Eight years ago, when a Democrat was President and Republicans won the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather gave the results a piddling 12 seconds, didn't even utter the names of the winners and made clear that local issues -- “the high cost of automobile insurance and a tax on car ownership” -- were “the key issues.” But on Wednesday night, the same newscast gave a minute and thirty seconds to the election results which included names as anchor Bob Schieffer inserted an ideological label into his description of Virginia: “In New Jersey, Democrat Jon Corzine won one of the nastiest races ever. He'll be the next Governor there. And in conservative country, Virginia, another Democrat, Tim Kaine, won the Governor's race there.” Gloria Borger then declared that “this was not a great night for President Bush, particularly in the state of Virginia.” She cited how “he went in and he campaigned for the Republican candidate for Governor who lost, and, Bob, this was a state the President himself won by eight points in the last election." Borger ignored a basic fact which undermines her analysis: The Democratic candidate for Governor of Virginia won in 2001 when Bush's approval rating, just two months after 9/11, was over 80 percent.
NBC's even more flagrant bias contrast, ABC's crediting of Clinton's good economy for the GOP wins and Morton Kondracke's prediction on FNC that “if I were Howard Dean and I looked at these results, I'd be really disappointed” because, despite Bush's plunging popularity, Democrats did no better this year than four years ago in the same races, follows
Back on the November 5, 1997 NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw didn't bother to mention the two GOP gubernatorial victories as he set up a look at ballot initiatives by contending that “the big story out of the elections across the country yesterday was the status quo.” But tonight (Wednesday), NBC anchor Brian Williams stressed how the election results “confirmed some Republican fears that President Bush's falling approval ratings may be a drag on the party.” David Gregory, however, pointed out how “top Republicans dismiss the idea these results were symptoms of Mr. Bush's plunging popularity. Democrats also won the Virginia and New Jersey races, they noted, in 2001 when the President's approval ratings were sky-high." Gregory added that “Republicans eyeing next year's mid-term elections are nervous” and he concluded that this off-year vote “proved that just when the President thought things couldn't get worse, they did.”
ABC's coverage Wednesday night didn't provide much quote-worthy, but certainly avoided the take Cokie Roberts delivered in 1997 that spun the two Democratic defeats into validation of the policies pushed by the Democratic President: "Incumbents did well because the economy's good, Peter. It's a direct correlation." The economy is good now, too.
During the panel segment on Wednesday's Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC, Morton Kondracke of Roll Call pointed out:
"If I were Howard Dean and I looked at these results, I'd be really disappointed, actually. In 2001, George Bush had an approval rating of 85 percent. Now he's got a 40 percent. So you would think that Democratic candidates would do really, really well. But in Virginia, Tim Kaine got exactly the same percentage of the vote as Mark Warner did in 2001. In New Jersey, Jon Corzine, the Democrat, wins with 3 percent less vote than Jim McGreevey, the previous Democratic winner got in 2001."
I'd add that, presuming the Republican holds on to win the very close Attorney General race in Virginia against the NRA-endorsed Democrat, party control of the four statewide offices up on Tuesday, will switch from a 3-to-1 Democratic advantage to a 2-2 split because of both parties holding onto their two governorships and Republicans keeping the Virginia AG while picking up the Virginia Lieutenant Governor seat.
Contrasting coverage, 1997 versus 2005, equivalent first off-year elections after a presidential re-election (Today's CBS and NBC transcripts provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth):
# CBS Evening News:
+ November 5, 1997. Total coverage of the election results, this 12 seconds plus a couple of sentences on ballot initiatives:Dan Rather: "Republicans today talked up the off-year election as a definite on year for them. The high cost of automobile insurance and a tax on car ownership were key issues in the two major governors' races. The GOP won both."
+ November 9, 2005, following stories on a ballot initiative in Kansas on “intelligent design” and how the Hillsborough County, Florida school board refused to add Muslim holidays to the school calendar:Bob Schieffer: "Well, it was also a bad night for Republicans who wanted to be Governors and one Republican Governor who wasn't even running. In New Jersey, Democrat Jon Corzine won one of the nastiest races ever. He'll be the next Governor there. And in conservative country, Virginia, another Democrat, Tim Kaine, won the Governor's race there. California's Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn't on the ballot, but all the initiatives that he backed got beat. Our political correspondent Gloria Borger's in Washington tonight. Well, Gloria, you know what they always say at these off-year elections: The losers always say these were local races about local issues, the winners always say this shows there's a national trend developing. What do you read into what we learned last night?"
