Upcoming US Governor's Races Pose Test for Obama
Upcoming US Governor's Races Pose Test for Obama
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In addition to the pressing issues of Afghanistan and health care reform, President Barack Obama has been squeezing in a little campaigning on behalf of Democrats running in state elections next month.  

2009 is not a big election year in the United States.  But the governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia on November 3 offer opposition Republicans an opportunity to weaken Mr. Obama and his fellow Democrats in advance of next year's midterm congressional elections.

The president made a recent campaign swing to New Jersey where the state's incumbent Democratic governor, John Corzine, is locked in a tight race with Republican candidate Chris Christie and independent contender Chris Dagget.

"Your voice can change the world," he said. "Your voice can elect John Corzine governor once again of New Jersey!  I need you!  John needs you!"

After losing control of Congress in 2006 and the White House last year, Republicans are looking to rebound in this year's governor's races, and they seem to have the advantage in Virginia where Republican Bob McDonnell leads Democrat Creigh Deeds in public opinion polls.

Political analysts say Republican victories in both Virginia and New Jersey would encourage party activists and energize Obama opponents, setting up a major battle for control of Congress in next year's midterm elections.

"Republicans were very down after the 2008 and 2006 elections and really, polls numbers are not so good for them today as a party," said John Fortier, a political scholar with the American Enterprise Institute.   "But President Obama is starting to show that he is not quite as popular, or that he does not walk on water in the way that many people thought at the beginning of his term and his popularity has come down."

Democratic-leaning analysts take issue with that notion.

Simon Rosenberg is president and founder of the New Democrat Network, a center-left political organization based in Washington.

"I think the Republicans, if they end up winning both - and I don't know that they will -  I'm sure that they will crow that there is a whole new day dawning and that there has been a rejection of Obamaism and all that," Rosenberg said.  "But they have to be a little bit careful to overstate that."

Both political parties also see the continuing congressional debate on health care reform as a key factor in next year's midterm elections.

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says Republicans have had some success during the health care debate in tapping into public concerns about too much government involvement in health care.

"Certainly they are trying to resurrect themselves as a party, and I think taking on the president and trying to re-establish themselves on taxes and spending is one way," he said.

President Obama has made health care reform his top domestic priority, and Rothenberg says it has now become essential for Democrats to get something through Congress before next year's midterm elections.

"I think what is important for the Democrats is where are they as they go into the midterm elections in 2010," Rothenberg said.  "If there is nothing passed, I think it would be a terrible problem both for the president and for Democrats."

In addition to the two governor's races, there will be special elections for U.S. House seats in New York and California, and mayoral elections in several major U.S. cities including New York, Boston, Houston, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Minneapolis.