I've never given much credit to "signs." If you read my roundups, you know I haven't been taking the off-year elections that took place last night all that seriously. In my opinion, a big part of all this "referendum on Obama" talk has been an effort by the media to get you to care about races you otherwise wouldn't. If you don't live there, when was the last time you actually cared who was the governor of Virginia or New Jersey? By the end of the night, some were saying that electing a Republic Mayor in Stamford, Connecticut was a sign of a pro-Republican "earthquake." You know the old saying, "As goes control of the Stamford Streets Department, so goes the nation." Clearly, we're looking at a failed presidency.
FiveThirtyEight.com has the final score; New Jersey and Virginia governorships go red, Republicans take no seats in Congress. Were those races a referenda on Obama? That depends on who you ask; if it's some random talking head on cable news, they were totally referenda on the president. But if you ask the voters, they'll tell you no.
[M]ajorities of voters in both states (56 percent in Virginia and 60 percent in New Jersey) said President Obama was not a factor in their vote today. Those who said Mr. Obama was a factor in New Jersey divided as to whether their vote was a vote for the president (19 percent) or against him (19 percent). In Virginia, slightly fewer voters said their vote was for Mr. Obama (17 percent) than against him (24 percent).
So, by looking at races in which clear majorities of voters say they weren't thinking about the president, we're supposed to be able to glean the voters opinion of the president. And two states become representative of everyone. Sure, I'll buy that -- right after I finish pounding holes in my skull with this claw hammer.
In the only real bad national news last night, Maine rejected marriage equality. Had they passed the measure -- and there was a good chance they would -- it would've been the first time that a state's voters chose same sex marriage. Instead, Mainers joined the 30 other states that have made the same bad choice. We've got to stop putting people's rights up to a majority vote. It's just plain wrong.
Still if you're looking for good news (and the closest thing to an electoral sign), point your eyes in the direction of New York's 23rd congressional district. This was the race that the teabaggers put all their chips on, driving out the Republican candidate and putting a third-party candidate in her place. I risk pointing out omens in a self-serving way here, but if the teabaggers' candidate, Doug Hoffman of the Conservative Party, had won, it wouldn't have meant a whole lot. But he didn't. And that means a whole lot.
See, NY-23 is a red district in the strongest sense of the term. No Democrat has been elected there for over one hundred years. The wingnuts got their hooks in that district and deemed the establishment GOP candidate insufficiently crazy. So Dede Scozzafava was out. Sarah Palin horned in, other teabaggers and assorted wingnuts threw their support to Hoffman, and the farther right of the Republican Party decided to stage a mini-purge. Scozzafava was a RINO and that meant she had to go. Nevermind that she's virtually identical to current GOP hero Joe Lieberman -- conservative, but pro-choice -- Joe's a great American and Dede was a commie. She had to go.
Once the smoke had cleared, the teabaggers managed to screw up what should have been a gimme. Some still hold out hope that absentee ballots will put Hoffman in (despite the fact that he's conceded), but that's unrealistic: Hoffman would have to take absentees over the Democrat Bill Owens at a rate of 4:1. And those ballots were all cast when Scozzafava was still in the race. It's all over but the denial.
So what's the lesson here? Don't go on ideological purges when your party's already small. But wingnuts don't do that lesson-learning stuff and they've already got their eyes on moderates like Florida's Charlie Crist. Having failed spectacularly in NY-23, they plan to do the whole thing all over again. As another old saying goes, "If at first you don't succeed, try again. Fail better."
Am I happy about the outcome in NY-23? I suppose. It's not much of a victory really. Jim Owen is the sort of Democrat you'd expect from a conservative district. If I could swap, I'd take marriage equality in Maine and give the teabaggers one seat out of 435 -- it's hard to see how that one seat makes much difference either way. But do I feel a little schadenfreude at seeing wingnuts walk away with a self-inflicted shiner? You bet. If this is going to be an ongoing strategy, Democrats should be sending thank you notes.
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