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U.S. President Barack Obama salutes a Marine Corps honor guard as he boards the Marine One at the White House on Tuesday, November 4, 2009. (Alex Wong/2009 Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama salutes a Marine Corps honor guard as he boards the Marine One at the White House on Tuesday, November 4, 2009. (Alex Wong/2009 Getty Images)

Andrew Steele

It ain't about Obama Add to ...

There are claims that the elections in New Jersey and Virginia show that President Barack Obama has no coattails.

If that is true, then presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush were all without coattails as well.

The Commonwealth of Virginia voted for a governor of the opposite party as the President in every election following the election of a new President since 1978.

Similarly, the New Jersey gubernatorial election saw the President's party lose with George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush freshly elected to the White House as well.

Yesterday was the continuation of a trend that is 40 years old in Virginia and 30 years old in New Jersey: the President's party loses.

And President Obama's campaigning is hardly the trigger for these losses.

In both New Jersey and Virginia, the Republicans avoiding running against President Obama, choosing to focus on local issues and personalities. Virginia Governor-elect McDonnell went out of his way to praise Obama when the President won the Nobel Prize.

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, was an unpopular incumbent in a state that remains quite generally supportive of Obama, giving him a 57 per cent approval rating recently. Corzine trailed his Republican opponent consistently from the beginning of the year, and was suffering from a negative approval rating since February of 2008. It was only when President Obama began campaign vigorously a month ago that the gap began to close.

Similarly, in Virginia, Democrat Creigh Deeds trailed Republican Bob McDonnell in every single poll with the exception of a slight bump when Deeds won the nomination in June. Demographic factors and turnout problems hampered the ability of the Democrats to compete, but they were never really in the running here from the beginning.

Had the Democrats won either of these races, it would have been in the face of decades of history and coming from behind.

As I warned two weeks ago, the national significance of these state-level elections is relatively little.

National issues played in favour of the Democrats in New Jersey, and they lost. National issues ran against the Democrats in Virginia and they lost worse. National issues played a role in the size of the margin of loss, but they don't explain the losses themselves. Victory or defeat was the result of local factors.

This is not to say Obama doesn't have problems.

He was oversold in his own election and voters are having buyer's remorse. The economy is stabilized modestly but unemployment is continuing to climb. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan both face huge challenges. Failure to secure health reform would leave his party split and moribund.

But the focus should be on the steak in Washington, not the sizzle of state elections.

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