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White House tries to shrug off Democratic election losses

In this photo provided by ABC News, White House adviser David Axelrod appears for an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week, in Washington, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009. (AP Photo/ABC News, Fred Watkins)
In this photo provided by ABC News, White House adviser David Axelrod appears for an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week, in Washington, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009. (AP Photo/ABC News, Fred Watkins) (Fred Watkins - AP)

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 2:15 PM

President Obama's top advisers closed ranks around their boss Wednesday, declaring themselves unconcerned by Tuesday night's Democratic losses as they attempted to insulate the president from any political damage to his reputation and his legislative agenda.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that the president viewed the Republican victories in New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races as referenda on local issues that reflect little on his policies in Washington.

"People went to the polls and voted on local issues not to either register support for or opposition to the president," Gibbs said. Asked whether moderate lawmakers might view the results differently, and worry about casting tough votes on Obama's priorities, Gibbs said no.

"I don't think they will and I'm not concerned," he said.

The coordinated White House response came as the Washington spin machine began coalescing around a very different message: that the Democratic losses -- especially among independents -- might be a leading indicator of trouble for Obama in 2010.

Independents, who were crucial to the president's election campaign, swung dramatically to Republicans in both state contests. If that pattern holds a year from now, Democratic lawmakers in swing districts could find themselves on the losing side of a reelection fight.

"Watching their party hemorrhage independent voters should send shivers down the spines of Democrat strategists as they look ahead to Senate elections next year in states like Nevada, Colorado, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania," declared Republican Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) in a memo to reporters.

Democratic lawmakers were just beginning to digest the news, but expressed some concern about the impact on their futures if the effects linger into next year's election cycle.

"I think it kind of reflects a general anti-incumbent feeling," said Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), acknowledging that such sentiment will hurt his party if it persists into 2010. "Next year is a millennium away, politically, so there's plenty of time for us. I guess we have a lot to be grateful for that the election isn't next month or next week."

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said Democrats can boost their fortunes simply by doing what they promised last November.

"I think that Democrats were elected last year on the basis of change, and once we pass health care . . . that will fundamentally change the dynamics," Engel said, adding that voters were obviously concerned about the economy, "but hopefully by next year things will begin to turn around."

White House officials rejected what they said was overhyped conclusions about the impact on Obama of losing the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, and instead sought to focus attention on the Democratic victory in New York's 23rd congressional district.


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