As political pundits, White House spinmeisters and we bloggers prepare to evaluate the meaning of the coming off-off-year elections on Tuesday, Michael Barone offers some numbers to help put the various races into context:
Six days from now the voters of New Jersey and Virginia will elect governors. Voters in the 23rd district of New York and the 10th district of California will elect new members of the House of Representatives to replace incumbents, a Republican and a Democrat, who were appointed to positions in the Obama Defense and State departments.
All four of these constituencies voted for Barack Obama 51 weeks ago. Obama won 57 percent of the vote in New Jersey, 53 percent (his national average) in Virginia, 52 percent in New York 23 and 65 percent in California 10.
Each race will show us how far the Democrats have fallen (or risen) in the various constituencies since the presidential election last fall.
In the interest of putting these results in a broader historical context, we should also compare the gubernatorial results in New Jersey and Virginia to those held in the same states in the years following the two most recent elections of a new president, 1993 and 2001.
In 1992, Bill Clinton got 40.59% of the vote in Virginia (losing to George H.W. Bush who won it with 44.97%) and won New Jersey with 42.95%. The following year, Democrat Mary Sue Terry scored 40.91% in her unsuccessful bid for Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia while voters in the Garden State delivered only 48.29% of the vote to then incumbent Jim Florio, ousting that Democrat from Drumthwacket.
In 1993, after the election of one of their own to the White House, Democrats increased their share of the vote in both states, rising 0.32% in the Old Dominion and 5.34% in the Garden State. We should note that in 1992, there was a third party candidate on the ballot. Ross Perot captured 13.63% of the vote in Virginia and 15.61% in New Jersey respectively.
So, we might be better served by turning to the 2000 election where Republican George W. Bush won the Commonwealth with 52.47% while losing New Jersey with 40.29%. A year later, Republican Mark Earley lost to Mark Warner, pulling down 47% only of the vote, while his partisan counterpart Bret Schundler fared much worse in the Garden State, holding only 41.7% of the vote against soon-to-be-disgraced Democrat Jim McGreevey.
In 2001, then, the candidate of the president’s party ran 5.47 points behind its standard bearer’s showing on year previously in Virginia while running 1.41 points ahead in New Jersey.
For 2009, the comparable numbers would be 47.16 in Virginia (Obama’s 2008 tally of 52.63% less 5.47) and 58.56 in New Jersey (Obama’s 2008 tally of 57.15 plus 1.41).