Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
It seems more than likely that Republicans will do better in next year's elections than they did in 2006 and 2008. And, while I'm deeply skeptical about reading too much into the results of a handful of off-year elections, the dynamics of this year's races point to some real weaknesses for the Democrats.
First of all, there are the two governor's races. Republicans lead in both races and in each case the Democrats have had very little to offer by way of positive messages. Democrats scored heavily in 2006 and 2008 by running against George W. Bush. He's no longer around, but Democrats are still running negative campaigns.
Yesterday, Republicans won in special legislative elections in Oklahoma and Tennessee, picking up seats in both instances. In Tennessee, they may have won a working majority in the state House after being robbed of same by a renegade member who is currently speaker.
Republicans also got good news last week when their candidates won the mayoralty in Albuquerque and won a majority on the city council.
Again, it's dangerous to read too much into a few races. But many Republicans appear highly motivated by attacks on President Obama's big government agenda, particularly health care. While polls show that the public overall favors the health coverage expansion, a motivated minority can have a disproportionate impact when lined up against a tepid majority. And Democrats have not been robust about defending the big-government approach. Instead, as I say, they're still playing an attack game.
Jon Corzine, the Democratic incumbent in New Jersey, has been behind GOP challenger Chris Christie all year. The latest polls suggest that Corzine has pulled into a tie, or the closest thing to it. The state has a rich recent history of Republican candidates fading at the end. Growing support for independent Chris Daggett suggests that voters unhappy with Corzine have someplace other to go than Christie. And Corzine's negative and highly personal attacks on Christie may be having their intended effect. But it's not clear to me what platform Corzine would govern on during a second term, based on this campaign.
In Virginia, Democrat Creigh Deeds is also running a mostly negative campaign against Bob McDonnell, hoping voters will be too scared of the Republican's social conservatism to allow him into power. Deeds is trailing by bigger margins than Corzine at this point.
The Republicans still lack much of a post-Bush agenda and numbers for Obama and his policies have ticked upward since hitting some low points this summer. Still, the GOP doesn't have to win everything to start picking up some gains next year and eating into the Democratic advantage nationwide.
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