The Virginia poll we're releasing tomorrow shows Creigh Deeds trailing Bob McDonnell by more than he did last month, just as our New Jersey poll last week showed Jon Corzine down by more to Chris Christie than he was four weeks earlier.
There's really not a whole lot going on in either of those races (at least that normal voters are paying attention to three months out) so that would seem to have more to do with what's going on nationally than what's going on in those states.
That got me to wondering about a) how often who wins in New Jersey and Virginia is determined by the national political climate and b) how often the results there presage what happens in the midterm election.
Five cycles in a row the same party has won the Governorships in both Virginia and New Jersey- in 1989 it was the Democrats, in 1993 the Republicans, in 1997 the Republicans, in 2001 the Democrats, and in 2005 the Democrats.
In 1990, 1994, and 2006 the parties that did well in the previous year's races for Governor also did well in Congressional races. Dems picked up 7 House seats and a Senate seat in 1990, Republicans picked up 54 House seats and 8 Senate seats in 1994, and Democrats picked up 31 House seats and 6 Senate seats in 2006.
In 1998 and 2002 the trend worked the opposite way though. Despite the Democratic victories in 2001 Republicans picked up 8 House seats and 2 Senate seats in 2002. I can explain that one- the political climate was good for the GOP post 9/11 but Mark Warner was such a good candidate in Virginia and Bret Schundler was so far right in the blue state of New Jersey that Dems were able to win victories in 2001 anyway but did not generate any momentum going into 2002. Republicans won in 1997 but then overreached in their actions related to Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, allowing Dems to break even in the Senate and pick up five House seats.
So what does it all mean? It's really too early to tell. Corzine and Deeds probably would have started out as underdogs this year even if Barack Obama's approval rating was at 60%, but the fact that it's declining will make it harder for them to come back. They're going to have to do an awesome job getting out Presidential-only voters to make up for the national climate if we're in the same place come November that we are right now. As for what it means for 2010- history shows it could go either way- my guess right now would be a 1990 sort of result where the GOP made modest gains in the House and maybe broke even in the Senate, which would still be an accomplishment given how much the roster of competitive seats structurally favors Democrats.