Republicans pulled off a sweep of Tuesday’s closely watched gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, with Bob McDonnell winning by a landslide in the Old Dominion and Chris Christie comfortably topping a three-way race in the Garden State.
In New Jersey, Christie unseated one-term Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in a state that gave President Barack Obama a 15-point victory just 12 months ago.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said the twin victories were an important step forward as the party seeks to regain its footing after back-to-back drubbings at the polls in 2006 and 2008.
“These victories will give our Party momentum as we head into the 2010 elections,— Barbour said in a statement. “When I was Republican Party chairman in the 1990’s, it was the governors who led our party’s comeback, and I believe we jump-started that once again today. Republican victories in the 1993 New Jersey and Virginia governors’ races were the springboard for the 1994 Republican revolution. Tonight’s victories will have a similar impact.—
With 87 percent reporting, Christie led Corzine 49 percent to 45 percent. Independent Chris Daggett, a former federal and state environmental policy official in a Republican administration, ended up drawing a significantly smaller portion of the vote than some polls had predicted. Unofficial results showed him with 5 percent.
In Virginia, McDonnell, a former state attorney general and state legislator, breezed to a landslide 59 percent to 39 percent victory over state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D).
McDonnell, who will take office in January, becomes the first Republican elected governor in Virginia since 1997. He will succeed Tim Kaine, who helped plot party strategy in the race as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
The Republican takeover in typically Democratic-leaning New Jersey — coupled with the win in Virginia — strengthens the argument that Republicans have slowed the momentum Democrats had built with their big national gains in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles.
Early exit polling data indicated that the majority of independent voters broke for Christie, a trend Republicans hope they can build on a national level as they look to the 2010 elections.
The gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey were being closely watched as potential indicators of the mood that Members of Congress will face when they stand for election next year. The National Republican Congressional Committee wasted little time trumpeting the results as a foreshadowing of what could be to come next year for Democrats representing swing areas.
“The fact that independent voters continue to peel away from the Obama-[Speaker Nancy] Pelosi agenda at a staggering rate, should be setting off alarm bells at Democratic headquarters in Washington,— NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said in a statement Tuesday night.
McDonnell’s win in Virginia, meanwhile, serves as a reminder for Democrats of the need to energize the party base ahead of the midterms, when Virginia Democratic freshman Reps. Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello — both of whom defeated Republican incumbents last year — are expected to be targeted by the national GOP.
Obama campaigned for the Democratic nominees in both states, although exit polling indicated that the president wasn’t a factor in most voters’ choice for governor.
According to a CNN exit poll, 55 percent of voters said that Obama didn’t influence their vote for governor, compared to 24 percent who said they voted to express their opposition to Obama and 18 percent who said that they voted to express their support for the president.