By Reid Wilson - 11/04/09 03:09 AM EST
The GOP went two for two in gubernatorial races on Tuesday.
Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R) unseated Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in New Jersey, and former Virginia Attorney General Robert McDonnell (R) won an open seat in Virginia.
In a third race being watched closely across the country, Democrat Bill Owens held an early lead in the face to win an open House seat in New York.
The victories by McDonnell and Christie give the GOP hope a year after devastating defeats.
Republicans have cast the races as a referendum on President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaTime to wake-up to the Venezuelan Crisis Obama won't drink Flint's water during visit First US cruise ship docks in Cuba MORE's early tenure, arguing that they are the first in a series of comebacks for the party. Others have said it shows voters are willing to give the GOP a second look.
Exit polls showed just 42 percent of voters considered Obama in casting their votes in Virginia, however. Just under a quarter used their vote to express opposition to the president, while 18 percent said their vote was to support Obama. In Virginia, 20 percent of voters made their picks to oppose Obama, while 19 percent were trying to support him.
McDonnell ran his own race, eschewing social issues that have long been part of the Republican strategy. Instead, he focused on his plans to bring jobs to the state, as well as a plan to ease transportation woes.
Deeds, meanwhile, focused on a thesis McDonnell wrote as a graduate student more than two decades ago in which he called working women “detrimental” to families. The tactic worked briefly as Deeds closed what had been a large gap between the two, but McDonnell reasserted himself and eventually pulled away.
McDonnell was partly able to win by mitigating his own losses in areas where Democrats have made inroads in recent wins. Obama and Sens. Jim Webb (D) and Mark WarnerMark WarnerWeek ahead: Rival encryption efforts clash on Capitol Hill Kaine, Brown, Perez on Clinton’s list of possible VPs: report Encryption commission bill picks up more backers MORE (D) won Arlington County and Alexandria City with more than 70 percent of the vote while carrying Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Counties.
Obama won Northern Virginia with 61 percent of the vote, while Deeds fell far short of that mark.
In New Jersey, Christie ran against a highly unpopular incumbent who never saw his poll numbers rise above the low 40 percent mark. Corzine was beset by ethics investigations into his administration while answering for his state's sagging economy.
Corzine attacked Christie for his actions in the U.S. Attorney's office, including trips Christie took during his tenure and a loan he gave an employee. Many suspected Corzine's only path to victory was to make Christie as unpopular, if not more so, than he was.
Christie gained momentum in the race's final days, however, and thanks to Daggett's fading support, was able to pick up the seat. It is the first time Republicans have won a statewide election in the Garden State since 1997.
Though Republicans claim the races show the party is getting a second look from voters frustrated with Obama's policies, local issues dominated both contests.
And Christie criticized Corzine for failing to live up to promises he made during his first term. Unemployment in New Jersey stood at 9.8 percent in September, in line with the national average.
While McDonnell campaigned with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other GOP rising stars, he avoided several of the most controversial figures in his party. McDonnell did not fully embrace former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), who only inserted herself in the race's final weekend with a series of robo-calls.
Christie campaigned with Romney, Pawlenty, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani(R).