11/10/2005: Well, let's not start sucking each other's dicks just yet.
So far, from what I can see there's been a bit of Democratic and liberal/progressive rejoicing over the Democratic victories in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections Tuesday. While I can understand the sentiment (lately, the Democrats seem starved for any sort of victory; they've "been down so long it looks like up" to them), University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato warns us not to take the electoral returns too seriously, yet:
And what of the future? Will 2005 foretell 2006? The record is very mixed. Let's take the last four off-off year elections in New Jersey and Virginia. In 1989 Jim Florio (D) and Doug Wilder (D) captured the New Jersey and Virginia statehouses--the Garden State switched from Republican to Democratic control--yet in 1990, there was no discernible movement to either party in the midterm congressional elections. In 1993 Christie Whitman (R-NJ) and George Allen (R-VA) led a GOP sweep in the major contests that year, and sure enough, their victories presaged the anti-Clinton congressional landslide for the Republicans in 1994. In 1997, the GOP's Whitman was reelected in New Jersey and Jim Gilmore (R) succeeded Allen in Virginia, but in 1998, the Democrats fared well in congressional elections, partly due to a backlash against the Clinton impeachment effort. In 2001, despite Bush's sky-high popularity after 9/11, Democrats Jim McGreevey and Mark Warner won New Jersey and Virginia; the following year, Republicans recaptured the U.S. Senate and added six U.S. House seats.Hopefully, the meaning behind the heading becomes a bit clearer now... :-)
So what does this show? In two cases, the off-off year elections were indicators of the following year's political trends, and in the other two cases, they weren't. Please remember this unimpressive record of prognostication when you read the party press releases and the gee-whiz news stories next month. Here's the useless summary, based on history: The off-off year elections of 2005 may either be a harbinger of things to come in 2006, or they may not be.
For New Jersey and Virginia, it matters a lot who wins and who governs for the next four years. For everybody else, the elections probably don't mean much. President Bush and the Republicans are in deep trouble in 2005. Whether these calamities will extend all the way to November 2006 is anyone's guess, and early indicators such as New Jersey and Virginia can be spot on...or very misleading.
Meanwhile, though, you've gotta love how American politics works. From the Sabato piece I've quoted:
Has anyone noticed that neither of the two states electing Governors on November 8th is getting the Chief Executive the people want?It's the situation in Virginia that truly perplexes me. While I understand some of the frustrations that resulted in the imposition of term limits, it's always seemed to me that that is sort of a "cut off your nose to spite your face" solution; WTF should you want to arbitrarily fire a competent public official for the sake of introducing new blood into public office. The one-term limit in Virginia seems particularly stupid to me (then again, having lived in Virginia for a while during my tour in the Navy, and having had a chance to spend some time there during a long term, long distance relationship a few years ago, I can't say that I find it particularly surprising). Making your state's chief executive a lame duck from her/his very first day in office doesn't seem like a policy rich in wisdom to me....
In New Jersey, interim Governor Dick Codey (D), the State Senate President who succeeded the resigned Governor Jim McGreevey (D) in 2004, would win in a walk if he were on the ballot as the Democratic nominee. Codey has been a smash hit, but the party bosses in the corruption-plagued Garden State insisted on Jon Corzine (D), an undistinguished one-term U.S. Senator, noted not for his governing abilities but his enormous Wall Street wealth. In Virginia, another wealthy businessman, Governor Mark Warner (D), is enjoying approval ratings in the 70s and would be reelected in a landslide were it not for the Old Dominion's one-of-a-kind, one-term-and-out rule.
So instead we have a couple of open-seat contests without overwhelming favorites. And waiting on the sidelines are hundreds of journalists and analysts eager to read far too much into the outcomes of these off-off-year elections.
Len on 11.10.05 @ 08:02 AM CST