2005 elections: A bad day for the GOP

Democrats win races in Virginia and New Jersey, and Arnold Schwarzenegger flames out in California.

Published November 9, 2005 1:47PM (EST)

Well, he asked for it.

By landing Air Force One in Richmond, Va., for an election eve rally with Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore, George W. Bush guaranteed that the results of the Virginia governor's race would be viewed as a referendum on his presidency. Here it is: In what was supposed to be a close race, Kilgore lost to Democrat Tim Kaine by a margin of 52 to 46 percent. "Several GOP supporters conceded that the party's inability to recapture the executive mansion reflected dissatisfaction with President Bush," says the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Kilgore's defeat may have been the most direct reflection on Bush, but the news from Tuesday's off-off-year elections was pretty much bad all over for the president's party. In the New Jersey governor's race, Sen. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, cruised to a 10-point victory over Republican Doug Forrester. And in California, voters appeared to be delivering truckloads of humiliation to a governor who was once so popular that there was talk of amending the Constitution so that he could run for president. Arnold Schwarzenegger threw every inch of himself into four initiatives he said were needed to reform the state. Voters rejected every last one of them plus four more that found their way into the $50 million special election the governor called. In its lead news story this morning, the Los Angeles Times calls the vote a "sharp repudiation" of Schwarzenegger that "shattered his image as an agent of the popular will."

The California vote was about Schwarzenegger, not Bush, but the same can't be said of the mayor's race in St. Paul, Minn. Former City Council member Chris Coleman ousted Mayor Randy Kelly by an embarrassing 38-point margin, and even Kelly said that the reason for his loss was his support for the president.

There were a few bright spots for Republicans and the religious right. As expected, Michael Bloomberg won an easy victory in the New York mayor's race. And while Maine voters rejected an effort to rescind that state's new gay-rights law, voters in Texas overwhelmingly approved an initiative outlawing same-sex marriage there. But the overall message was clear, at least for those not paid to spin by the GOP: The president is a hindrance, not a help, for Republican candidates right now. That may or may not be a predictor of things to come, but the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato suggests that it will be unless Bush can turn around his presidency soon. "I think the basic lesson is that Bush is at a point where he is going to pull down all Republicans a few points in 2006," Sabato tells the Los Angeles Times. "He has got to restore a good 10 points on his popularity if Republicans are even going to hold their own in '06."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger George W. Bush Jon Corzine War Room