Democratic state has voted in a Republican governor, the real story in the New Jersey gubernatorial election was not about party, but about an individual.
The results from Virginia, the other state that held elections for governor this year, were hardly a surprise. Virginia has consistently voted Republican and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. While the margin of victory in that race does not bode well for the three Democratic Congressional seats that were picked up in that state last year, the 2010 races for those seats were going to be difficult elections for the Democrats in office regardless of who occupied the governor's mansion.
In short, it is too early to begin making predictions about how electoral results will turn out a year from now, and it is certainly too early to make the claim that the Congressional sea change that came with the election of Obama will be reversed in the next elections. New Jersey's election proved to be more of a referendum on Corzine than the president, and the Republican victory in Virginia comes as no surprise. As such, it remains to be seen just what will happen next year.
John Ryan is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.