The driving political issue that year was the repeal of Prohibition.
Indeed, historians often overplay the popularity of FDR's economic program in 1932 and underplay the importance of his promise to let Americans have a beer. Regardless, the people agreed with the White House on both fronts, and supporters of repeal and the New Deal rallied to the polls. In Virginia, Democrats won a massive across-the-board landslide, outpolling the GOP 3-1.
Meanwhile, the most watched race in the country was for New York City mayor. It was a complicated three-way contest. Republican Fiorello LaGuardia beat the White House's preferred candidate, Joseph V. McKee, a veteran of machine politics in New York, and the Tammany Hall Democrat John O'Brien. The key thing to remember is that while the White House's man lost, the progressives' man won. LaGuardia was in every way a New Dealer who shared FDR's agenda.
This week, Democrats insist Obama is still popular. Maybe so.
But Obamaism is on the ropes. Congress is racing to pass health care reform because Nancy Pelosi and Co. know it is losing popularity, and they fear -- rightly -- that moderate Democrats will jump ship after reading the tea leaves of the Virginia and New Jersey blowouts. They also now know, thanks to Corzine's defeat, that Obama's personal popularity is not transferable.
A true ideological realignment of the sort that people associate with the New Deal requires a massive move in the political center of gravity, with both the middle and the right moving leftward.
There is absolutely zero evidence of anything like that at play in Tuesday's election results. The middle moved rightward and the right continues to hold its ground.
Obama still seems to believe that the equivalent issues to Prohibition and the New Deal are health care reform and cap-and-trade. Every day that looks more and more absurd.
The truth is that Obama's signature issue in 2008 was also repeal -- repeal of George W. Bush. He achieved that on Election Day. And now he is left looking for a mandate he never really had.
He may still be a successful president. He will surely have some victories. But the "new era" is now over, before it even began.