I've been pondering what to say about the election results in Virginia, New Jersey, Upstate New York, Washington State, and elsewhere, and I find it more difficult to put the results into any cohesive picture. My brain's ability to comprehend an election that takes place outside of the context of Bush appears to be just awful. Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising, after five straight election dominated by Bush (even if I didn't pay attention to the first two). But it's genuinely difficult to figure out what's going on.
Part of me wants to say that there's a rise in general anti-incumbent party/anti-establishment sentiment. Corzine lost, but Artur Davis is ahead in the polls in Alabama (it'd be really nice to have some independent polling of this race). The GOP took over the Governor's mansion in Virginia, but Mike McGinn is in the lead in the Seattle mayor's race. Mike Bloomberg's attempt to bend the rules and buy himself a third term only barely worked. The next mayor of Atlanta may be white. We live in interesting times, indeed.
Part of me also wants to say that the economic fundamentals are at work here. People are going to vote against incumbents when times are tough. It would be utter folly to expect Dems not to lose hold of some offices somewhere when unemployment has gone from 6% to 10% over the past year. Exit polls also show that most voters didn't see their votes as specifically for or against Obama. This shouldn't be surprising either; swing voters tend to perceive themselves as pragmatic and non-ideological. Yet, at the same time, while voters seem to be rejecting specific elected Democrats, they don't seem to be rejecting "tax and spend"; taxpayer bill of rights measures failed in Washington state and Maine, and to pour salt on the teabaggers' wounds, a highway bond issue passed in the Pine Tree State. Also, the NY-23 results suggest that anti-Democratic sentiment isn't enough; your candidate has to not suck, and you can't have a message that's too far out of tune with the district.
There's also a question of turnout among certain core Democratic groups that I want to address in more detail, but that will have to wait until later. For now, I think it's pretty clear that it was a bad night for Dems, who should have held New Jersey given the registration advantage, but NY-23 at least produced a pleasant aftertaste for the evening.