Obama, Democrats tested in 2009 elections

08:18, November 04, 2009      

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One year after Barack Obama's landslide victory in the 2008 presidential elections, his party is faced up with another test on Tuesday as a handful of local elections are held in states and cities.

Starting early morning, registered voters began casting their ballots in Virginia and New Jersey, where Democrats and Republicans are intensely wrestling in the gubernatorial elections.

A voting guide is posted outside a polling station in New York Nov. 3, 2009. Citizens of New York City went to polls on Tuesday for the general election of the city. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is seeking for his third term. (Xinhua/Shen Hong)

Tuesday is also marked in some major cities that are electing mayors, including New York, Boston, Atlanta and Houston.

Although Obama's name is not on the ballots, the elections are portrayed by Republicans as "referendums" on his presidency and Democratic administration, which have been featured by economic stimulus measures, health care reform and withdrawal from the Iraq war.


On Nov. 4, 2008, Obama made history not only as the first African-American president but also the first Democrat to win a presidential race in Virginia since the 1960s.

However, Democrats are less likely to keep the state blue on Tuesday, as earlier polls showed Republican candidate for governor Bob McDonnell had a double-digit lead over his Democratic rival Creigh Deeds.

Even the support from Obama and incumbent governor Tim Kaine, who is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, seems making no help to their party fellow.

In the race for the state's lieutenant governor, Republican Bill Bolling also led Democrat Jody Wagner by about 15 points.

While Democrats tried to downplay their bleak prospects in Virginia gubernatorial elections, it was still considered by analysts a sign of Republicans' comeback.

"The Republicans could show they are competitive in Virginia, and also send a national message that they are able to come back in the Obama era," said Mark Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University.

The other gubernatorial race in New Jersey is caught in a tie between the current Democratic governor, Jon Corzine, and his Republican challenger Chris Christie.

The climate does not favor Corzine, the only governor who seeks reelection in 2009, since his political life is mostly judged by his performance in the latest economic crisis and the wave of job loss.

A drama got the New York 23rd congressional district election more national spotlights than it should have.

Dede Scozzafava, the candidate picked by local Republican leaders for she being able to reach out to independent and even Democratic voters, was forced to withdraw her nomination after the party's conservative wing insisted supporting another candidate torun for the office.

It has signaled the Republican Party that it may have a hard time to mend splits in the party before challenging Democrats in the midterm elections next year.


Although a more decisive test is coming one year from now when hundreds of lawmakers and governors are elected during the midterm elections, the local elections on Tuesday carry enough weight to touch Obama and his party's nerves.

The system of the off-year elections in Virginia and New Jersey" presents an early indicator of president's political standing and capability to transfer his popularity to other party candidates" and also an early indicator of midterm elections, Rozell told Xinhua.

"Given to Americans' anxiety about the economy, their tendency to blame the party in the White House, and the timing of these elections, it is really not a good year to run as a Democrat," he said.

If the Democratic Party loses two states, it will be read as the repudiation of some of Obama's policies and suggest a very difficult year for his party in 2010, he added.

Darrel West, a Brookings expert on governance studies, also agreed that loss of the two gubernatorial posts would be a big blow to the Democratic Party.

"If Democrats lose both Virginia and New Jersey, it will embolden Republicans and they will continue to oppose president's agenda," said West. "It will also become more difficult to get things done in Congress."

Only by improving the economy and reducing the unemployment rate, Democrats can resolve public dissatisfaction and prevent worse situation in the midterm elections next year, he said.


One year after Obama stirred up the nation with his historic victory at the presidential election night, the enthusiasm and expectations are seen shed by doubts and disappointment.

"He is a president who has established extraordinarily high expectations," said Rozell. "He made bold promises and significant changes to Washington, D.C.."

One of the good outcomes brought by Obama's presidency, as Rozell mentioned, is the improvement of the U.S. image abroad as the president has made efforts to reach out to Muslim world and Middle East countries.

His steady and cautious leadership in mapping the Afghanistan strategy by consulting with many civilian and military officials also drew a contrast with his predecessor, representing a welcoming change to the political culture in the White House, he added.

However, Obama's promise of a reform to provide the universal health care coverage has been processed slowly, and debates over the issue have created splits and anxiety among lawmakers and public.

The 800-billion-US dollar stimulus package backed by the president and congressional Democrats seems to have stopped the economic meltdown from getting worse, but there is still a long way to go to turn the economy around and bring jobs back to Americans.

Quoting the number released last week showing that U.S. GDP in the third quarter showed a 3.5-percent growth, West said he believed that Obama and his stimulus package have helped improve the economy and officially ended the recession.

"The biggest challenge has been the high unemployment rate, which almost reached a double-digit level," said West. "It is hard to persuade people you, as a president, are doing your job, if this rate remains high."

Source: Xinhua
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