Conservative media are attempting to use the results of gubernatorial elections to suggest President Obama's agenda and Democrats' 2010 electoral prospects are in trouble. In the wake of Bob McDonnell's apparent victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race, Media Matters has documented examples of media arguing that Democratic victories in 2001 had little national significance.
Media figures attempt to cast gubernatorial races as referendum on national progressive agenda
Fox News graphic: If GOP wins Va., NJ governors races, "no gov't-run option" in health care reform. As an example, during the November 2 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, an on screen graphic read: "If GOP wins both races" in Virginia and New Jersey, "Impact on health care: no govt-run option." [Your World with Neil Cavuto, 11/2/09]
In 2001, commentators argued Dem wins in NJ and VA had little national significance
Mort Kondracke: "We have no way of knowing" how 2001 outcome would affect 2002 midterms. On November 5, 2001, Mort Kondracke commented: "I don't know what effect this will have on the 2002 election. And the 2002 election is -- could be decided on the basis of terrorism, and the fact that law enforcement -- the Republicans have an advantage in defense and law enforcement. And the Democrats, if it's a lousy economy, that may be the big issue. We have no way of knowing." Kondracke continued: "But the history of the matter is that in 2002 the chances are that the party in control of the White House will lose. It's almost -- lose seats, yes, in the House and Senate. In which case, the Republicans could lose control of the House." (Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, 11/5/2001; via the Nexis database)
Mara Liasson: "A handful of off-year elections can't be used to predict" outcome of 2002 midterms. On November 7, 2001, Mara Liasson said: "A handful of off-year elections can't be used to predict what may happen next year when all of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate is up for election. But last night Democrats proved they could run to the middle and keep their base in both a conservative state like Virginia and a classic swing state like New Jersey." (NPR's Morning Edition, 11/7/2001; via Nexis)
Dick Morris: "If you have a Republican president, people are going to vote Democrat, and if you have a Democrat president, they're going to vote Republicans." On November 6, 2001, Dick Morris said of the "two Democratic victories" in New Jersey and Virginia: "If you have a Republican president, people are going to vote Democrat, and if you have a Democrat president, they're going to vote Republicans. That's why the Republicans got 37 governorships while Clinton was president." Morris added: "[N]ow the Democrats are picking them all off because Bush is president. People want divided government, and that's what you're seeing, and that's what you will see in '02, a Democratic trend, not because they don't like Bush" (Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 11/6/2001; via Nexis)
David Broder highlighted the difference between open gubernatorial races and congressional races with "popular incumbents." On November 6, 2001, David Broder said in an appearance on CNN: "The striking thing about these races was that Republicans did not have incumbents to run, and the candidates that they came up with as the successors that they hoped to elect were -- did not have nearly the breadth of appeal, not nearly the personalities of the people that they were trying to sec -- to replace." He continued: "And that carries some warning signs, I think, perhaps more for next year's governors' races where the Republicans will be in the same position, trying to replace popular incumbents, not so much in the congressional races where we expect most of the incumbents will be running again." (CNN's Greenfield at Large, 11/6/2001; via Nexis)
Michael Barone: "I don't think that the issues and personalities" in Virginia and New Jersey races "are going to be congruent with very many" races in 2002 or 2004. On November 5, 2001, Michael Barone said: "[I]f you're talking about a harbinger -- are the odd-year elections a harbinger of the off-year elections and the presidential-year elections, I think the answer is, only to the extent that the issues and personalities are congruent." He later added: "I don't think that the issues and personalities in that race in Virginia or in New Jersey are going to be congruent with very many Congressional and House and Senate races in '02, or the presidential race in '04." [Special Report, 11/5/2001; via Nexis)
Laura Ingraham: "Both sides are going to spin this," but "to call this some kind of watershed moment against Republican views is nonsense." On November 7, 2001, Laura Ingraham said of the election results: "Both sides are going to spin this, Alan [Colmes], but to say -- to call this some kind of watershed moment against Republican views is nonsense." (Hannity & Colmes, 11/7/2001; via Nexis)
Similarly, some media have warned against reading too much into 2009 races in NJ, VA
WSJ: "[I]solated, off-year contests aren't always reliable indicators of what will happen in the wider federal and state races held in even-numbered years." In a November 3 article, The Wall Street Journal noted that "isolated, off-year contests aren't always reliable indicators of what will happen in the wider federal and state races held in even-numbered years." Observing that "Democrats and Republicans are jostling to glean messages" from the races, the article pointed out that "it can be difficult to draw broader conclusions from off-year contests, which often turn on local issues. ... Each of Tuesday's three high-profile races has unique factors that could confound efforts to discern national trends."
Christian Science Monitor report highlights the importance of local issues in NJ, VA. In a November 2 article, The Christian Science Monitor noted that "the big issue in New Jersey is property taxes -- the highest in the country," while in Virginia, "the big local issue is transportation" as well as "quality of the candidates."
David Frum said claim that a Republican sweep would be "a mighty victory for the fire-breathing style" of conservatism "is a deeply unrealistic assessment." In a November 2 blog post, conservative columnist and former Bush speechwriter David Frum wrote: "Conservatives on radio and the web are preparing to hail a Doug Hoffman victory in NY-23, if it occurs, as a mighty victory for the fire-breathing style." Frum added: "This is a deeply unrealistic assessment. In two of the three most watched races in the country, the candidate of the president's party is running neck and neck against his main challenger -- in the midst of the worst recession since World War II. This is what you call a conservative politics that is "working"? What would it look like if conservative politics were failing?" [Emphasis in original]
Chuck Todd: "[T]hese races say much more about Deeds/McDonnell or Corzine/Christie than they do about Obama." From Todd's November 3 blog post:
If Democrats lose in New Jersey and Virginia, that certainly would be a shot in the arm for a Republican Party that hasn't fared well in the in the past two election cycles (losing control of Congress and the White House). That outcome also could give Democrats pause that the voter coalition that propelled Obama to victory last year (liberals, young voters, minorities, independents) appears dormant or is no longer intact. But is that a referendum on Obama? Not so much. For starters, how much does Creigh Deeds losing in Virginia say about Obama, when the president's approval rating in the state is at 57% among registered voters and 54% among likely voters, according to the most recent Washington Post poll? And if Jon Corzine's favorable rating in the Quinnipiac poll was at 38% back in March (near the height of Obama's honeymoon), and it's at 39% now, how does that say much about Obama and his popularity/presidency? Likewise, if Democrats are able to split the races by winning in New Jersey or even pull off the upset in Virginia, does that mean Obama's presidency is on easy street? Absolutely not. In short, these races say much more about Deeds/McDonnell or Corzine/Christie than they do about Obama.