WASHINGTON -- If last week's governors elections and the exuberant Democratic claims that followed sounded familiar, that's because it was, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, "deja vu all over again."
Four years ago, Democrats also won the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey in the only two statewide contests that took place in that 2001 off-year election. The next day Democrats and political news analysts were saying the results proved Republicans were in trouble and would suffer serious losses in the 2002 elections.
But things didn't turn out that way. The Republicans, with some nonstop campaigning by President Bush, made sizeable gains in the House and Senate and maintained their majority in the governorships. And they went on to make further gains in 2004 and hold on to their advantage over the Democrats in the state capitals.
Nevertheless, Democratic leaders and political pundits were once again making 2001-esque claims last week after the GOP's twin losses in Virginia and New Jersey. Not only were they raising the prospect of a Democratic takeover on Capitol Hill next year, but saying the results were all due to a voter backlash against President Bush and his party.
"It's going to be a real shot in the arm for Democratic efforts to take back the House and Senate in 2006," said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. As to what caused last Tuesday's results, well, Schumer huffed and puffed, it was "a clear repudiation of George W. Bush and the Republican agenda."
But it doesn't take a lot of deep insight to discover there's a lot of exaggeration going on here.
First, let's dismiss any trends out of New Jersey. Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine won because of a nearly 2-to-1 Democratic advantage, an ultra-liberal agenda and a lot of get-out-the-vote money that Corzine gave to black church leaders and union bosses. It is hard to see how Bush or his party affected this race at all.
Second, as Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman said after the results were in: "This was a status-quo election day. There were 28 Republican governors before the election and there were 28 Republican governors after the election."
Virginia, however, tells a little different story, but not in the way many liberal Democratic leaders are portraying it.
Consider the kind of centrist to right-of-center campaign Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine ran. He focused on bread-and-butter economic-growth issues, transportation gridlock and roads. He campaigned as a Second Amendment Democrat who supported gun rights, and talked openly and frequently about his religious faith and values -- issues that are not in the national Democratic Party's mantra.
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