Prespinning November 3: A Good Night For....
Let's assume that Republicans win the Virginia governor's race, Democrats win New Jersey's gubernatorial race, Democrat Bill Owens wins the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional district, voters approve gay marriage in Maine and turn back domestic partnership benefits in Washington State.
A win, mostly, for Democrats. Republicans will argue that the elections in NY 23 and in New Jersey aren't really wins because Republicans split their vote between two candidates, which in and of itself is a good barometer of the health of the GOP. Republicans will further insist that Virginia is the real test of the Obama effect -- and, more importantly, the carry-over effect of the 2008 victory machine. Obama may not have been rejected, but his brand of Democratic politics have been rejected. Virginia's not as purple as people think, and many of Obama's new voters aren't real -- they're like virtual particles, popping in and out of existence in response to changes in energy. That'll be the argument, especially if Democrats lose the governor's race, the lieutenant governor's race and the race for attorney general.
Now, Democrats will respond that Bob McDonnell isn't running as a Republican. He's run as a Virginia Democrat, a bipartisan figure, talking jobs and education, not abortion and guns, aggressively reaching out to African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and independents in Northern Virginia. They'll also use the occasion to bash Creigh Deeds's campaign and praise McDonnell's NoVA television ads, which have been devastating (and not unfair). To a large extent, the McDonnell profile is a Democratic profile. It's a warning sign for the future given how the Bachmann-Beck-Palin ticket is pushing the national party. (Remember which gubernatorial candidate canceled a planned Palin campaign appearance?)
BTW: unless GOPers sweep the night, it's going to be hard for any reasonable person to conclude that November 3 was a referendum on the entire Democratic project. Democrats might derive sustenance from that, but they probably shouldn't. Headed in 2010, they still face a structural and temporal enthusiasm gap that will redound to the benefit of Republicans.
More interesting to me is what lessons Republicans take from the election. Do they see it as a blueprint to run essentially moderate, temperate, pragmatic, jobs-and-education focused campaigns? Or do they look to New York 23 and wonder what would have happened if the local GOP had been brave enough to choose a guy like Doug Hoffman? My guess is that the party establishment will learn one lesson and activists will learn another. That's a recipe for more GOP confusion in 2010.