You can tell that the White House isn't expecting such a great election day — Democrats are down in recent polls in the governor's races in both Virginia and New Jersey — both by how much officials are insisting the outcomes have no relevance to the President and how much they're trying to change focus to the conservative in-fighting in the special election for an upstate New York congressional seat.
A rather odd development came over the weekend in New York's 23rd, where Republican Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava had been pitted against Democrat Bill Owens.
Here's a Scozzafava TV ad:
That ad and others like it are still running on TV in the district, even though in the last couple of days Scozzafava dropped out of the race and endorsed Owens.
Scozzafava dropped out after her candidacy was hobbled irreparably by conservative party candidate Doug Hoffman who has been drawing the support of not only the conservative tea party crowd, but conservative pundits and but Republicans with presidential ambitions such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., and Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. They say on too many issues, including same sex marriage and the economic stimulus bill, Assemblywoman Scozzafava — the official candidate of the Republican Party in Washington DC — was too liberal.
“I think that what you’re seeing here today is the rebirth of getting the Republican Party back to where we were,” Hoffman recently proclaimed.
“The Republican Party needs to learn something,” talk show host Rush Limbaugh said on Fox News Sunday, “If it goes country club blue-blood moderate, it's going to lose. If it goes Reagan conservative and commits to it, it's going to win landslides.”
On the Sunday circuit, Obama advisers were eager to paint this as a conservative purge, Republicans shrinking their party — and part of a larger problem for the GOP.
Former Obama for America campaign manager David Plouffe slammed those Republican voices for discouraging moderates within the party.
“Sarah Palin, the other Republican candidates who are likely to run, the Limbaughs and Becks of the world are basically hanging a "moderates need not apply" sign outside the republican national committee headquarters,” Plouffe told NBC.
On ABC News' This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett faulted the GOP for “becoming more and more extreme and more and more marginalized.”
And White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the grass roots conservative movement "may be where the energy is in the Republican Party, but it's certainly not a view on which you can build a majority party.”
President Obama's opponents, however, say this is just one manifestation of voter anger — anger that will mainly hurt incumbent democrats tomorrow and in 2010.
On CNN, House Minority Leader John Boehner characterized it as “a political rebellion going on in America.”
“This rebellion is by people who really have not been actively involved in the political process,” Boehner said.
Limbaugh called it “an eruption waiting to happen at the ballot box.”
This is what President Obama is trying to fight as he campaigns in New Jersey for incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine, whose disapproval rating in the state is 52% — who's locked in a tight fight with Republican nominee Chris Christie, a former US Attorney.
The White House insists that these elections are driven by local issues — property taxes in New Jersey, transporation in Virginia — and the strengths and weaknesses of the actual candidates. They say no one should judge tomorrow's results as relevant at all to President Obama, who enjoys majority approval ratings in both New Jersey and Vigrinia.
On Friday White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, “Whatever the results are, I don't think they portend a lot in dealing with the future.”
Gibbs pointed out that Democrats won the New Jersey and Virginia governorships in 2001, despite the fact that then-President George W. Bush was at the height of his popularity and Republicans went on to win seats in Congress in 2002.
But not everyone is buying it.
“The president has gone into these races, has raised money for candidates, Democratic campaign committees have raised money. So,to say that these contests are irrelevant is kind of whistling past the graveyard,” Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report told ABC News.
And there are national trends that no wise White House would ignore: anti-incumbent sentiment, concern if not angst about the economy, a majority of the American people thinking the U.S. is on the wrong track.
Campaigning over the weekend in New Jersey, Obama said, “This is a tough period in the economy and tough in NJ there are a lot of people out there who understandably feel cynical and think change should happen overnight. All of you have to be ambassadors for change.”
The least competitive race, according to polls — the governors race in Virginia where Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell is expected to shellac Democratic delegate Creigh Deeds tomorrow.
Vice President Biden heads to New York today to campaign for Owens.