In the United States, elections between between presidential election years are called midterm elections. As for the elections between those the presidential election and the midterm election, those aren't called anything, because no one ever thinks about them. At least until recently; but now with the advent of the internet and total media saturation, these elections can be followed. In fact, to feed the maw of the media beast, they must be followed.
The 2009 election had a few elections of some national significance, with the major thesis of their national importance being whether they were indirect judgments of the popularity of President Obama, and the Democratic Party, who had managed fairly broad victories in the 2006 and 2008 elections. Some of the races followed in the 2009 election were:
- Virginia Governor: Republican Bob McDonnell and Democrat Creigh Deeds ran against each other. The major interest in this election to see whether Obama's surprising victory in Virginia, the first Democratic win in 44 years, meant that the state had changed its basic electoral character. Since McDonnell won, 59%-41%, it seems that there is still a strong Republican presence in Virginia.
- New Jersey Governor: Democratic Incumbent Jon Corzine was challenged by Republican Christopher Christie, as well as independent Christopher Dagget. Christie won, 49%-45%, with Dagget picking up 6% of the vote. Although this was a Republican win, it was not the landslide that Virginia was, with neither one of the candidates appearing to impress over 50% of the electorate.
- New York's 23rd Congressional District: this seat was vacated when John McHugh, a Republican, was appointed by Obama to serve as Secretary of the Army. The initial candidate picked by Republicans was Dede Scozzafava, a moderate Republican who was running against Bill Owens, a conservative Democrat. Some conservative Republicans felt that Scozzafava was not conservative enough, so they enlisted Doug Hoffman to run as a third party candidate. His candidacy quickly eclipsed Scozzafava's, and she dropped out---and then endorsed Owens. Hoffman was actually favored to win, but on election night, Owens won 49-45, with Scozzafava getting the remaining vote. This race was closely watched, because the internal fighting between Scozzafava and Hoffman was seen as a testing ground between the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican party. While there has been much talk in the media about a populist, conservative backlash against Obama's policy, it was not yet clear if it will translate into results in voting. This race is hardly a clear answer to that question, since it followed a very unusual course in a very unusual district, and the results were hardly decisive.
- California's 10th Congressional District. The previous holder of this job was also appointed to be an undersecretary in Obama's cabinet. This district in the Bay Area of San Francisco, meaning it would be close to impossible for the Democratic candidate to lose it. And indeed, John Garamendi, who was formerly the Lieutenant Governor of California, won over Republican opponent David Harmer by 53-43.
- New York City mayor: although not actually of too much national significance, independent billionaire and incumbent mayor Michael Bloomberg pulled out a smaller than expected win over William Thompson, who had the disadvantage of not being mayor, and not having 100 million dollars to spend. Bloombergs 51-46 point win can barely be considered decisive, in this case.
- Maine's Question 1 was a referendum on gay marriage, and was defeated narrowly, 52-48.
- Washington's Referendum 71 was to endorse "marriage in all but name" civil unions. This measure passed by the inverse score as Maine's did, 52-48. Whether this was because of the different content, or a different electorate in Washington is unclear.
I went into some detail on those races, and now it is time to look at them in the aggregate. Of the seven races above, only 2 were decided by margins of 10 points or above. The others were decided by margins that were small enough that in a non-off-off year election, larger turnout could have shifted the results. None of these elections, I feel, can be certified as having any type of national significance, because I think they are all examples of all politics being local. The governors' races are especially uninstructive, since governor's are quite often not part of the party that the electorate generally supports. The two most conservative states in the union---Oklahoma and Wyoming have Democratic governors, while two of the most liberal---Hawaii and Vermont, have Republican ones.
I don't think that Obama's landslide victory was a sign that the country had become "fundamentally" liberal, and neither do I believe that there is a "fundamentally conservative" backlash of conservative populism that is brewing across the country's neglected heartland. The only race in the country where conservative populism was an issue (New York's 23rd) saw the conservative candidate lose (although narrowly) in a district that had been Republican for some 150 years.
But as we say, almost all of these margins were small. If there was some easily defined way to describe what the electorate wanted, what their "fundamental" status was, those margins would never be small, and we could dispense with the confusion and fun of having elections.