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2009: What last night means

"Republicans swept contests for governor in New Jersey and Virginia on Tuesday as voters went to the polls filled with economic uncertainty, dealing President Obama a setback and building momentum for a Republican comeback attempt in next year's midterm Congressional elections," the New York Times writes. "But in a closely watched Congressional race in upstate New York, a Democrat who received a late push from the White House triumphed over a conservative candidate who attracted national backers ranging from Rush Limbaugh to Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor." 

The Times' Nagourney adds, "The results in the New Jersey and Virginia races underscored the difficulties Mr. Obama is having transforming his historic victory a year ago into either a sustained electoral advantage for Democrats or a commanding ideological position over conservatives in legislative battles." 

The Washington Post's Balz: "Off-year elections can be notoriously unreliable as predictors of the future, but as a window on how the political landscape may have changed in the year since President Obama won the White House, Tuesday's Republican victories in Virginia and New Jersey delivered clear warnings for the Democrats. Neither gubernatorial election amounted to a referendum on the president, but the changing shape of the electorates in both states and the shifts among key constituencies revealed cracks in the Obama 2008 coalition and demonstrated that, at this point, Republicans have the more energized constituency heading into next year's midterm elections."

Politico: "The off-year elections were, in two big races, an unmistakable rebuke of Democrats, reshuffling Obama's political circumstances in ways likely to have severe near-term consequences for his policy agenda and larger governing strategy." 

The Hill: "Republicans received a shot in the arm Tuesday night with wins in two governorships previously held by Democrats, even while Democrats padded their majority in Congress. The wins, in Virginia and New Jersey, will give the GOP hope that independent voters may be giving the party a second look after a year of total Democratic control."

Norm Ornstein on last night: The "largest variable by far is local forces -- the candidates, the personalities, local issues, local political history. Right up there is the state of the economy, especially for gubernatorial races involving incumbents. Lagging substantially behind would be national forces and the president. To be sure, the national forces are not negligible. The president's party usually has headaches in midterms, not least because of a typical pattern of an intensity gap; the out-party's strongest adherents get increasingly angry, intense and motivated as time passes and they realize how awful it is to be out of power; the in-party's strongest adherents grow progressively more disillusioned as their sky-high hopes that their president would give them everything on their wish lists get shattered or hopelessly diluted. If you are angry, you want to get up, go outside and punch somebody. If you are disappointed, you want to get in bed and pull the covers over your head. In low-turnout elections, that is enough to make a big difference.
"This year the partisan generic voting gap for all potential voters is little different than it was when Obama and his Democrats won in a landslide -- i.e., a sizable Democratic advantage. But the advantage narrows significantly for registered voters and essentially disappears for likely voters. Even so, those local factors still are the most important. Bad candidates can blow intensity advantages; good candidates can overcome intensity deficits."