Published October 27, 2009
President Obama turned several traditionally red states blue last November -- including Virginia, where no Democratic presidential candidate had won since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. But next Tuesday's election for governor in that state suggests Obama's broad appeal may not trickle down.
One week before Election Day, a new survey shows Republican Bob McDonnell widening his lead to 11 points over Democrat Creigh Deeds, who has trailed throughout the campaign. Deeds is suffering even though Obama remains relatively popular in Virginia.
The president tried to leverage that popularity into votes Tuesday by vouching for Deeds at a rally in Norfolk, reminding the crowd that the race isn't over yet.
"I don't believe in giving up," Obama said.
But if the course of the race so far is any gauge, he'll have a hard time projecting his own approval ratings onto his fellow Democrat's.
"The fact of the matter is that Obama won Virginia comfortably. And the Democrat is now well behind in Virginia," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "Obviously that's not a good sign for Obama."
It's not a good sign for the rest of his party either. Polls have long suggested that Obama personally is far more popular than his policies, which are espoused by the rest of the Democratic Party. This trend sends a warning to Democrats in the 2010 congressional races.
Virginia Republicans are already gloating.
Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Tuesday that "the turnabout is stunning."
Virginia's election coincides with the New Jersey race between Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine and Republican Chris Christie. That race appears to be much tighter, with recent polls showing the candidates exchanging leads. The New Jersey race is also thrown off balance by independent candidate Chris Daggett, who is pulling around 7 percent and could become a spoiler.
But the New Jersey race is less important, said Sabato, who called it an "automatic Democratic state," unlike Virginia. He said it appears the constituencies that drove Obama to victory last November -- minorities and young people -- are not engaged in the coming gubernatorial election, and that hurts Deeds. Obama's aides reportedly are shifting blame to Deeds ahead of the vote, arguing that he failed to listen to their strategic advice from the start -- though Deeds has disputed their accounts.
"White House advisers want to protect the president. And they're trying to figure out how to insulate him from the possible consequences of a Deeds loss," Sabato said.
Though Republicans eagerly warn that the Virginia race will be a harbinger of Democratic losses next year, Democrats say they remain confident. Plus the off-year elections are historically inconsistent in predicting the trends of subsequent congressional elections.
"I think that in 2010 what's helping us is that the Republican Party doesn't seem to have any platform at all," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday. "I think you'll see in 2010 we're going to do pretty well, aided and abetted by no alternative."
Deeds supporters who came to see Obama speak in Norfolk Tuesday said they think the president can still do a little bit of good in Virginia.
"I know Obama campaigning with Deeds will help," said Norfolk local Daniel Montague, a self-described Democrat, adding that he thinks Deeds can "come back and win."
In the New Jersey race, Christie told Fox News that he expects the race to be close, noting that Obama won New Jersey by double digits last year. He said that race is about New Jersey issues and not necessarily any kind of referendum on the president.
The Washington Post poll released Tuesday on the Virginia race suggests voters have cleanly separated Obama from the candidates. The poll, conducted Oct. 22-25 of 1,206 likely voters, found 70 percent said Obama would not be a factor in their decision. Those who said the president would be a factor were split evenly between Deeds and McDonnell.
There is also a special election next week to replace former Republican Rep. John McHugh, who became secretary of the Army, in New York's District 23. In that race, Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman has drawn high-level support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and several other high-profile Republicans.
Hoffman's surge in the polls has many centrist Republicans concerned that he could siphon enough votes away from the GOP candidate, Dede Scozzafava, to deliver the district to the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens.
Fox News' Jake Gibson contributed to this report.