The New York Times characterized the Democrat candidates' victories in the New Jersey and Virginia governors' races as "stinging defeats" for the Republicans nationwide, and suggested that the losses portend further losses in next year's midterm congressional elections.
In California, ballot initiatives supported by Gov. Schwarzenegger met defeat, but so did three initiatives brought by the political Left. In Ohio, four initiatives "backed by labor unions, government reform organizations and the Internet-fueled activist group MoveOn.org," in the NY Times's words, were likewise defeated. In New York state, the voters soundly rejected a ballot initiative for a state constitutional amendment, dubbed by taxpayer advocacy groups as the "Runaway Spending Amendment," which would have sharply curbed the governor's ability to veto spending bills.
The Times painted a basically gloomy picture regarding Republicans's prospects, but suggested that the Democrats still have some work to do in convincing voters that they are a better alternative:
The elections capped a season of political turmoil for the Republican governing majority, which has been buffeted by Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, soaring energy prices, scandal on Capitol Hill and, most recently, the indictment of I. Lewis Libby Jr., who was chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.
The national mood remains dark. A new poll by the Pew Research Center, released on Tuesday, showed Mr. Bush with an approval rating of 36 percent, the lowest of his presidency; his approval rating among independents had dropped to 29 percent, from 47 percent in January, and he was also losing support among Republican moderates and liberals.
But Republicans note that voters have yet to turn to Congressional Democrats as a compelling alternative. The Pew survey found that voters were unhappy with both Republican and Democratic leaders.
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. Certainly the two gubernatorial defeats must sting. (Update: Jay Homnick makes a good point in the comments section, observing that the Democrats already held both of these governorships.) However, the record on the ballot initiatives suggests that although voters are not overly excited by Republican candidates and sitting political figures (such as Bush and Schwarzenegger) at this time, they are not ready to move strongly to either the Left or Right in policy terms.
The ballot initiative defeats in all three states mentioned earlier, especially the two in California that would have given greater power to the governor and the one in New York that would have favored the state legislature, suggest that voters in these big states were highly wary of making any serious changes at this time. That is to say, the voters were conservative in rejecting overt movements to the Right or Left in all three states.