It was a message of nonchalance: asked last night if President Obama was watching the election returns, a White House spokesman said he was not. Another White House official hypothesized that the president might have been more interested in the Chicago Bulls game.
Whether or not you believe that, White House officials say Republican victories in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races came as no surprise to them.
Neither race, they say, was a referendum on President Obama; exit polls support the notion that President Obama was not a factor in most voters’ decisions.
That said, though it didn’t take an election to drive home the argument that the economy is troubled and voters are worried, officials acknowledged that the vast numbers of voters expressing concern about the economy could have ramifications in the 2010 midterm elections.
That a majority of voters in both states said they were “very” concerned — and those voters overwhelmingly went for the Republican candidates — is of concern for Democrats trying to keep control of the House and Senate.
Another worry: independent voters split overwhelmingly for the Republicans, though White House officials say their polling shows that President Obama enjoys essentially the same level of support among independents now as he did a year ago.
But White House officials say they’re heartened by what happened in the special election for New York’s 23rd congressional district, and hope it becomes a template for 2010.
With tea party activists and Republican figures such as Sarah Palin and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty deeming the Republican congressional nominee, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, insufficiently conservative and supporting the Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, Scozzafava withdrew and endorsed the Democrat, Bill Owens.
And Owens won last night.
White House officials say Scozzafava could have won, and the “purge” — as one official called it — “does not bode well for a party that seeks to reclaim the majority.”
With conservative challengers to other moderate candidates supported by the GOP establishment in Senate races — Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, former Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn. — the White House hopes the dynamic that played out in New York’s 23rd will play out across the nation.
As further evidence this disarray is not confined to just a handful of areas, White House officials point to Pawlenty’s comments earlier this week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe in which the Minnesotan seemed to hem and haw when asked whether it was a good thing to have Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, in the party.
“We want Olympia Snowe in the big tent but she can’t say she’s a Republican and then vote against the Republican position much of the time,” said Pawlenty, who is contemplating a run for president in 2012.
Democrats say they are hoping for that assistance from conservatives in what analysts say is shaping up to be a tough environment for incumbents in 2010.
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