Republicans swept to victory in two critical governor's races Tuesday, with independent voters helping deliver twin setbacks to Democrats who hoped to consolidate gains scored by President Obama last year.
GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey were fueled by unease over the economy and growing skepticism of government, according to exit polls.
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Obama carried both states last year. But the GOP gubernatorial candidate racked up huge margins among independent voters, notwithstanding the White House's efforts to boost the Democrats.
Republican Bob McDonnell won the race in Virginia, beating Democrat Creigh Deeds. It marks the first time Republicans won a governor's race in the state since 1997.
And in New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., was defeated in his reelection bid by former federal prosecutor Chris Christie. The heavily Democratic state was considered the party's best chance to steal a victory in a tough electoral climate.
The results are likely to be interpreted as a rebuke of the president and Democrats in Congress, though Democrats cautioned that the results should not be over-interpreted.
The losses -- and particularly the cratering of support among independents -- could complicate the president's push to get wavering lawmakers to support health care reform this year.
Democrats found their lone bright spot in upstate New York, in a wild race for a vacant House seat. Bill Owens defeated Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, in a race that highlighted fractures inside the GOP that resulted in the Republican candidate dropping out of the race and endorsing Owens.
Republicans hailed the early returns as a sign of a GOP comeback.
"I fully expect this trend to continue in the coming months," said Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, "and President Obama and Democrats should have reason to fear the upcoming elections in 2010."
A White House spokesman told ABC's Jake Tapper that the president is not watching election results on television tonight.
Faced with the prospect of a grim Election Day 2009, Democrats were hoping that Corzine would provide a glimmer of positive news out of New Jersey.
Leading Democrats sought to emphasize the local characteristics they said would drive voters' decision-making in an off-year election.
"People need to be very cautious about drawing conclusions about the outcome of these elections," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said on ABCNews.com's "Top Line" Tuesday.
"I don't think the president is looking at these and believes that they say anything about our future legislative efforts or our future political efforts," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said of the two gubernatorial races.
Preliminary exit polls suggest that voters largely support the president: 57 percent of voters in New Jersey and 51 percent in Virginia said they approve of Obama's job performance. A distinct minority of voters said their votes were connected to the president's leadership.
But 46 percent of New Jersey voters and 53 percent in Virginia said government is "doing too many things," suggesting unease with the scope of the president's agenda.