WASHINGTON -- The Democrats and their friends in the national news media never miss an opportunity to report how unpopular Republicans are in the Age of Obama. And clearly, the GOP has a lot to prove if they are to regain majority status again.
But we may see signs of the GOP's political comeback sooner than anyone thought in the upcoming off-year gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia this November. Don't laugh. Independent polls show the GOP's candidates are ahead of the Democrats in both contests.
Heavily Democratic New Jersey? Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, the super-rich former Wall Street financier, has seen his disapproval polls soar as a result of the recession that has hit his state hard. Unemployment is at the highest level in 16 years, and the state now has the highest property-tax burden in the country that has angry voters favoring former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, the GOP's front-runner, by 45 percent to 38 percent, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.
The same story is at work in Virginia, where Republicans have a chance of recapturing the governorship in the Democratic-leaning state in an open race. Gov Tim Kaine, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman, is limited to one term.
Three Democrats are vying for their party's nomination, including former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, the front-runner. But for months, polls have shown Republican Bob McDonnell, the former state attorney general, leading all three of his potential rivals.
Obama carried both states last year. However, veteran election trackers, including Stuart Rothenberg's latest forecast, are now putting these races in the "tossup" column.
History appears to be on the GOP's side in each race. In New Jersey, no Democratic governor has been re-elected since 1977. And in the past eight presidential elections since 1976, "the party that loses the White House has won the Virginia governorship the following year," Rothenberg noted.
The New Jersey election is in many ways the most interesting because of its heavily Democratic electorate. Corzine, who made millions on Wall Street and bought his way into office with $50 million of his own money, was seen as someone who was skillful in economic policy.
But he plunged the state into $3 billion in debt and is raising taxes on the hard-pressed economy at a time when it can ill afford higher levies. He is calling for the elimination of property-tax rebates that will hit middle-class homeowners especially hard, along with a 4 percent surcharge on New Jersey's struggling businesses.
The Quinnipiac poll showed his overall disapproval score at 54 percent, and voters disapprove of the way he is handling the economy by 58 percent to 32 percent.