CNN’s exit polls say that independents were the deciding factor in the two big governor’s races, in New Jersey and Virginia. From the network’s web site:
In Virginia, where 30 percent of voters identify themselves as independent, 65 percent cast their ballots for CNN’s projected winner, Republican Bob McDonnell. That’s according to early CNN Exit Poll data. Democrat Creigh Deeds earned the votes of 34 percent of independents.
In New Jersey, the projected winner, Republican Chris Christie, took 60 percent of the independent vote while incumbent Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat, got only 30 percent.
So who are these independents? I don’t think they are really independents at all. They are what Mike Baselice, the governor’s pollster, likes to call “grumpy Republicans,” people who no longer identify with the Republican party, having become discontented at its march to the right. But, as the UT Poll’s Jim Henson pointed out at a forum I attended last December, they tend to vote Republican, by a margin of about 4 to 3. That is enough to make the difference in most elections. The Democrats have not been able to make much headway with independents in Texas, certainly not in statewide races, and it appears the same was true for the losing Democratic candidates yesterday. It is a mistake to think of grumpy Republicans as true independents. They will vote Democratic when disgusted enough with their former party–the election of Obama was one instance–but in general they retain vestiges of their former loyalties.
What are the implications of the governor’s races for 2010? Obama went to New Jersey five times to campaign for Corzine, to no avail. He comes out of the election with no coattails. Was the New Jersey governorship important enough to risk an election result that will be seen as a rejection of Obama? I don’t think so. On the one-year anniversary of his election, Obama looks pretty vulnerable. His legislative program is stuck, and the Republicans have him on the defensive. A lot can change in one year.