Daniel Larison makes a point that should be blindingly obvious were it not for the need for our talking heads to turn every single election into a referendum on the talking heads’ own framing of the President’s agenda:
“What we have been seeing in all of the elections over the last year is a readiness on the part of the electorate to oust the parties that have traditionally held sway in the district or state in question….The candidates that could best address the local concerns of voters prevailed. Those identified with distrusted political establishments or discredited national parties failed.”
I assure you, the average New Jerseyan is smart enough to recognize that their state governor has approximately no relevance to the President of the United States. I am quite certain that the foibles of the New Jersey state Democratic Party and of former Governor Corzine, and the state’s own economic problems had about 1000 times more to do with why there is a Republican in the Governor’s Mansion right now than anything related to President Obama or Democrats in Congress. As early as March or April of last year, Democrats in this state were already certain that Corzine would lose. Indeed, Christie led in every single poll taken between January and September of last year, almost always well outside the margin of error. Even casting aside that this was a governor’s race, it seems rather unlikely that New Jersey voters were already looking forward to sending President Obama a message a week after he was sworn, and less than 3 months after they had overwhelmingly voted him into office.
It was only in September and October, when it became clear that Christie was just another establishment Republican, that Corzine caught up in the polls and turned it into a meaningful race again. Ultimately, Christie pulled it out by four points, but this was a far cry from the 10-15 point leads he was consistently polling in July and August. For anyone who had actually been following this race, the shocking thing wasn’t that the People’s Republic of New Jersey elected a Republican; it was that a Republican with a reputation for fighting political corruption almost blew an opportunity to rout a Democratic Party and administration known primarily for its corruption and incompetence. Yet somehow the meme that came out was something along the lines of “New Jersey Voters Send Obama a Message.”
But most importantly, as Larison points out, when times are tough, voters blame incumbents. They don’t just blame the party in power in Washington – they blame the people who are supposed to represent them, they seek out more competent candidates, or they savage the establishment of whatever party is most relevant. That’s what happened in NJ, it’s what happened in NY-23 (both with respect to Hoffman’s destruction of Scozzafava and the Dems’ ultimate victory), and it’s at least arguably a big part of what happened in Massachusetts, where angry voters combined with a terrible Dem candidate and a very good Republican candidate to create a perfect storm.
To the extent voters are sending a message to Washington, it’s simply this: It’s not all about you.