Was Tuesday Telling?
Posted on November 6, 2009
As usual after off-year elections, pundits cannot agree on what the outcome of the November 3, 2009 election may mean for the 2010 Congressional elections. Some pundits are saying that the 2009 results were a harbinger of things to come and some are suggesting there is no reason for Democrats to be concerned.
It is true that off year Governor’s elections in New Jersey and Virginia have often gone to the party out of power in the White House. This has happened in five of the past eight elections. Sometimes the off-year elections have given us insight, as in 1993 when Republicans took over seats in New Jersey and Virginia and went on to take control of Congress in 1994. However in 2001, Democrats soundly won off-year elections, but it took another 5 years for them to win back Congress.
The big question heading into this year’s election was whether the groups President Obama brought to the polls in support of Democrats in 2008 would remain a major force again. The answer to that was an overwhelming no! The percentage of young voters was down significantly in both states and African-American voters didn’t show up in the large numbers they did in 2008. Seniors turned out in greater numbers this year and voted Republican.
Two groups that were vital to the Democratic winning coalition in 2006 and 2008 are suburban voters and independents. These groups made a significant shift away from the Democrats this year.
- Republican Bob McDonnell won suburban Fairfax County, 51-49%. Four years ago when McDonnell beat Creigh Deeds in the race for Attorney General, he lost Fairfax County by 16 points.
- President Obama won independents by 8 points last November, yet independents voted 2 to 1 in favor of Republicans in Virginia and New Jersey in this election.
There was another interesting trend in the 2009 election: Democrats in both states ran way behind President Obama’s percentages in 2008 and Republican candidates ran ahead of President Bush’s percentages in 2004 (the previous Republican high water mark).
Yes (for those of you wondering when I would get to it), there was one Democratic pick-up in the November 2009 election in an open Congressional seat in upstate New York. In this chaotic race, a Conservative party candidate got into the race only one month in advance of election day and the Republican candidate dropped out with three days to go and endorsed the Democrat. This is unlikely to be replicated anywhere in the nation and I think was the epitome of “all politics are local.”
So what did happen in the 2009 election and can we read anything into it? I believe all the signs and numbers in this election point to trouble for Democrats in 2010. We don’t have to look much further than the 55 House Democrats who took over Republican seats in 2006 and 2008.
- Voters in 21 of the districts voted for Republican for president in 2004 and 2008.
- Voters in 42 of the districts voted Republican in at least one of the last two presidential elections.
- Twenty-seven of these Democrats won with less than 55% of the vote.
- When Republicans took over Congress in 1994, the Democrat party’s share of the nationwide vote dropped by 5.4 percentage points from the previous election.
These are the folks who will be looking closely at the 2009 election results and will be running for cover. I believe these vulnerable Democrats will recognize what the numbers mean – it will be hard for them to sustain their winning percentage in the face of lower turnout, independents and suburban voters swinging back to Republicans and a lack of intensity on the Democratic side.
There are some perfect examples of these precarious Democratic districts in Virginia, where there was a major vote shift away from Democrats in just one year.
|Freshman Democrat||2008 House Dem %||2009 McDonnell % in District|
|Glenn Nye (VA-02)||52%||62%|
|Tom Perriello (VA-05)||50%||61%|
|Gerry Connolly (VA-11)||55%||55%|
I think all of these facts point to major warning signs for the Democrats heading into the 2010 election. One year after an historic turnout election where many voting blocs aligned to give Democrats strong majorities, the Democrat coalition took a hit in November 2009. Not only that, but exit polling showed that voters were concerned about the economy, taxes and government spending—all issues that traditionally benefit Republicans. Republicans now have the momentum on their side – these wins will help with their recruitment and fundraising efforts, may encourage more Democrat retirements and will bolster their base even more. Unless Democrats heed the warning signs and change course, I believe voters showed us this year how they will react next November.