White House aides announced Tuesday night that President Obama was not watching off-year election results on television.
Actually, the president should have been watching.
Indeed, he should have stayed up late.
Tuesday night started lousy for Obama and the Democrats.
Republicans quickly won all three statewide races in Virginia, scoring an off-year election sweep that restored GOP dominance in a state where years of Democratic advances culminated in Barack Obama’s 2008 victory in the state.
Then the GOP snatched the governorship of New Jersey, a state where Obama had put his prestige on the line in an effort to secure a second term for Governor Jon Corzine.
Only late in the evening — after a brief moment when it looked as if New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg might lose to underfunded Democrat Bill Thompson (the independent incumbent finally prevailed by a 50-46 margin) — the news suddenly turned better for the Democrats.
In the high-profile special election contest in upstate New York, Democrat Bill Owens won a U.S. House seat that had been held since 1872 by the Republicans. Owens maintained a steady 49-45 lead over Conservative Party nominee Bill Hoffman, who secured the support of the national GOP after Sarah Palin and other top Republicans rejected moderate Dede Scozzafava as the party’s nominee. (An embittered Scozzafava endorsed Democrat Hoffman but her name remained on the ballot and she pulled about 5 percent.)
The New York special election was portrayed as a critical internal test for a Republican Party that is battling to redefine itself in advance of the 2010 congressional elections. But it turned into a critical external test, and a fratricidal GOP failed it.
Then came the news that Democrat John Garamendi, who campaigned as an unapologetic backer of sweeping health-care reform, had won a big victory in the race to fill an open U.S. House seat in northern California. Garamendi, a rabble-rousing critic of big insurance companies who beat the choices of much of the party establishment in the primary, keeps a Democratic seat Democratic. But he will serve as a decidedly more progressive representative than the member he succeeds, Ellen Tauscher, who was one of the few California Democrats to join the conservative Blue Dog Caucus.