The independent voters who powered President Obama and Democrats to victory in 2008 fled to Republicans in Tuesday’s elections, helping the GOP romp to a ticketwide sweep in Virginia and a stunning victory over an incumbent Democratic governor in New Jersey.
But the night wasn’t a total loss for Democrats, as their candidate won a special election to fill an open congressional seat in upstate New York after a bitter civil war left Republicans divided between their party’s nominee and a Conservative Party candidate. The seat had been in Republican hands for more than a century.
Nevertheless, in a sign that there’s more trouble ahead for Democrats, voters in New Jersey and Virginia said they were driven by the economy and spending, and Republicans said their showing on Tuesday gives them momentum heading into the 2010 congressional elections.
Campaigning in Virginia, Republican Robert F. McDonnell said Democrats’ “overreach” in Washington helped boost him to what was a trouncing of Democratic nominee R. Creigh Deeds. And in New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie unseated the broadly unpopular Gov. Jon Corzine despite being outspent in a solidly blue state.
Mr. Christie said his election was a victory for voters “who do not want the government to fix every problem.”
“Yes, we can,” the crowd chanted, appropriating Mr. Obama’s slogan from his campaign as Mr. Christie took the stage.
Mr. Obama won New Jersey, Virginia and New York’s 23rd Congressional District in 2008, so Republicans’ showing Tuesday suggested that the red-to-blue wave that Democrats rode the past two national elections has crested. Most important, Republicans showed gains among independent and suburban voters who had defected in 2006 and 2008.
Exit polls showed independents, who made up nearly one-third of voters in both Virginia and New Jersey, went for the Republicans by a margin of nearly 2-to-1.
It wasn’t just independent voters. Republicans and Democrats alike were eyeing independent and third-party candidates such as Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate in New York’s congressional race whom most Republican voters ended up backing. Meanwhile, in New Jersey independent Chris Daggett siphoned votes from the two major-party candidates.
In New York City, another independent, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, won his third term, though the race was unexpectedly tight. In Detroit, former basketball star and Washington native David Bing was re-elected to the mayoral post and in Boston, Thomas Menino won his fifth full term. Other big-city mayor’s slots up for grabs included Atlanta, Miami and Houston.
Voters in Maine were deciding whether to repeal a law that allows same-sex marriages, and the vote was still close Tuesday night. Meanwhile, another special congressional election in California was expected to be won by Democrats.
In Virginia’s governor’s race, Mr. McDonnell easily topped Mr. Deeds, despite the Democrat bringing moderate stances to the race and repeatedly attacking Mr. McDonnell for being too conservative in a state Democrats had touted as the ultimate “purple” state.
The entire Republican ticket ran double digits ahead of Democrats.