The highest-profile elections around the country on Tuesday anointed obvious winners and losers, but the races also brought some collateral political damage.
While Republicans celebrated their wins for governor in New Jersey and Virginia, the White House is licking its wounds.
It had basically written off Democrat Creigh Deeds, who was beaten badly by Republican Bob McDonnell in Virginia, where the electorate that turned out on Tuesday looked far different than the one that a year ago made President Obama the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1964.
But the White House invested more in New Jersey, where incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine was ousted by Republican Chris Christie despite several appearances by President Obama and an effort by his grassroots organization to rekindle the magic of 2008.
And in both New Jersey and Virginia, exit polls suggested that many of the independent voters who flocked to Obama went toward Republicans.
UPDATE: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs gave its spin today, insisting that the New Jersey and Virginia results reflected "very local issues that didn't involve the president."
Voters were worried about the economy, Gibbs told reporters, adding, "I don't think the president needed an election or an exit poll to come to that conclusion."
Predictably, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele sought to make the most out of the wins. He noted that it was the first time since 1997 that Republicans had swept the races for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general in Virginia. "The Republican Party’s overwhelming victory in Virginia is a blow to President Obama and the Democrat Party. It sends a clear signal that voters have had enough of the president’s liberal agenda," Steele said in a statement.
Steele saw even more import in the New Jersey result: “In a state that overwhelmingly voted in favor of President Obama, this stunning defeat of Corzine sends a clear message to Democrats across the country. Americans have grown sick and tired of big government and reckless spending, and this vote is a sound rejection of the far-left policies that are hurting our nation. While the White House sent their political machine to New Jersey in full force – President Obama and Vice President Biden each campaigning in the state 3 times – even that was not enough to convince voters to ignore the realities of their harmful liberal agenda. I fully expect this trend to continue in the coming months, and President Obama and Democrats should have reason to fear the upcoming elections in 2010.”
His Democratic counterpart, Tim Kaine, downplayed the results and their national significance. "In both Virginia and New Jersey we had strong candidates who were running against a significant historical tide and faced uphill battles from the start of this campaign. In New Jersey, the party in power in the White House hasn't won the governor's office since 1985 and the party in power in the White House hasn't won the governor's office in Virginia since 1977. It would have been historic if not unprecedented to win one or both of these races given historical trends," Kaine said in a statement. "These races turned on local and state issues and circumstances and on the candidates in each race - and despite what some will certainly claim - the results are not predictive of the future or reflective of the national mood or political environment."
But in the special congressional election in upstate New York, Bill Owens became the first Democrat to win in more than a century -- after Republican fratricide that exposed deep divisions in the party.
The official GOP candidate withdrew from the race at the last minute because conservatives including Sarah Palin backed third-party Conservative Doug Hoffman. Palin and those others who bucked the GOP are now out on the limb.
Democrats argued that election would have more meaning going forward.
“This election represents a double-blow for national Republicans and their hopes of translating this summer’s ‘tea party’ energy into victories at the ballot box," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen said in a statement. "Not only did eight extreme right-wing groups spend more than $1 million to drive the moderate Republican – and the NRCC’s chosen candidate – out of the race. Now, after losing a seat that was held by Republicans for nearly 120 years, they have to deal with an emboldened and well-funded far right-wing that refuses to tolerate moderate Republicans with differing opinions."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.