But the New Jersey gubernatorial contest between Senator Jon Corzine, a liberal Democrat, and another multimillionaire, the Republican businessman Douglas Forrester, and the Virginia race between Lieutenant Governor Timothy Kaine, a moderate Democrat, and Jerry Kilgore, a Republican former state attorney general, had been very close for weeks.
So the fact that both Democrats not only won, but did so easily, Kaine by six points and Corzine by nine, raised speculation that Bush had not only failed to help Republicans but might have weighed them down as public concerns increase over the Iraq war, the CIA leak scandal and other matters.
Kaine’s comeback victory was also seen as a ringing endorsement by Virginia voters of his mentor, Governor Mark Warner, a possible 2008 presidential candidate who is positioning himself as a pragmatic centrist with appeal in the South. Polls show that more than 70 percent of Virginians approve of the job done by Warner, who was barred by law from seeking re-election.
The president made a much-publicized election eve appearance with Kilgore in Richmond.
Presidential aides had told reporters that the appearance was something of a gamble. They said they knew that if Kilgore did poorly, a “Bush effect” might be blamed, but they thought it was worth a try to help an ally in a state that has long leaned Republican. The president carried the state with 54 percent of the vote just a year ago.
And before we criticize David Axelrod for saying this election was about local issues, note that this explanation has been used before:
Republicans tried to play down their losses as not atypical in off-year elections, and largely reflecting local issues, not national concerns. Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, told The New York Times that in the past seven elections, the party that had won the White House the year before had lost the Virginia governor’s race.