For Republicans, an election win of any size today would be a blessing. But victories in Virginia, New Jersey or elsewhere won't erase enormous obstacles the party faces heading into a 2010 midterm election year when control of Congress and statehouses from coast to coast will be up for grabs.
It's been a tough few years for the GOP. The party lost control of Congress in 2006 and then lost the White House in 2008 with three traditional Republican states — Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia — abandoning the party.
So even if political winds start blowing harder behind them and even if they can capitalize on Democratic missteps, Republicans still will have a long way to go over the next year because of their party's own fundamental problems: divisions over the path forward, the lack of a national leader and a shrinking base in a changing nation.
The GOP would overcome none of those hurdles should Republican Bob McDonnell win the Virginia governor's race, Chris Christie emerge victorious in the New Jersey governor's contest, or conservative Doug Hoffman triumph in a hotly contested special congressional election in upstate New York.
So far, 2009 seems to have underscored what may be the biggest impediment for Republicans: the war within their base.
Not that the GOP would casually brush off even a small stack of victories on Tuesday.
One or more wins would give the Republicans a jolt, and a reason to rally in the coming months. Victories certainly would help with grass roots fundraising and candidate recruiting.
Still, with Democrats in control, the onus is on the GOP to get its act together. George W. Bush, the president many Republicans came to see as an election-day albatross, is gone, but the party troubles born under him linger.
Republican leaders in Washington certainly are mindful of the challenges. "It's going to be a difficult road to walk," House Republican leader John Boehner told CNN on Sunday.
Others are more blunt.
"Right now there's no central Republican leader to turn to, and there's no central Republican message," conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh told Fox News on Sunday.
What's more, the GOP's ranks are thinning: Only 32 percent of respondents called themselves Republicans in a recent AP-GfK survey compared with 43 percent who called themselves Democrats.