It is ever tempting to look deeper than might be actually warranted into any and all political "tea leaves" provided by the first Off-Year Elections immediately following a most recent Presidential Election: after all, such Off-Year Elections happen to be the very first time voters are able to go to the polls, at least on a Statewide level, in order to cast ballots "in anger" (meaning: in an inter-Party contest, as opposed to an intraParty Primary Election) in just about a year, a year in which the most recently elected President (whether new to the White House, as is currently the case with President Obama, or re-elected incumbent) has not only taken office but has also begun to implement his/her policies, often with reactions amongst many within the polity engendering no little controversy.
Perhaps, 'Controversy' was inevitable- not merely because of the polarizing "battle lines" that currently exist, not so much between the Major Parties (though, for rather obvious reasons, each such Major Party presents it as such) as between Ideologies often crossing Party lines (about which more later)- but also because the cry of 'Change' in a political campaign such as that which occurred back in 2008 will always run headlong into those who either do not at all wish to see things changed as well as those who, while earnestly seeking changes, do not particularly like either the changes actually being proposed and, at least in some cases, made or the very pace of such change (either too fast or too slow for their own tastes).
Put another way: calling for 'Change', regardless of Party or Ideology, will continue to appeal to many, while most "out there" will either be resistant to such Change or not at all happy with the speed at which said Change is proceeding apace... or, to borrow the formulation of the late football coach of Ohio State University, Woody Hayes: when Change is proposed in Politics, three things can happen to the proposer of such Change and two of them are bad! ;-)
In light of such controversy as a political mantra of 'Change' seems to so usually generate, the first change that the abject political "junkie"-- excuse me, erudite political observer-- would most like to perceive is whether or not horses might be changed in the middle of the political stream (as in: will the Party currently holding control of one or the other- if not both- houses of the Congress of the United States lose said control to the other Major Party?); beyond this, there is ever the question of whether the rider of such a political horse will eventually get thrown out of his/her saddle (in other words, will the Party of the current occupant of the White House be that of the President in office four years from now?)... the first chance one gets to analyze raw bona fide election statistics is in the first Off-Year Election, that in which- thanks to the quirks of their own respective Constitutions- the State of NEW JERSEY and the Commonwealth of VIRGINIA- each elect their State's chief executive, the Governor, for four-year terms.
Sometimes, 'tis true, these first Off-Year Elections, when seen in retrospect, appear to have well provided the necessary signs and portents:
in 1989, for instance, NEW JERSEY elected a Democrat to the Governor's Chair, as did VIRGINIA: please keep in mind that this was but one year after the first President Bush had succeeded the quite popular two-term Republican Ronald Reagan (whom George H.W. Bush had loyally served as Vice-President)-- indeed, in 1988, Bush had pretty much run as, in effect, 'Reagan's Third Term'. VIRGINIA's gubernatorial election that year was the more telling, as it elected the first African-American ever freely elected to a Governor's Chair in American History (and this in a State the capital of which was once the capital of the Civil War-era Confederate States of America!)...
sure enough, come 1992, the incumbent President Bush was defeated by Democrat Bill Clinton! (New Jersey, in fact, gave its Electoral Vote to a Democrat for the first time in 28 years; meanwhile, it should be noted, Virginia- which had, likewise, also not "appointed" Democratic Presidential Electors since 1964- did not do so in 1992 either)
Problem is: at other times, the first Off-Year Election leaves the punditry to seek after a sign, where none shall be given it...
come 2001, for example, New Jersey and Virginia both elected new Democratic Governors: and, here, please keep in mind that these elections took place less than two months after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, when one would think that the then-incumbent Republican in the White House- the second President Bush- would've most benefited from "Rally 'round the Flag" political feelings... but these 2001 Off-Year Elections did nothing at all to help the Democrats wrest control of Congress from the Republicans in 2002, nor did they- two years thereafter- all that much aid the presidential aspirations of one Senator John Kerry (D- Massachusetts)!
The tales above, when taken together, are, indeed, most cautionary.
