NJ and VA: An Early Warning for Democrats?

With approval ratings for both President Obama and the Democratic Congress declining, top political analyst Charlie Cook is forecasting strong gains for the Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections. Obama’s approval now stands at around 51% (only 8 above his disapproval rating), and Cook currently predicts a Republican gain of 20 House seats in 2010. This is a fairly dramatic twist in expectations for a President who at the beginning of the summer had a 60% approval rating and a 30 point gap over his disapproval numbers.
Analyst Stu Rothenberg refutes the common notion that big losses by the President’s party in mid-term elections are pre-ordained by history. As Rothenberg cautions, “Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that history forecasts a big Republican sweep. It doesn’t.” And while Rothenberg himself currently projects a Republican pickup of 5-10 seats, he also puts a large asterisk on his own predictions, stating that “since we can’t know what shape the country or the economy will be in next fall, we can’t know whether Republicans will have a robust rebound or a modest one.”
While economic or other events will no doubt shift the landscape one way or the other, their is no doubt that Democrats are feeling a political strain. Further exacerbating anxieties are the upcoming elections for governor in New Jersey and Virginia this summer. Both races show a clear lead for the Republican candidates. In New Jersey, Governor Corzine has continued for several months to trail his Republican opponent by an average of about 10 points. With his approval ratings unlikely to see much of a bounce, a Corzine comeback will probably rest on his ability to raise Christie’s negative perceptions (the “Christie=Bush” posters have started to proliferate on New Jersey lamp posts) and to push this strongly Democratic state away from the solidly conservative Christie.
Meanwhile in Virginia, what once looked a close race has opened up for the Republican Robert McDonnell. Pollster.com now shows McDowell with an average 13% lead over his Democratic opponent Creigh Deeds.
Whether the Republicans hold onto their leads or not, Edison’s exit polling in New Jersey and Virginia this November will help determine where President Obama fits into the outcome, and what the outlook might be for 2010.

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