GOP Chairman Michael Steele said Wednesday that the election results were a referendum on President Obama’s first months in office, and that the party was on the rebound.
“We’re not crowing, we’re just smiling,” Steele said in a nationally broadcast interview. “I think it’s a bellwether for the party…You look at where we were nine months ago,” Steele said.
A White House spokesman said Wednesday that the GOP’s gubernatorial wins were not referendums on President Obama’s policies, even though the president campaigned for both Democratic candidates.
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that voters went to the polls in Virginia and New Jersey to work through “very local issues that didn’t involve the president,” according to the Associated Press. He said voters were concerned about the economy, adding “I don’t think the president needed an election or an exit poll to come to that conclusion.”
Exit polls conducted by Edison Research suggested that voters in both states remained strongly supportive of President Obama, but independent voters delivered strong margins for both Christie and McDonnell, the New York Times reported.
“We’ve gotten used to winning most elections, so that’s a challenge, let’s just be honest about it,” Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said about Democrats losing his seat. Kaine was prohibited by law from seeking a second term.
As Democratic National Committee chair, Kaine directed more than $6 million from the DNC into his home state elections this year.
The Republican Party, however, was far from unified in this year’s campaigns – as evidenced by internal turmoil in a special election for the U.S. House seat for New York’s 23rd district. Democrat Bill Owen narrowly won in the solidly conservative district after the GOP candidate dropped out and the Republican Party threw its support to Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman.
It is the first time a Democrat won the seat since the 1800s.
Just days before the election, GOP candidate Dede Scozzafava announced she was ending her campaign and endorsing Owens after national Republicans such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and conservative media hosts such as Fox News’ Glenn Beck backed Hoffman and put pressure on Scozzafava to leave the race.
Democrats were quick to use the New York turnaround to rally the troops in Washington.
“Republicans are the party of ‘no,'” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday on the floor of the Senate. “That’s why in New York, the congressional district [that was held by Republicans] for 150 years went Democratic. The American people see what’s going on in this Congress.”