How easily we forget. We get caught up in the health insurance fight, we game the Beck-Palin subculture, we chatter about Israel and Iran, we obsess about marriage equality ... while the voters who do not do politics for a living are simply trying to survive one of the worst downturns in history. The votes tonight are anti-incumbent votes in protest at economic crisis and the slow pace of recovery. And they are not, it seems to me, some national referendum on Obama's first nine months. In fact, Obama's approval ratings in both Virginia and New Jersey are respectable and strong, with unemployment headed to 10 percent:
About half the voters in Virginia and a majority in New Jersey - 49 and 58 percent, respectively - approved of the way Obama is handling his job. Most in both states, moreover, said the president was not a factor in their vote. Perhaps most striking - though simply confirmatory of national polls - were economic views. A vast 89 percent in New Jersey and 85 percent in Virginia said they're worried about the direction of the nation's economy in the next year; 56 percent and 52 percent, respectively, said they're "very" worried about it.
Voters who expressed the highest levels of economic discontent heavily favored the Republican candidates in both states - underscoring the challenge Obama and his party may face in 2010 if economic attitudes don't improve. The analogy is to 1994, when nearly six in 10 voters said the economy was in bad shape, and they favored the out-of-power Republicans by 26 points, helping the GOP to a 52-seat gain and control of Congress for the first time in 42 years.
The Dems have a year to get economic recovery reflected in the polling. And the point about health insurance reform - the critical point that needs to be hammered home - is that it will reduce insecurity in very troubled times.