All the buzz before the voting was about Obama. Would this be a referendum on Obama’s first year?
Not really. The story line was stifled by what voters in both NJ and VA reported in exit polls. More than half of NJ voters and just under half of VA voters approve of Obama, and solid majorities in both states said that he wasn’t a factor in how they voted today.
But the GOP won big tonight because the voting was a referendum on the economy. On that top issue, voters let out a primal scream.
Which will echo across Obama’s second year.
89 percent of NJ voters and 85 percent of VA voters said they were worried about the direction of the economy over the next year. About half the voters in each state were “very” worried — and those most anxious voters broke Republican big time.
Will that make moderate Senate Democrats like Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh and Mary Landrieu even more wary on health care? And if the reform effort slows down any more (Harry Reid signaled today that it could slip to next year), will Republicans start believing they can stop it?
If Obama does sign a bill into law, what will matter more to voters: the pain of medicare cuts and tax increases or the promise of affordable health insurance for almost everyone?
How will the White House respond in 2010? By biting the bullet on the deficit or doubling down on the stimulus? Is there any way to do both at the same time?
What will make voters feel better about the economy next November? Unemployment’s going to get worse before it gets better. But if it’s dropping again by election day, will that progress be sufficient to stem certain Democratic losses?
Obama’s independents drifted back to the GOP this year. His most loyal voters – African Americans and under-30s – stayed home. Can Obama bring them back to the Democrats when it counts more next year?
The answer to that will be determined by the economy.