Democrats won yesterday’s gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, both offices they held going into Tuesday’s voting, and Democrats lost the Virginia lieutenant governor’s race, a switch in favor of the GOP. That’s hardly an impressive show of electoral strength.
But journalists today spun the results like Howard Dean, claiming voters had handed the Republicans “stinging defeats,” as the New York Times hyped on today’s front page.
Eight years ago, when Republicans held those same two governorships during off-year elections, the media didn’t tout Democratic defeats or unhappiness with Democratic President Bill Clinton. Instead, they saw the election of Republican governors as a voters’ approval of the “status quo” under Clinton.
In the November 6, 1997 New York Times, reporter Richard Berke suggested the Republicans had won by adopting Clinton’s agenda: “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.”
And on the November 5, 1997 Today, NBC’s Gwen Ifill declared everybody a winner: “Most voters across the country opted for more of the same once they got to their polling booths. And with the economy on a roll, more of the same appears to feel pretty good.”
Over on that day’s Good Morning America, ABC reporter Ann Compton also claimed the vote reflected satisfaction with the status quo: “The President’s own personal popularity has remained at a fairly high level,” she pointed out, and “Democrats suggest that the Clinton economy is just so good that the incumbents won and people voted for the status quo.”
But on ABC this morning, This Week host George Stephanopoulos saw dark clouds for the Republicans: “If President Bush does not get his poll numbers up above this 35, 36 level where they are right now by next year’s mid-term elections, Republicans could have an even worse night a year from now.”
Perhaps, but Democrats won in Virginia and New Jersey four years ago when Bush’s approval rating was 89 percent.