Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post about the question on every political junkie's mind: do today's off-year elections constitute a referendum on the first year of Barack Obama's presidency?

Milbank, with a tongue-in-cheek tone, describes how pundits on both sides are giving the question a spin that is intended to benefit their side.

But he avoids the obvious question: what was each side saying eight years ago, when the shoe was on the other foot? In 2001, there was a new Republican president, and Republicans had won the 1997 gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey (although New Jersey had a Democratic acting governor during the runup to the 2001 election, because Christie Whitman had resigned to join the Bush Administration).

I googled "2001 mark warner governor referendum on bush", and, lo and behold, I found this New York Times article, in which Terry McAuliffe, then the Democratic national chairman, said of that election cycle: "''I view it as a referendum on the Republican Party and their stale ideas.''

McAuliffe, who would be the one trying to uphold Obama's honor in Virginia this year, if he hadn't lost his party's gubernatorial primary, predicted in 2001 that the victories of Mark Warner and Jim McGreevey would give the Democrats enough momentum to retake control of Congress in 2002.

As it turned out, Republicans made small gains in the 2002 congressional elections, enough to give them a narrow majority in the Senate. However, Democrats did, of course, win majorities in both houses four years later.

That 2001 Times report also describes the situation in 1993, which was the same as this year's scenario. The more things change ....

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