Does the Democrats' Big Night Mean More Success to Come?

Nov. 9, 2005 — -- The Democrats had a very good election night, just one year after President Bush won a solid re-election victory and Republicans increased their Senate majority to 55 seats.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine beat Republican Jim Kilgore in the Virginia gubernatorial race, and Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine defeated Republican Doug Forrester in a bitter contest for New Jersey's top job.

Kaine's victory could make it more difficult for the president to govern by marshalling his party in the year ahead. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll on the 2006 midterm elections released this weekend, Americans by nearly a 2-1 margin, 34 percent to 18 percent, say they're more likely to oppose than to support a candidate who's closely associated with Bush. Independents -- the true swing voters -- say so by 37 percent to 12 percent.

But before trying to draw huge national implications from the Kaine and Corzine wins, it's important to remember that both gubernatorial victories represent the return of the incumbent party to the statehouse. The results do not represent an upending of the status quo that definitely foreshadows trouble for the GOP in next year's midterm elections. Democratic victories in both of these states in 2001 did nothing to stop a very strong midterm election performance for the GOP in 2002. In short, the president and his party have time to recover.

Nevertheless, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., who is responsible for trying to return his party to the majority in the House, would like you to believe otherwise. Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, believes that Kaine's message of education and health care beat Kilgore's focus on lower taxes and cultural issues in Virginia, suggesting that Democrats can run on a "classic" Democratic message next year and win.

Spinning the results of the Virginia contest, Republican Governors Association spokesman Ben Jenkins told ABC News: "This race was the Democrats' to lose. This makes eight elections in a row in Virginia where the president's party has lost. It was a close race but this says nothing about any national trend. This race was run and won on Virginia issues."

That being said, some Republicans have said privately that the current sour national political environment for Bush and Republicans spilled over into Virginia to some degree. One senior Republican strategist also conceded to ABC News that a weakened President Bush might not hurt Republicans, but he is off the table for the moment as an asset who can help weak candidates such as Kilgore.

However, again, strategists on both sides of the aisle should be careful about overstating that effect.

ABC News' Gary Langer and David Chalian contributed to this report.