What the 2009 Battlegrounds Will Tell Us

In election terms, 2009 is an off-year, sandwiched between the presidential campaign of 2008 and the full slate of House, Senate and gubernatorial contests set for 2010. That means the action in ’09 will be limited to three marquee races: the governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia and the mayor’s race in New York.

Even though local dynamics tend to shape contests for these offices, they will invariably be watched and dissected for their national significance. Republicans, smarting from painful drubbings in 2006, 2008 and a host of special elections in between, will trumpet any success as a sign of resurgence and a harbinger of a strong midterm performance in 2010. Democrats, conversely, will portray any victory as evidence that their momentum hasn’t slowed and that they might be able to buck history by picking up seats in Barack Obama’s first midterm election.

Both parties play this same game every four years, but history is mixed on the connection between a party’s success in off-year election and its fortunes in the next year’s midterms.

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What the 2009 Battlegrounds Will Tell Us