WASHINGTON — Independents who swept Barack Obama to a historic 2008 victory broke big for Republicans on Tuesday as the GOP wrested political control from Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey, a troubling sign for the president and his party heading into an important midterm election year.
Conservative Republican Bob McDonnell's victory in the Virginia governor's race over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds and moderate Republican Chris Christie's ouster of unpopular New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine was a double-barreled triumph for a party looking to rebuild after being booted from power in national elections in 2006 and 2008.
The outcomes were sure to feed discussion about the state of the electorate, the status of the diverse coalition that sent Obama to the White House and the limits of the president's influence.
Obama had personally campaigned for Deeds and Corzine, seeking to ensure that independents and base voters alike turned out even if he wasn't on the ballot. Thus, the losses were blots on Obama's political standing to a certain degree and suggested potential problems ahead as he seeks to achieve his policy goals, protect Democratic majorities in Congress and expand his party's grip on governors' seats next fall.
In New Jersey, with 99 percent of precincts counted, Christie had 49 percent of the vote and Corzine had 44 percent.
In Virginia, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, McDonnell had 59 percent and Deeds had 41 percent.
Independents were a crucial part Obama's victory in Virginia, New Jersey and across the country. But after more than a year of recession, they fled from Democrats in the two states, where the economy trumped all.
The Associated Press exit polls showed that nearly a third of voters in Virginia described themselves as independents, and nearly as many in New Jersey did. They preferred McDonnell by almost a 2-1 ratio over Deeds in Virginia, and Christie over Corzine by a similar ratio.
Gay marriage was put to a vote in Maine in a closely watched referendum that gay rights activists across the country hoped would prove for the first time that their cause can prevail at the ballot box. With 417 of 608 precincts reporting, 52 percent were opposed to same-sex marriage and 48 percent were in favor.
Democrat Bill Owens captured the special election for a New York congressional seat that became a fight over the identity of the Republican Party. Owens defeated Conservative Doug Hoffman and Republican Dierdre Scozzafava in the heavily Republican 23rd Congressional District in rural northern New York. Some prominent Republicans, including former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, backed Hoffman. Scozzafava withdrew from the race and threw her support to Owens, who had 49 percent of the vote.
New York City
Billionaire Michael Bloomberg narrowly won a third term as New York mayor in a race that was surprisingly close. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Bloomberg had 51 percent and Democratic City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. had 46 percent.