As the final votes were being counted, it was possible to draw some lessons from Republican Bob McDonnell's victory in Virginia and the close, three-way governor's race in New Jersey, never mind that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has taken to saying that the elections don't mean much.
The odd-year elections -- held in the first year of a presidency -- have been meaningful over the last two decades. In 1993, New Jersey voters rejected tax-raising Democratic Gov. James Florio, despite the best efforts of Bill Clinton's consultant James Carville -- a harbinger of the losses congressional Democrats suffered the next year after they raised taxes and supported, unavailingly, massive health care proposals.
In Virginia that year, Republican George Allen was elected on a platform of abolishing parole and opposing gun control. Those quickly became national consensus policies and remain so today.
In 2001, just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, George W. Bush's Republicans suffered defeats in Virginia and New Jersey. In Virginia, Mark Warner showed that a Democrat conversant with country music and stock car racing could make inroads in rural areas that had little use for Bill Clinton or Al Gore. Democrats gained their congressional majorities in 2006 by winning such areas.
In New Jersey, Democrat Jim McGreevey showed the enduring power of the gains that Clinton and Gore had made in suburbs hostile to cultural conservatives. These areas rejected Bush even when he was winning re-election in 2004.
This year the issues in the governor elections in Virginia and New Jersey are reasonably congruent with those raised by the programs of the Obama administration and congressional Democratic leaders. Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds in Virginia and Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine in New Jersey have refused to rule out tax increases even as congressional Democrats press health care bills loaded with them. Their Republican opponents have both opposed tax increases.
In Virginia, McDonnell has done considerably more than that. He has advanced substantive, detailed positions on transportation, jobs and education -- issues that affect voters' everyday lives. He has also weighed in against national Democrats' health care, card check and cap-and-trade bills, while Deeds has dodged them -- a clear sign those stands are unpopular in a state that voted 53 percent for Barack Obama.