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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

First, the Good News…

Democrat Bill Owens won an upset victory in NY-23 over Conservative Douglas L. Hoffman, who had big-name wingnut support. Owens takes a House seat that Republicans owned for 147 years and his win drove a wedge between moderate and wingnut Republicans in NY, and to some extent nationally.
It was a big win, in part because polling analysts expected otherwise. Mark Blumenthal suggested that the data presaged a Dem loss in this one and Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com called Owens’s adversary Hoffman “the favorite.” However, Silver did sound this cautionary note about the Sienna and PPP polls, which indicated a Hoffman victory, and he identifies what may be a pivotal factor in Owens’s upset:

I’m not sure that either poll will fully capture the impact of Scozzafava’s endorsement of Owens — most of PPP’s interviews were conducted before the endorsement took place (although they showed no real difference once they began informing voters of the endorsement), while Siena noted that she had dropped out, but not that she had endorsed her former rival. Plus, the polling was conducted over a holiday weekend.

I mistakenly figured that Scozzafava’s withdrawall iced the deal for Hoffman. But it looks like her endorsement of Owens across party lines just may have flipped the outcome.
Elsewhere, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Garamendi also won, as expected, in CA-10.
With respect to the VA and NJ governorship races, which Blumenthal and Silver accurately called, perhaps the only good news for Dems is that no credible political analysts see these races as referenda on President Obama. As E. J. Dionne, Jr. put it in his ‘Post-Partisan’ blog, “Less Than Fired-Up” at WaPo:

…Substantial majorities of voters in both Virginia and New Jersey said that Obama was not a decisive factor in their decisions today. That will make it easier for the White House to say these contests were decided by local factors. And a majority of voters in both states gave Obama positive approval ratings. This will undermine efforts by the president’s foes to use words like “repudiation” in characterizing what these results tell us about popular attitudes toward Obama.

‘Undermine’ yes, ‘stop’, no.
In Atlanta, the good news is that Republican-who-calls-herself-an-Independent Mary Norwood did not win without a run-off, and Democrat Kasim Reed has an excellent chance to win the Dec. 1 run-off. But Norwood’s 45-37 edge means that Reed will have to energize the African American and white progressive base that has elected Black Mayors in Atlanta for 36+ years.
In Houston openly-Gay City Controller Annise Parker is headed for a December run-off with former City Attorney Gene Locke. Democratic Mayoral candidates also won in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Boston, with Seattle’s mail-in results to be announced later in the week. Republicans battled it out in the Miami Mayoral race, indicating that Dems still haven’t made adequate headway in the Cuban community to have an impact.
In the Big Apple incumbent Independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg won with a fairly-narrow (51-46) margin over Democratic challenger William C. Thompson. One poll showed Mayor Bloomberg with an 18 point lead and political observers were predicting a ‘huge blowout’ for the mayor over his under-funded adversary.
…Now the bad news:
As Charles Franklin observes in his Pollster.com post, “Election Night Recap, NJ and NY-23.”

…Whatever else you say about the race, Corzine lost support across all regions of the state and by relatively constant amounts. This “uniform swing” shows that he didn’t just lose in Rep areas, or Dem areas, or urban centers. The decline in Corzine support was very widespread and quite even. An across the board loss.

In VA, Republicans swept all three state-wide offices that were up for election.
In addition, as Mark Z. Barabak and Faye Fiore explain in their L.A. Times election wrap up:

More significant was the makeup of Tuesday’s electorate in Virginia and New Jersey, states Obama carried a year ago. It was whiter than the electorate that turned out in 2008 to make Obama the first black president in the nation’s history, and suggested the difficulty that Democrats could have attracting minority voters without the president atop the ticket.
Also worrisome for Democrats was the sentiment among independents, the voters who swing between parties and often decide elections. They went overwhelmingly Republican in Virginia and New Jersey; if that dynamic carries over to next year, it could mean serious losses for Obama and Democrats fighting to keep their majorities on Capitol Hill.

Overall, it’s not a completely bleak picture for Dems. As Fiore and Barabak note:

History suggests that off-year elections are far from predictive. In 2001 — at a like point in Republican George W. Bush’s presidency — Democrats won the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, then lost House and Senate seats a year later.

But there is no denying the McDonnell and Christie victories will hurt with redistricting, and of course, the msm will give them 90 percent of the ink and air time. Although niether win was a referendum on President Obama, they do indicate that his coattails have frayed away with time. More to the point, Democrats have a lot of work to do in figuring out how to mobilize turnout in off-year elections — and wherever they don’t have a charismatic candidate leading the charge.

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