Yet, I suppose, I must, nonetheless, continue to renew my membership (albeit one as an "outsider", neither mainstream media maven nor truest "fellow traveler" within the greater "blogosphere") in the wild, wacky and wonderful world of Political Punditry by commenting, as best I can, on what this most recent Off-Year Election of this past Tuesday "really" might mean... thus, after taking a deep breath and then holding my nose, I now leap off the precipice, hoping to land in the more inviting ocean waves, rather than on the jagged rocks below!:
I already have written, on this very website, my basic thoughts about this Off-Year Election... back on this past 19 July, I wrote the following:
First of all, pay little- if any- heed to what happens here in my own State of New Jersey this coming November: at least if you're looking for "political tea leaves" from which to begin to read 2010 or, for that matter, even 2012. Yes, Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie can beat incumbent Governor Jon Corzine but it will mean little, if anything at all, when it comes to then applying any such victory gained by a GOP Statewide campaign beyond the 2009 Election here in the Garden State itself.
Partially because Governor Corzine's problems are the very essence of the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill's famous dictum Politics is local... and, at the same time, said problems for the incumbent actually well predate the results of the 2008 Elections (thus, nothing that transpired in those elections at all hurt Corzine, neither did it particularly help him)...
thus, the Governor's race in New Jersey is not the place, in 2009, to best watch for signs of a resurgent national Republican Party this early in the current four year Presidential Election "cycle" which will culminate with the "appointment" (to here use the proper constitutional language descriptive of the procedure) of Presidential Electors by the voters in the several States and the District of Columbia come Tuesday 6 November 2012.
Sure enough, Chris Christie was elected Governor of New Jersey over the incumbent Jon Corzine this past week... but my analysis of some 3 1/2 months ago still stands. Corzine's political (not to mention personality, where not even personal) problems as Governor well pre-dated Barack Obama's nomination for, let alone his election to, the Presidency of the United States... but I'll have at least a little something more to say about my own State's Governor-elect Christie later on in this piece.
In that same 19 July 2009 piece, I also noted the following:
Instead, all eyes this coming November- a good three years before the next Presidential Election- should focus on the Gubernatorial election in Virginia:
There, in the "Old Dominion", the Republican candidate for Governor is a former Attorney General of that Commonwealth... [where] the quintessential County Sheriff is local Law Enforcement. In a State with such a "Virginia-type" County system of local government, the Attorney General is often, in essence, a "Super-sheriff"- or at least a kind of 'Sheriff-in-Chief'.
Simply put, then: Bob McDonnell is- by virtue of that office of Virginia Attorney General to which he was elected four years ago- the very kind of "Law and Order" conservative that has long been one of the underpinnings of the modern Republican Party US...
Again, simply put (and largely because of all that I have noted so far): should Bob McDonnell be elected Governor of Virginia- a State whose Democrats have worked rather hard, over the past decade to "turn and keep blue"- in this coming General Election, it will be much more a sign that the Republican Party, as a whole, is already beginning to rise from the ashes going into the 2010 Midterms than a Chris Christie victory up here in New Jersey would be!
Sure enough, Bob McDonnell is, indeed, now Virginia's Governor-elect and, again, as had been the case re: my own State of New Jersey, I need change nothing now from that which I had written back in mid-July!
In the main, then, what the result of VIRGINIA's recent gubernatorial election principally tells us is that those States- such as Virginia itself- that have been trending Republican in many a consecutive Presidential Election but which, nevertheless, President Obama won in 2008 (in addition to Virginia, such a list would include INDIANA and NORTH CAROLINA) are not suddenly places where a Democratic presidential nominee will, for the foreseeable duration, now necessarily do well... to use the altogether simplistic "Red State/Blue State" concept, VIRGINIA did not suddenly go from "red" to "blue" back on 4 November 2008!
No, indeed, Democrats are going to have to well break a sweat to, again, win States such as Virginia (or, again, Indiana or North Carolina) in the 2012 Presidential Election... but why should anyone have thought it might be otherwise, even had Creigh Deeds, the Democratic candidate, instead have been elected to the "Old Dominion"'s Governor's Chair? Assuming he will be seeking renomination and re-election come 2012, Barack Obama will have an even tougher road to hoe, considering that a decennial Census will have intervened by then and the number of Electoral Votes in States more friendly to Democratic presidential aspirants will, thus, have already been at least somewhat diminished.
