(Previously published in the Dec. 15 edition of The Progressive Populist.)
There are limits to the politics of personality. That's one of the lessons we should take from the Nov. 3 off-year elections, which featured sparse turnout — especially of those who had backed President Barack Obama in 2008.
Democrats lost governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, states carried by Obama by solid margins and which had been led by Democrats for the last eight years.
In both cases, state economic and tax issues played huge roles in the results, overriding any of the residual popularity maintained by the president. Turnout also was an issue, with a little less than 1.9 million voters casting ballots in Virginia, down from 3.6 million in 2008 and 2.2 million voters casting ballots in New Jersey, down from 3.7 million. And most of the drop off was in Obama voters — African Americans and other minorities and those under 30.
The elections, essentially, demonstrated the limits to a movement built on the back of a single person. Far too many progressives were willing to ride Obama's personality, failing to understand that Obama's impact was likely to be limited when he was not on the ballot.
Consider the numbers from this ABC.com analysis of exit polling: In Virginia, where conservative Bob McDonnell defeated moderate Creigh Deeds by 59%-41%, the exit polls showed 48% approved of the job the president is doing, with 24% saying they voted for the Republican to show opposition to the president; 85% of voters said they were worried about the economy, with 53% saying they were very worried.
"Nearly half, 47%, called the economy the single top issue in their vote, far and away No. 1, as noted those economy voters favored McDonnell over Deeds by a 15-point margin, 57-42 percent," ABC reported.
The Democrat, Creigh Deeds, appeared to be his own worst enemy, as well, failing to define himself, running away from the national party and offering little to calm voters' fears about the future. Deeds, ABC said, "fell short in connecting with Virginia voters," half of whom said he failed to share their values and almost half of whom said he was too liberal.