Losing the Virginia and New Jersey governorships hurt. Local factors played a part, but these are major states. So it matters why the Democrats lost them. Here are eight reasons, with lessons on how to reclaim the momentum of just a year ago:
The consensus choice, but worth stating before moving on to reasons less obvious. Creigh Deeds ran an awful campaign, even saying he'd reject a healthcare public option. As a follow-up poll confirmed, he lost major support as a result. Jon Corzine's ratings were disastrous from the beginning and his Wall Street background combined with the massive indictments of so many New Jersey Democrats to offer the worst possible symbolism. You have to give people something to fight for, and if our candidates are this unpopular, we'd better get better ones.
The Blue Dogs watered down the stimulus package so much that it couldn't stem the continuing loss of jobs. It also included far too little aid to beleaguered state and city governors. So unemployment has continued to climb, creating an understandably disgruntled electorate. No one likes a governor or mayor whose main job is to cut needed services and throw more people out of work, so this puts Democratic incumbents in a terrible bind. If Democrats want to protect their incumbents in 2010, they need to tackle continued job losses and the continued bleeding of local budgets.
Baucus, Nelson, and their cohorts. (More Blue Dogs)
Imagine if Democrats had united to pass a health care bill like the original House version, including popular elements like a strong public option and being funded through taxes on the wealthy. Imagine if they'd done it promptly after some reasonable discussion, instead of dragging it out for months and second-guessing every step. Obama and the Democrats would have something to show voters by now, a record as a party that can get things done even on critical and difficult issues. Instead, after watching endless internal bickering, the public fears the Democrats really will never get their act together, and that what they do pass will be so beholden to wealthy corporate interests that it won't address our real problems. The sooner the Senate and House pass a reasonably progressive healthcare bill, especially one that starts benefiting people immediately, the more the Democrats can reclaim their reputation.