New Jersey and Virginia's tradition of odd-year elections for governor give the media ample fodder for speculation on how Democrats and Republicans will perform in future congressional and presidential elections. But for the New York Times, the Democratic successes of 2005 seem to have far more significance than did the Republican successes of 1993 and 1997.
In 1997, New Jersey's Republican governor Christine Whitman won a close race for re-election, while Republican James Gilmore won in Virginia. The Republican successes in Bill Clinton's second term, when he wasn't up for reelection, were downplayed by the Times two days afterward in a headline: "With Big Issues Absent, The Little Things Count." Reporter Richard Berke didn't see any political significance at all: "Forget the post-mortems about ideological shifts, Republican revivals or which candidate had the most money. The legacy of the off, off-year elections on Tuesday may simply be this: Think small."
Burke even suggested the 1997 votes was in some way a validation of President Clinton: "The success of narrow pocketbook issues is a nod to the strategy perfected by President Clinton in last year's election, when he seized on small but powerfully symbolic issues like school uniforms. It also reflects the waning of ideology in today's politics; it is a time when both parties are struggling to come up with defining issues."
Even in the more significant races of 1993, when Republicans replaced Democratic governors in New Jersey and Virginia during Clinton's first term, reporter Berke played down the G.O.P wins, as shown by the front-page headline from Nov. 4, 1993: "An Electorate in Revolt; Voting Nationwide Was Less an Embrace Of G.O.P. Than a Warning to Incumbents."
Berke threw cold water on the 1993 Republican wins in the lead sentence: "The three major Republican victories on Tuesday were less a partisan triumph than a warning that the revolt against established politicians that helped send President Clinton to the White House may imperil incumbents next year and ultimately threaten Mr. Clinton himself....It would be a stretch to portray the Republican victories in the six contests as a repudiation of Mr. Clinton, even though he and many of his top aides campaigned hard for Mayor David N. Dinkins in New York and Gov. Jim Florio in New Jersey....The Republicans, of course, did their best to promote their victories as part of a trend. But except for Mr. Allen's landslide in Virginia, the margins of victory for Mrs. Whitman and [New York Gov. Rudy] Giuliani were so narrow that they more aptly demonstrated that the electorate that brought Ross Perot to prominence in last year's Presidential contest was still restive."
Given that history, did the Times also downplay the significance of the 2005 Democratic wins by Democrat Jon Corzine in New Jersey and Tim Kaine in Virginia, in which the party held on to seats it already controlled? Hardly.
Reporter Robin Toner's wrapup is headlined, "Stinging Defeats for G.O.P. Come at a Sensitive Time." The text box drives up hope for the Dems: "In races for governor, Democrats perceive a shifting electoral tide."
In contrast to how the Times dismissed the significance of the Republican wins in 1997, in Clinton's 5th year in office, the Democratic wins in 2005, Bush's 5th year in office, are portrayed as significant setbacks for Bush and Republicans nationwide.
The Republicans didn't actually lose seats (both seats were under Democratic control), but the Times treats the results as politically damaging for Republicans nonetheless: "After months of sagging poll ratings, scandal and general political unrest, the Republicans badly needed some good news in Tuesday's elections for governor. What they got instead was a clear-cut loss in a red state, and an expected but still painful defeat in a blue one."
More: "Republicans argued on Tuesday that Virginia was a local election driven by local events, with little long-term national significance. But the loss clearly stung, as did the double-digit defeat in New Jersey, a blue state that had seemed within reach for the Republicans....But the two governor's races loomed large. Democratic strategists said they were counting on the victories to help them mobilize for 2006....Still, the results are likely to feed the Republican anxiety on Capitol Hill and exacerbate the sense among Republican lawmakers that after years of having Mr. Bush as an advantage at the top of the ticket, they are increasingly on their own." For more instances of New York Times bias, visit TimesWatch.