On 4th November 2008, Barack Obama won the American presidential election. One year on, and voters in Virginia and New Jersey last night elected Republican governors—the latter especially surprising, given the conventional wisdom that the hugely rich Democrat incumbent, John Corzine, had fought a campaign just about expensive and dirty enough to win. But, as I argue in my essay in Prospect this month (now free to read online today, to mark the president’s first birthday), we shouldn’t be distracted by such setbacks in judging the president.
In truth, Obama is doing just fine. His first year has been successful: the interesting thing about it is how unlike the promise of his campaign it has been. In any case, here are three quick thoughts about yesterday’s result to try and put them in a small amount of context:
1. Don’t read too much into individual results. Virginia is an unusual state. As I understand it, its governor’s race has gone to the party not in control of the presidency in every election for the last generation. Add that to a weak Democratic candidate, a strong Republican candidate, and a horrid economy—and few expected anything different. New Jersey is a surprise, as in a different way is the narrow margin of Michael Bloomberg’s victory in New York. Obama had stumped for Corzine on numerous occasions, the thought being that at least when he won the president could pop over to the victory party, and share in some of the good news.
That he didn’t win—despite vast spending and a concerted campaign to muddy his opponents—reveals not much more than the fact that voters, at time of economic struggle, were especially keen for a change in a state which most observers agree has been disproportionately hit by the financial crisis, and extraordinarily badly governed in any case. The same is true for the result in the congressional district of NY-23, where Sarah Palin’s support of an alternative conservative candidate is being seen (with some justification) as the reason for a historically unusual Democratic victory. True enough, but not hugely more significant in the long run than the way that netroots flexed its muscles and tried (and failed) to unseat Joe Lieberman from his senate seat in 2006.
2. Wait for the health care bounce.…