Add the article below on the upstate NY race, and consider in context. Anything can be spinned.
November 5, 2009
Republicans Bask in Glow of Victories in N.J. and Va.
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER and IAN URBINA
Savoring their victories in gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia, Republicans were trying on Wednesday morning to build momentum, in a time of economic concern, for a strong challenge to President Obama’s party in next year’s midterm Congressional elections.
The White House insisted that the Republican victories in the two races for governor were not referendums on President Obama but rather the reflections of “very local issues that didn’t involve the president,” as Robert Gibbs, the chief administration spokesman, told reporters.
Indeed, local issues dominated in both gubernatorial races, exit polls indicated, and the results seemed to carry cautions for both parties. But for the moment, a collective frustration with the economy and anxiety over high property taxes helped Republicans regain some ground that they had ceded to Democrats in recent years. The trend was especially evident in the New York suburbs, where Republican challengers unseated a three-term county executive in Westchester County, retook control of the legislature in Nassau County and came tantalizingly close to winning the county executive race there as well.Democrats meanwhile took heart from a closely watched Congressional race in upstate New York, where a Democrat who received a late push from the White House exploited division among Republicans to defeat a Conservative Party candidate who had attracted national backers like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor.
In New Jersey, a former federal prosecutor, Christopher J. Christie, became the first Republican to win statewide in 12 years by vowing to attack the state’s fiscal problems with the same aggressiveness he used to lock up corrupt politicians.
He overcame a huge Democratic voter advantage and a relentless barrage of negative commercials to defeat Jon S. Corzine, an unpopular incumbent who outspent him by more than two to one and drew heavily on political help from the White House, including three visits to the state from President Obama.
“We are in a crisis; the times are extraordinarily difficult, but I stand here tonight full of hope for the future,” said Mr. Christie, 47, who will become New Jersey’s 55th governor. “Tomorrow begins the task of fixing a broken state.”
Mr. Corzine, 62, who entered politics a decade ago after a career at Goldman Sachs, conceded defeat at 10:55 p.m. Easternt time Tuesday night.
“It has been quite a journey,” he said. “There’s a bright future ahead for New Jersey if we stay focused on people’s lives, and I’m telling you, I’m going to do that for the rest of my life.”
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Christie had 49 percent of the vote, Mr. Corzine 44 percent.
In Virginia, where Mr. Obama was the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state since 1964, Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican and former state attorney general, rolled to victory over R. Creigh Deeds, a veteran state senator.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. McDonnell had 59 percent and Mr. Deeds 41 percent. Mr. McDonnell’s victory, along with Republican victories in the races for attorney general and lieutenant governor, ended eight years of Democratic control in Richmond.
Michael Steele, the Republican national chairman, was jubilant at a Wednesday morning news conference in Washington. “As recently as a couple of months ago, Republicans were written off,” Mr. Steele said. “Many of you were writing our epitaph and reminiscing of the good old days, whatever they happened to have been.”
The “real heroes” of Tuesday’s victories, Mr. Steele said, were “the Republicans and independents and, yes, even Democrats who spoke up against an incredibly arrogant government in Washington that has put our country, our freedoms and our economy at risk with unprecedented spending.”
Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican whip, took a similar tack. “I think that the victories last night here and in New Jersey indicate that when Republicans stand united we can win, whether it’s in a northern state or a southern state, and we can appeal to the independent voters,” Mr. Cantor said Wednesday morning on Fox News. “What’s important to take out of these elections is that voters in both states were very concerned about the direction of the economy and rejected out of hand the economic policies being pursued by the White House and Speaker Pelosi.”
At the White House on Wednesday morning, Mr. Gibbs said it was hardly news that the people are concerned about the economy. “I don’t think the president needed an election or an exit poll to come to that conclusion,” Mr. Gibbs said.
Mr. Gibbs said the president had telephoned Mr. Corzine and Mr. Deeds but had yet to congratulate the Republican victors in New Jersey and Virginia.
In New York’s 23rd Congressional District, Douglas L. Hoffman, a little known accountant running on the Conservative Party line, conceded after midnight to his Democratic rival, Bill Owens, after driving a moderate Republican from the race.
Fought as the country was struggling to emerge from its worst recession in decades, the 2009 election brought basic economic issues — job losses, foreclosures, taxes — to the fore in many state and local races.
In Virginia, Mr. McDonnell, avoided divisive social questions, concentrating instead on his plans to create jobs, improve the economy and fix the state’s transportation problems.
