Election 09: National results point to a throw-them-out tide

Incumbent Congressional Democrats in marginal districts will now run scared, making passage of health-care reform more difficult.
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President Obama at a 2009 forum on health care. The reform law he eventually signed is up for Supreme Court review.

Incumbent Congressional Democrats in marginal districts will now run scared, making passage of health-care reform more difficult.

Strong Republican gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey, two states carried by President Obama a year ago, had similar origins. In both places, black and young voters failed to turn out as they had a year ago. Independent voters shifted in large number from the Democratic to GOP column. Also in both places, voters were concerned with the state of the economy; independents, in particular, worried about growing federal budget deficits.

In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine's unpopularity, as well as local political corruption scandals, contributed to the election of a lackluster Republican candidate.

Democrats did salvage a victory in a New York special congressional election. But it was a bizarre, one-off situation in which the Republican nominee was challenged by a conservative third candidate, withdrew her candidacy three days before the election, and then endorsed the eventual Democratic winner. She remained on the ballot and drew only single-digit support but drained enough votes from the conservative to elect the Democrat. That was a special situation from which no lesson should be drawn — except that both parties should take more care in the candidates they select.

The most important, bottom-line impact nationally of the Virginia/New Jersey returns: Incumbent congressional candidates considered marginal will be frightened by the throw-them-out tide shown in those states only a year after an historic Democratic sweep. They will run scared between now and election day, 2010, on the economic issues which the Tuesday results — as well as simultaneous national polls released by several independent organizations — confirmed were most on the minds of voters.

Pending health-care legislation will be slowed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, earlier Tuesday, already had declared publicly that a Senate vote might not be held on such legislation until early 2010. (An original August deadline already has been missed, and a more recent November deadline almost certainly will be missed). The difficulty lies in disagreements among liberal and moderate Democrats on the shape and cost of a final legislative proposal. Also Tuesday, congressional Republicans for the first time released their own comprehensive alternative proposal.

Odds still favor passage in both House and Senate of legislation called "health-care reform." But they will widen the longer the delay in the process. Political polarization already exists in the capital and the country. Tuesday night's results are likely to widen it.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.