By electing governors of Virginia and New Jersey, Republicans have demonstrated that two trends suggested in recent opinion polls are for real. The first is that Republicans have pulled off a remarkable comeback after disastrous election defeats in 2006 and 2008. The second is that they now have a realistic shot at capturing the House and gaining Senate seats in the 2010 midterm election.
The stunning success in Virginia and New Jersey was strikingly similar to Republican victories for governor in those states in 1993. Indeed, the margins of victory -- an 18-point landslide in Virginia, a narrow win in New Jersey -- were almost identical to the margins in 1993.
Those victories 16 years ago were the first clue that Republicans were on the rise after losing the White House in 1992. In 1994, Republicans won 52 seats in the House and a dozen in the Senate and took control of both bodies.
Eric Cantor, the House Republican whip from Richmond, Virginia, said sweeping pickups in 2010 are now possible. "If we play this right as Republicans . . . we may lay the foundation for taking a majority" in the House next year. Republicans would need to capture 40 seats to take over the House.
The election triumphs were also "a shot across the bow to moderate Democrats" faced with voting in the House for President Obama's health care proposal and for cap and trade legislation to curb greenhouse gases. "I've got to believe they've gotten their wake-up call," Cantor said. This includes three moderate Democrats in Virginia, he said.
Republicans won six Democratic seats in the Virginia House of Delegates. The election of Will Morefield, a 25-year-old businessman, carried a message for President Obama and the Democratic Congress. Morefield made opposition to cap and trade the centerpiece of his campaign and he handily defeated incumbent Democrat Dan Bowling.
Another telling delegate race was won by Barbara Comstock, a Republican who served in the Justice Department and on Capitol Hill. She was attacked for her ties to President Bush, Tom DeLay, and other Republican leaders. Nonetheless, she defeated a Democratic incumbent.
In both states, Republicans made deep inroads in suburban areas where Democrats, and Obama in particular, had gained support in the past decade. McDonnell won populous, affluent Fairfax County outside Washington, the first time a Republican had managed that in years. Obama won the county in 2008 with 60-plus percent of the vote.
The election of McDonnell is likely to end speculation that Virginia, once a Republican stronghold, now leans Democratic.
Since 2005, Democrats have won two U.S. Senate seats, three House seats, and two consecutive governor's race. Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since 1964, defeating John McCain by 53-47 percent. He won New Jersey by 57-42 percent.
But he was a bust in both states this year. Democratic Governor John Corzine of New Jersey tied his reelection bid closely to Obama, who made two campaign appearances for him Sunday. In Virginia, Democrat Creigh Deeds broadcast two TV ads in the final weeks of the campaign in which the president touted him.
The White House and the Democratic National Committee insisted the two elections were not a referendum on Obama's performance as president. But his approval rating has dropped nearly 20 points in Virginia, roughly what Republican Bob McDonnell won by. In New Jersey, Obama's popularity has slipped less and Republican Chris Christie won by a smaller margin.
Even before yesterday's elections, Republicans had gotten over their initial fear of challenging Obama. The public's distaste for the president's liberal policies on health care and spending has buttressed their inclination to oppose Obama aggressively.
But Republicans hadn't expected to recover so quickly. In an interview last week, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans, while a distinct minority in Congress, are in a stronger position that he'd imagined possible. The twin victories in Virginia and New Jersey have made that position stonger still.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.