In New Jersey, Mr. Christie held Mr. Corzine, a onetime Goldman Sachs chief executive, accountable for rising unemployment, persistent budget deficits, and his failure to gain control over skyrocketing property taxes, the nation’s highest. Voters embraced Mr. Christie even though he offered little detail about how he would fix the state’s chronic financial problems and instead appealed to voters hungry for change.
Voters in both states remained strongly supportive of President Obama, exit polls conducted by Edison Research showed, though they said that was not a factor in their decisions. But independent voters, who in New Jersey favored the president in 2008 and in Virginia split between Mr. Obama and John McCain, delivered strong margins for both Mr. Christie and Mr. McDonnell, the surveys showed.
In New Jersey, a sprawling corruption case begun by Mr. Christie, which culminated in July with the arrests of dozens of politicians and others, appeared to have taken its toll on the Democratic get-out-the-vote machinery. In Hudson County, a party bastion where a number of Democratic officials were charged, only 39 percent of registered voters cast their ballots, county officials said.
The races in New Jersey, Virginia and New York attracted intense interest because they provided the first test of President Obama’s ability to transfer the excitement he unleashed last year to other Democratic candidates.
The White House, to varying degrees, became involved in all three races, worried that defeats would undermine the public’s perceptions of the president’s political clout and his ability to pass major legislation.
With polls of the Virginia race showing Mr. Deeds falling further behind, the White House refrained from an all-out effort on his behalf, though Mr. Obama campaigned with Mr. Deeds twice.
In New York, however, the president’s aides played a pivotal role in helping Mr. Owens over the weekend, engineering a surprise endorsement from the moderate Republican who had abandoned the race under pressure from conservatives.
And in New Jersey, the White House took a firm hand in guiding Mr. Corzine’s re-election campaign, culminating in rallies featuring the president campaigning with the governor in Newark and Camden on Sunday.
The victor in Virginia, Mr. McDonnell, 55, is a social and fiscal conservative, but ran on a more moderate platform that appealed to voters in the suburbs in Fairfax County, where he was raised. By contrast, Mr. Deeds, 51, had a difficult time introducing himself to densely populated Northern Virginia.
Mr. Deeds sought to portray Mr. McDonnell as a radical conservative by publicizing his 20-year-old master’s thesis, which criticized working women and single mothers. But polls showed voters found Mr. Deeds’s commercials too negative.
The New York race emerged in the national spotlight after President Obama appointed the district’s long-serving congressman, John M. McHugh, a Republican, as secretary of the Army. Almost immediately after local Republican leaders chose Dede Scozzafava, a supporter of gay rights and abortion rights who embraced the federal stimulus package, she came under attack by conservatives as heretical.
Leading conservative voices lined up behind Mr. Hoffman, of Lake Placid, and opponents of same-sex marriage and abortion flooded the district with volunteers from across the country.
In the final days of the campaign, Ms. Scozzafava stunned her party by withdrawing from the race and then backing Mr. Owens. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. traveled to Watertown on Monday to rally Democrats and disgruntled Republicans, but the event drew only about 200 people.
In New Jersey, Mr. Christie attacked Mr. Corzine’s economic leadership, saying he had driven jobs and residents from the state. The governor countered that Mr. Christie offered no viable plan for digging New Jersey out of its enormous financial hole.
Christopher J. Daggett, a former state and federal environmental official, made a splash with a plan to cut property taxes and a strong debate performance, but was hobbled by weak fund-raising. After reaching 20 percent in one public-opinion poll, he failed to break out of the double digits.
New Jersey was a deep-blue state, and Mr. Obama’s election boosted Democratic registration, giving the party a 700,000-vote advantage. Mr. Corzine assailed Mr. Christie, who was named United States attorney by President George W. Bush in 2001, as a philosophical clone of Mr. Bush.
The White House, viewing New Jersey as its best hope for victory, poured resources into the race. The president’s pollster overhauled the campaign’s message, White House aides reviewed Corzine commercials and attended strategy sessions, and cabinet officials lined up to appear at Mr. Corzine’s side.
But Mr. Corzine’s abiding unpopularity — his highest approval rating followed his 2007 car accident and was chalked up to pity — suggested that even “Obama surge” voters who voted for the first time last year could not tilt the outcome in the governor’s favor.
No issue loomed larger in New Jersey than the economy, which Mr. Corzine assured residents in January ranked as his No. 1, 2 and 3 priorities. But Mr. Christie never wavered from a simple strategy: making the vote a referendum on Mr. Corzine and highlighting how his supposed Wall Street financial skills had been a bust for the state.
David Kocieniewski, Nate Schweber and David Stout contributed reporting.