Gloria Borger: "Well, no doubt about it, Bob, this was not a great night for President Bush, particularly in the state of Virginia. He went in and he campaigned for the Republican candidate for Governor who lost, and, Bob, this was a state the President himself won by eight points in the last election."
Schieffer: "Well, what do you think Republicans now want from President Bush?"
Borger: "Well, they'd like his popularity to go up a little bit in the polls. But if that can't happen, they are saying they need an agenda. I spoke with one top House Republican today who said to me if the President can't give us an agenda, then just get out of our way for the 2006 elections."
Schieffer: "And are Republicans really worried now, do you think, about perhaps losing the House next year?"
Borger: "They're worried about losing the House and maybe the Senate, Bob."
# NBC Nightly News:
+ November 5, 1997:Tom Brokaw avoided the gubernatorial elections: "The big story out of the elections across the country yesterday was the status quo. Incumbents and their parties did well and in voting on a variety of propositions, the public sent a signal: We're pretty happy with what we have right now."
Gwen Ifill then checked in with a summary of the ballot initiatives.
+ November 9, 2005:Brian Williams: "Now to Election Day 2005, which, by the way, confirmed some Republican fears that President Bush's falling approval ratings may be a drag on the party. But even as Democrats celebrate big wins in the two governors' races, others say you can't read a national trend into last night's results. Here is NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory."
David Gregory: "It was a big night for Democrats who portrayed gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey as a black eye for President Bush."
Jon Corzine, Governor-Elect of New Jersey: "Tonight, I want to thank the people of New Jersey for rejecting the Bush-Rove tactics that we see in politics."
Gregory: "In Virginia, a Republican stronghold, the President put his own prestige on the line in a losing effort for Republican Jerry Kilgore."
Governor Bill Richardson, Democratic Governors Association Chairman: "This showed that the President's policies in red states are drawing extreme concern."
Gregory: "In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger saw the four ballot measures he supported soundly rejected. Still, top Republicans dismiss the idea these results were symptoms of Mr. Bush's plunging popularity. Democrats also won the Virginia and New Jersey races, they noted, in 2001 when the President's approval ratings were sky-high."
Ken Mehlman, Republican National Committee Chairman: "So, if you look historically, their argument really doesn't have much backup."
Gregory: "Still, Republicans eyeing next year's mid-term elections are nervous. Unlike 2002 when the President was a top draw for congressional candidates, now Mr. Bush's troubles have left Republicans looking for distance. Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth on Imus in the Morning."
Don Imus: "Would you like him to come to Arizona and cut some campaign commercials for you and run them on all those TV stations in Phoenix and Tucson and Flagstaff, in a word?"
Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ): "In a word, no."
Hayworth: "Not this time. Yes."
Gregory: "Off-year elections are often overanalyzed. Still, this one proved that just when the President thought things couldn't get worse, they did. David Gregory, NBC News, the White House."
# ABC's World News Tonight:
+ November 5, 1997:Peter Jennings: "Taxes were a big issue in many of the election contests around the country yesterday -- local taxes. In the Virginia Governor's race, Republican Jim Gilmore beat Democrat Don Beyer -- car taxes there. In New Jersey, Christie Todd Whitman eked out a one percent victory over her challenger, Jim McGreevey. The big issues were property taxes and car insurance. And Republican Rudy Giuliani was re-elected easily to a second term as Mayor of New York. And we're joined by Cokie Roberts tonight, who's had a chance to analyze all the results of yesterday. Cokie, a couple of things. First of all, incumbents, they did well."
Cokie Roberts: "Incumbents did well because the economy's good, Peter. It's a direct correlation. In Virginia, fully 87 percent of the people said the economy was excellent or good. In New Jersey, 70 percent of the people said that. In New York, people are saying that their quality of life is good, the majority of people -- even in New York City -- and that crime is down. All of that says keep the bums in, and that's what voters did."
Roberts went on to discuss the ballot initiatives.
+ November 9, 2005:Elizabeth Vargas: “A lot of Democratic politicians are in good spirits today, after the results of last night's voting, in many parts of the country. Democrats Jon Corzine and Timothy Kaine won Governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia. In California, voters dealt Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger a significant blow, rejecting all four ballot initiatives that he wanted to re-shape how the state isn governed. One bright spot for Republicans was in New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg won a second term in a landslide. In Texas, voters approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage, while voters in Maine decided to keep that state's gay rights law. Democrats said the gubernatorial results represent a rejection of the President and foreshadow victories next year. Republicans said the voting hinged on local issues.”