An Unhappy Electorate

Our View: Neither Party Should Take Much Comfort In The Results Of Tuesday's Elections, But Both Should Realize The Anxiety, Dissatisfaction Of Voters

November 05, 2009

Tuesday's election results were certainly no good sign for President Barack Obama and the Democrats. But they weren't exactly a boon for Republicans either.

President Obama campaigned hard for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, who lost decisively to Republican Chris Christie. The president wasn't embraced as thoroughly by Virginia Democrat Creigh Deeds, but Mr. Obama did stump for his party's nominee in that state and attempted to help turn out the same voters who brought him victory there last year. It didn't work. Mr. Deeds was trounced by Republican Robert F. McDonnell.

Some analysts are trying to spin those defeats into evidence of a national rejection of Mr. Obama's agenda on health care, the economy, foreign policy, climate change and anything else they can think of. But that's a stretch. Exit polling indicated that about 4 in 10 votes in those states were intended as a reflection on Mr. Obama, and they were about evenly split between support and opposition. Local factors were more important.

In Virginia, Mr. Deeds failed to connect with voters and found himself running against a Republican who presented himself as a pragmatic problem solver, not an arch-conservative. Mr. Deeds' focus on a thesis Mr. McDonnell had written years before in which he expressed strongly conservative social views didn't work against a candidate who was talking about jobs, taxes and roads, not abortion or gay marriage. In New Jersey, Mr. Corzine was profoundly unpopular, in part because the economy had forced him to enact painful budget cuts and to reneg on a campaign promise to lower property taxes - but also in part because he was the incumbent in a state rocked by corruption scandals. He was actually further behind in the polls before Mr. Obama started trying to help him.

Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele was quick to pounce on those two results Wednesday morning to proclaim that his party was "transcendent" and had "really found its voice again." If anything belies that notion, it's the victory of a Democrat in the solidly Republican 23rd Congressional District in Upstate New York. In that race, Republicans nominated a socially liberal Republican, Dede Scozzafava, only to see conservatives rally around a much more right-wing candidate, Doug Hoffman. National Republicans, including Sarah Palin, Fred Thompson and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, endorsed Mr. Hoffman, and Ms. Scozzafava dropped out over the weekend. She endorsed the Democrat, Bill Owens, and recorded robocalls on his behalf. He won.

So what voice, exactly, has the GOP found? The moderate one that brought victory in Virginia and New Jersey, or the hard-line conservative one that flopped in New York?

Democrats ought to come away from this election with a bit of wisdom they should have had all along: President Obama is not some charmed being who can coax voters in droves to pull the lever for whatever candidate he sprinkles with pixie dust. And Republicans should conclude that debates over ideological purity on culture war issues aren't what the voters are looking for.

Instead, both parties should look at the results and realize they're faced with an electorate that feels tremendous anxiety about the economy - exit polls found more than 85 percent in both states are worried about it - and isn't much interested in partisanship. Democrats shouldn't run away from the ambitious agenda the president has championed but should realize the only way to secure their standing with voters is to deliver on their promises to fix the economy, health system and environment. And Republicans shouldn't fall back on comfortable wedge issues like gay marriage and abortion but should focus on offering solutions of their own.

Readers respond

Obama's priorities are producing economic stagnation across America. Either the Republican Party will represent a genuine alternative or conservatives will need to found a third party based on free enterprise, individual empowerment and responsibility, limited frugal government and freedom of conscience to roll back the tide of collectivism and statism that Obama Democrats are using to destroy traditional American values.

Student1776

My only hope is that people are as fed up with this "red" vs "blue" rubbish as I am. It is crazy to think the problems in our country can be solved by a choice between polar ideals.

Pete W.

I am a Republican, but I would be hard pressed to think the party has found a voice at all. To me it's a great deal closer to folks telling the current administration to "get off and get on." It's an old Army term meaning to vacate your seat and employ your feet. I believe everyone of all parties is ready to see movement - not talk.

Chuck

The message Tuesday was low taxes, jobs, and less government intrusion. You fail to recognize the current political climate. President Obama's political capital has diminished. He could not get the vote out in reliably blue N.J. So, I'll ask a question. What is the voice of the Democratic Party? It seemed split as well. President Obama couldn't deliver N.J. for the party, and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi can't get on the same political page.

JR

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