Obama Scraps New York Campaign; Hands Democrat Unexpected Win
The surest sign that Obama’s presidency is going to turn out to like Bill Clinton’s is that he is already becoming a drag on the Democratic ticket, a state of affairs Clinton took a full six years to realize.
Obama followed around Democratic candidates Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Creigh Deeds of Virginia like a puppy for months during their gubernatorial campaigns. The President made two visits to Virginia to stump for Deeds and three to New Jersey to rally for Corzine, including stops in Newark and Camden two days before the election. On Sunday, Obama exhorted New Jersey crowds, “I want everybody in this auditorium to make a pledge that in these next 48 hours, you will work just as hard for Jon as you worked for me.”
In yesterday’s off-year elections, both candidates were soundly defeated.
In New Jersey, Obama beat McCain by a 16% margin in 2008; this year, the Republican beat the Democrat by 5%, for a 21-point reversal. This, despite the presence of a third-party candidate who took votes away from the Republican and a five-to-one Corzine-to-Christie spending ratio.
In Virginia, Obama beat McCain by 6% in 2008; this year, the Republican beat the Democrat by 18%, for a 24-point reversal. In both Virginia and New Jersey, independents—who voted heavily for Obama and other Democratic candidates in 2008—voted for the Republican candidate in 2009 by a 2-to-1 margin.
Meanwhile, Obama never showed his face in upstate New York’s 23rd congressional district, where Democratic candidate Bill Owens squeaked past Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman with a victory in Tuesday’s special election. Obama didn’t directly endorse liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava, but she received heavily publicized support from ACORN, Obama’s pet community organization, which helped solidify her lack of popularity and set in motion events that led to her withdrawal the weekend before the election.
In New York 23, 52% of the electorate voted for Obama in 2008, yet only 49% voted for the Democrat in 2009. It is miraculous that Hoffman did as well as he did, given the presence of a Republican on the ballot and the fact that Hoffman doesn’t live there, wasn’t familiar with local issues, and joined the race at the eleventh hour.
Bill Clinton’s pariah status in Al Gore’s presidential run and other Democratic congressional and gubernatorial campaigns in 2000 was based, of course, not on drooping support for his policies, but on his drooping boxers.
George W. Bush became a hindrance in 2008 only partly because he didn’t consistently govern as a conservative, but partly because Republican candidate John McCain ran from conservative positions every chance he got.
It was not Obama’s mere presence that flipped New Jersey and Virginia, or his absence that gave New York 23 to the Democrat. The elections in New Jersey and Virginia—the former with its link to the New York City metro area, the latter with its proximity to D.C. and increasingly industrialized northern suburbs—were more ideologically focused on Obama’s agenda of taxing, spending, and increasing the size of government than the election in rural, upstate New York.
Hoffman lost, and Christie and McDonnell won, because New York 23 was not a referendum on Obama’s legislative priorities, whereas New Jersey and Virginia were. The election in New York 23, which probably has more cows than people and more soldiers (from Fort Drum) than policemen, was about local issues. In contrast, exit polling revealed that 62% of Virginia voters cited taxes or the economy as their most important issue. In New Jersey, which has some of the highest income, sales, and property taxes in the country, and was rated last by the Tax Foundation of all 50 states for its business tax climate, 58% of voters mentioned property taxes or the economy as their most pressing concern.
According to Jay Cost of Real Clear Politics, “I do not think that a special election – any special election – is a particularly good barometer of the political climate of any place outside the district in question.” He is correct—about New York 23, whose results say almost nothing about the country’s concern with the current administration’s goals. New Jersey and Virginia—whose populations are 12 to 13 times larger than New York 23’s—are far more attuned to and potentially affected by Obama’s agenda.
As former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers noted, Democrats’ battle in New Jersey “can’t be completely attributed to a bad economy and to an unpopular incumbent in New Jersey. There is something afoot in the land that people are uncomfortable about and one of the issues is spending. And that is probably the biggest issue.”
Similarly, John Judis of The New Republic notes, “[I]n early August, the margin between Deeds and McDonnell jumped, and remained high for the rest of the election. At the very same time, Obama’s approval numbers in Virginia plummeted.” Even Deeds admitted on the campaign trail that Obama’s policies in conjunction with his support were hurting Deeds.
Obama’s blessing is turning into the kiss of death—as witnessed during the health care debate this summer, when the population turned against Congress’s legislation in precise proportion to Obama’s attempts to “explain” it in his press conferences and Sunday talk show appearances. Beyond widespread mistrust of his agenda, there is growing distaste for Obama as a political figure as a result of his incessant, narcissistic TV and radio appearances and thin-skinned bullying of critics.
The question is when Obama the politician will start to become synonymous with Obama the purveyor of a hated agenda.