The electorate sent a very clear message to President Obama, and indeed, the leaders of the two major parties Tuesday that they want them to pursue a very different approach to politics and policy going forward.
Make no mistake; this was at its core an anti-incumbent election. Liberal Democratic administrations in Virginia and New Jersey were ousted as voters embraced an anti-tax, smaller government approach, in both instances following more than eight years of Democratic rule.
In both New Jersey or Virginia, the hundreds of thousands of new voters who registered to vote for the first time last year to put both states in President Obamaâ€™s column, were nowhere in evidence Tuesday.
The results in New York's 23rd Congressional District also involved the ousting of the incumbent party, but here the message was different and just as blunt: if the GOP nominates a right wing candidate out of the mainstream, he too will face defeat at the polls â€“ even if he is backed by the national party and prominent party leaders like Sarah Palin.
Independents led the way in both Virginia and New Jersey â€“ voting Republican by close to 2-1 margins in each state. But in New York, it was a different story as independents embraced Democrat Bill Owens and soundly rejected the right-wing Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, after the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, dropped out of the race last week. Even some moderate Republicans crossed the partisan divide to support Owens, given the nature and effect of Hoffmanâ€™s right-wing message and out of district supporters.
Indeed, the only incumbent managing to survive â€“albeit with a reduced majority â€“ was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who ran an explicit and avowed centrist campaign, putting progress before partisanship. What then is the message voters are sending to Washington?
Tuesday's election results suggest quite clearly that voters of all perspectives want an end to partisan fighting, and explicitly want their leaders to pursue a bipartisan agenda, involving conciliation and compromise, not fighting, scapegoating, and divisive politics. In policy terms, both parties should understand these results to be a clarion call for compromise on health care reform.
There is clearly little appetite for a trillion dollar plus plan with a public option. Instead, it is clear that the administration and Republicans can agree on a less expensive reform measure that expands coverage incrementally, providing insurance reform involving pre-existing conditions, and portability, and likely to involve experiments involving both tort reform and competition across state lines.
The electorate is also clearly in no mood for a polarizing fight over climate change and instead seems open to the type of bipartisan agenda John Kerry and Lindsay Graham proposed last week involving both investing in alternative energy, as well as ocean drilling and the selective use of nuclear power. The embrace this week of this agenda by the Chamber of Commerce provides additional impetus for quick Congressional action.
In the spring of this year, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said explicitly that the administration would embrace broad based immigration reform, providing a path to citizenship for those already here and explicitly cracking down on illegal immigration. And shortly thereafter former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Clinton chief of Staff Mack McLarty authored a Council on Foreign relations white paper urging a â€œfundamental overhaulâ€� of our immigration laws, and advancing a comprehensive bipartisan plan that deserves prompt attention.
And given that unemployment is approaching 10%, notwithstanding the 3.5% economic growth recorded last quarter, Congress and the administration need to move to create private sector jobsâ€”and to do that quickly.
The best way for the administration and Democrats in Congress to do that is to work with the Republicans on a series of tax incentives involving tax credits for hiring as well as considering a temporary payroll tax holiday. Leaders of both parties have already spoken approvingly of these initiatives and if the administration gets behind them we could have a spurt of hopefully lasting job creation initiatives by the second quarter of 2010.
And more fundamentally, the electorate delivered an even more profound message: change your tone, lower your voices, get things done. There is widespread suspicion of and antipathy toward our leaders in Washington, regardless of position and regardless of party. There has been no lasting swing to the Republicans, though the Obama administration and the Democrats need to understand that as the incumbent party controlling both branches of government, they are most likely to be held accountable next year.
But that being said, Tuesday's election results send a very clear message to everyone in Washington from a very frustrated and angry electorate: change your ways.
Doug Schoen is a Democratic pollster, Fox News contributor and author of "Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System."