It's official. New Jersey Sen. John Corzine and Virginia Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, both Democrats, have won their states' hotly contested gubernatorial elections Tuesday, sending a loud message to President Bush that his political currency is depleted, and that his self-proclaimed "mandate" has come to an end. The victories over Doug Forrester and Jerry Kilgore in NJ and Virginia respectively are widely considered an important barometer into the current political climate and the future election prospects of the Republican Party and its leadership, which has been embroiled in controversy, scandal and policy failure. In short, Bush is now the political plague.
Bush appeared Monday and Tuesday with Kilgore, who earlier in the month kept his distance from the embattled president. "You know where he stands, and you know he can get the job done," Bush said this week. The two men campaigned together on the heels of Kilgore's attack ads that painted the Democrat as an anti-death penalty liberal who condones murder. Kaine has stated his religious opposition to capitol punishment, yet has said he'd enforce Virginia's death penalty laws if elected.
Virginia is a red state which Bush carried in 2004 with 54% of the vote, though no Democratic presidential candidate has won Virginia since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. However, Virginia's voters often put a Democrat in the Governor's mansion. Kaine is the 5th Democrat in the past 25 years to be elected to the state's highest office. His victory is significant in terms of what it represents on a national scale and what it could mean for both the Democrats and the GOP in next year's midterms. It also showcases the enormous popularity and influence of Gov. Mark Warner, who is a likely candidate for president in 2008. In helping Kaine win, his national currency has increased appreciably.
Over in New Jersey, Corzine managed to fend off a last-minute attack ad from the Republican challenger, businessman Doug Forrester, which featured Corzine's ex-wife saying he "let his family down, and he'll probably let New Jersey down, too." Right down to the wire the candidates, both multi-millionaires, duked it out over taxes, government waste and charges of corruption.
Tuesday's victories affirm what many pundits have been suspecting, and many within the GOP itself have been fearing, that the current Republican leadership is in serious trouble. That President Bush, once an important asset to incumbents seeking re-election, is now a huge political liability. After Tuesday's deflating losses to Democratic opponents, it's almost certain that Republicans will increasingly be finding themselves "out of town" and/or "attending to prior commitments" the next time Bush shows up.