Likewise, Chris Christie's election as Governor of NEW JERSEY did not suddenly- seemingly overnight- transform the Garden State from "blue" to "red"!
Again, to go back to my own words of this past 19 July, the role of these Republican Parties- as institutions- in most, if not all, of New England and the Mid-Atlantic region is to, at least in this day and age, be the ever-wagging "tail" of the national Republican "dog";
perhaps an even better analogy would be the then-still-young actor Kevin Bacon's most memorable line from the late 1970s frat house/party flick Animal House (after he was first ordered to "assume the Position"):
"Thank you, sir: I'll have another!"
In other words, I'd want to wait and see at just what time- and, in addition, on which day- by then-Governor Christie might get to actually speak before the next Republican National Convention!
For, while Chris Christie might well be a "conservative" by New Jersey's own political standards, he is but a "moderate" by national Republican standards... indeed, Christie first had to survive a Primary challenge from his right (in the form of one Steve Lonergan) in order to even get the chance to be elected my own State's new chief executive.
In this regard, it might well be wise to look at what might prove to be the most portentous election of this past 3 November, this being the Special Election to fill the vacancy in the U.S. House of Representatives seat for NEW YORK's 23rd Congressional District:
The 23rd is a traditionally Republican district, long represented in Congress by one John McHugh who, despite being a Republican, left the U.S. House to become President Obama's new Secretary of the Army; before McHugh was first elected to Congress in 1992, its core was- before that- pretty much the same district (though its boundaries- and even numbering [the 31st begat the 30th, which begat the 26th, which begat the 24th, which begat the current 23rd]- have changed from Census to Census) long represented by Republican David Martin (from 1980) and, before him, Robert McEwen (first elected in 1964)... this is not, by any means, a district all that friendly to Democrats in general and liberalism in particular!
To oppose Democrat Bill Owens, the Republicans nominated one DeDe Scozzafava, a member of the New York State Assembly; but Ms. Scozzafava had taken some stands on sociocultural issues too-- well-- "moderate" for the tastes of many a Republican across the country, let alone within the district being contested. Put most bluntly, Ms. Scozzafava was immediately branded a so-called 'RINO' (the letters stand for "Republican in name only") and, in many ways, unceremoniously 'dis'sed by the national Republican establishment; indeed, several Republicans with possible presidential aspirations come 2012- most notably, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty- came out in favor of the Conservative Party candidate for the seat, Doug Hoffman. Ms. Scozzafava herself unceremoniously dropped out of the race the weekend before the election itself and endorsed Bill Owen... Owen ended up winning the Special Election (though Hoffman made rather a good showing in the returns).
As is the case with reading far too much into the Republican victories in the gubernatorial elections in both New Jersey and Virginia as they might relate to the 2010 Federal (and State) Midterm Elections, let alone the 2012 Presidential Election, it would be quite a stretch to make much of a Democrat, thus, having been elected to what would otherwise be a Republican U.S. House seat...
nevertheless, it does bring home my point, again from back on 19 July, that [i]ndeed, the Republican Party US seems to be doing its level best in 2009 to drive away- where not drive out- its own moderates, not to also mention many of its more moderately- as opposed to hardcore- conservative, members. The GOP's current vision (though I, for one, would hesitate to call it anything remotely approaching "vision") is, as a result, far more eschatological (bordering on the apocalyptic) than at all politically rational, based on a faith in Providence to see them (and, by extension [if only as seen through GOP-colored glasses], the Nation) through- but this is not, at its heart, the faith of due religiosity, rather it is the faith of entitlement bordering- where it has not already managed to get through Customs at that very border!- on abject hubris.
it now remains to be seen whether the GOP's "national Run to the Right" will actually do its utmost to at all aid and abet the Republican cause in either 2010 or 2012.
In the main, however, the 2009 Off-Year Election seems, more than anything else, to have continued that political mantra of 'Change' to which I referred at the start of this piece: as was the case in 2008 with Barack Obama's election to the Presidency, the Party of elected chief executive changed- except, in this case, the incumbent Party was that of the Democrats, not the Republicans.
'Change', thus, came back to bite the very Party that had ridden that horse to victory but a year earlier... so far, however, it seems but the bite of an insect... but even an insect bite can become infected were it to be scratched all too often by an unwashed hand!