Last night’s elections yielded a happily mixed result. The GOP picked up the two governorships that were at stake, reclaiming the governor’s mansions in Richmond and Princeton from Democratic incumbents. The Democrats held on to a congressional race in California and picked up a GOP seat in upstate New York that had become the object of national attention. All-in-all, the results are an invitation to the political leaders of the country to get to work.
Last night was a very bad day to be an incumbent or from the incumbent’s party. Gov. Corzine lost in New Jersey and in New York City, despite all expectations, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had a surprisingly difficult race despite spending $100 million dollars of his own money against an opponent who did not spend a tenth of that amount. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, Governor’s are limited to one-term, but the Democrats have held that office for the past eight years. The last time a Republican lost in New York 23 was in 1872.
Watching the analysts and the talking heads is becoming more difficult. Maybe I am just getting older, but who believes their talking points? GOP National Chairman Michael Steele was convinced that the results were a clear rebuke to President Obama’s agenda although the only two races that were selecting candidates who will be able to vote on that agenda in Congress both went to the Democrats. James Carville dismissed the losses in Virginia and New Jersey as fitting a historical pattern, which is true, but without explicating that historical pattern which is a pattern of suspicion of power, which hardly bodes well for a party that controls the White House and both houses of Congress. And, Eric Cantor was so disingenuous in his spinning, you could tell he was having a hard time keeping a straight face when Chris Matthews grilled him.
The commentariat is not much better. If David Gergen repeated the phrase "The winds are changing" one more time I was going to scream. Virtually every anchor talked about how the Democratic coalition that elected Obama did not turn out, which is another way of saying that this was an off-year election when turnout plummets. We knew that already.
The hardest thing for many in Washington and New York City to believe is that there are local undercurrents to local elections that are opaque from 212 and 202. In Virginia, Creigh Deeds ran a terrible, terrible race. I saw his ads and cringed. Bob McDonnell’s campaign was crisp and clean, upbeat, more Obama in tone than Palinesque. And, it is not hard to believe that the sturdy souls who live in New York’s North Country resented the intrusion of outsiders with their own agendas. Listening to both Congressman-elect Owen’s acceptance speech and Doug Hoffman’s concession speech, you realize how local politics is about more than being telegenic or being able to deliver a great speech. (But, you have to love the way Hoffman puts an "r" at the end of the word "idea.") Conservatives had predicted a win in NY-23 and they had already begun to salivate at the prospect of taking down other GOP moderates like Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Last night, there was a lesson and Crist should not have slept more easily but neither should his conservative opponent Marco Rubio. Democratic candidate Kendrick Meeks, on the other hand, slept soundly.
The electorate likes to send mixed messages, which is why the Baucus bill became the focus of the debate on health care. The American people want both parties to work together, even while that seems almost impossible given the different ideological suppositions of the two parties. There will not likely be an outbreak of bipartisanship anytime soon, but the mixed results do have the effect of causing the party in power to temper its ambitions. The results last night are an invitation to cautiousness. Too bad the times may call for boldness.