Republicans took back the governor seats in New Jersey and Virginia yesterday. Some have said that those two races were referendums on Obama, especially the Virginia race, since that state voted for the Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in a long time.
I don't think one can make those kinds of conclusions about Obama based on a governor's race. There are too many other important factors, like — oh — the candidates themselves. Besides, Obama's popularity in Virginia is 57%.
No, the Republicans won the governorship of New Jersey and Virginia because of their candidates and because (especially in New Jersey), the Democratic incumbant was very unpopular. It had nothing to do with Obama.
In the NY 23rd district, however, I think you can make some broader implications about the outcome. There, the Republican candidate was a moderate (pro-choice, pro-same-sex marriage). The tea-bagging conservative fringe of the GOP targeted her, supporting a third-party candidate, Doug Hoffman (of the Conservative Party). The Republican candidate bowed out two weeks ago, throwing her support behind the Democrat.
The Tea Baggers had hoped that NY-23 would show that conservatism lives, and a Hoffman victory means that the GOP should move to the right — waaaaay to the right.
And Hoffman should have won. NY-23 has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. House since the 1800's. That's right — no Democrat has ever come from NY-23 in over 100 years. Furthermore, Sarah Palin went up and campaigned for Hoffman. Beck and Limbaugh talked him up incessently.
But he didn't. Owens, the Democrat, gained 49 percent of the vote, versus 46 percent for Hoffman, and six percent for Dede Scozzafava, who's name was still on the ballot, even though she dropped out of the race.
Now, this was the first test of the tea baggers attempt to rebrand the Republican Party as far right. They had a candidate in a very conservative district. And he lost. Major setback for the so-called revitalized conservative movement.
Will they see it that way? Doubt it. They're still aiming to pull the GOP to the far right, further dividing the party, and letting Democrats sail through the crack.