VIRGINIA AND New Jersey gubernatorial elections have been erratic predictors of the political parties' national fortunes. In 1993, Republican victories in the gubernatorial contests presaged their capture of both houses of Congress the following year. Conversely, Republicans won both statehouses in 1997, yet lost seats in the next year's congressional elections. This year, in red-state Virginia, Republicans had to run against the backdrop of a popular Democratic governor; in Democratic-leaning New Jersey, they faced an even tougher battle against a popular -- and deep-pocketed -- Democratic senator, Jon S. Corzine.
Republican politicians and activists surely woke up feeling gloomier and more nervous yesterday than their Democratic counterparts. Virginia Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) not only won the governorship but did so by a solid margin of 6 percentage points. Mr. Corzine defeated Republican Douglas R. Forrester by 9 percentage points. Meanwhile, in California, the star power of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has dimmed; it's hard to recall now that he was once so popular that people talked of a constitutional amendment to let the foreign-born actor run for president. The beleaguered governor lost all four ballot measures he was promoting. The GOP's brightest spot was in liberal New York City, where barely Republican Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg cruised to reelection after a term that featured the distinctly un-Republican move of raising property taxes.
So if President Bush was looking for a glimmer of good news to brighten his increasingly dreary autumn, he did not find it Tuesday. In opting to make an election-eve push for Virginia Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, Mr. Bush calculated, reasonably, that he'd be blamed for a Kilgore loss and so might as well get some credit in the event of a Kilgore win. As it turned out though, Mr. Bush's string of bad fortune continued, possibly harming his agenda's chances in Congress as well as his party's chances in next year's elections.
Refreshingly, negative campaigning didn't pay off in this election. Mr. Kilgore's over-the-top attacks on Mr. Kaine's death penalty stance ended up backfiring. (Hint to politicians: If you're tempted to invoke Hitler, don't.) Mr. Forrester's low-road use of Mr. Corzine's ex-wife hurt him with New Jersey voters; he broadcast an advertisement quoting Joanne Corzine's comments that her former husband "let his family down, and he'll probably let New Jersey down, too."
Less refreshingly, big money talked in 2005 as mega-rich candidates underwrote their own wins. In New York, Mr. Bloomberg more or less matched his 2001 performance, when he spent $73 million of his own money. In New Jersey, the two wealthy candidates spent a combined $73 million from their personal fortunes.
Overall Mr. Corzine has reached the $100 million mark, taking into account the $60 million he spent on a Senate seat five years ago and the $40 million he poured into the governor's race. Mr. Corzine described himself as "unbought and unbossed." Maybe so; he has been a good senator and may prove a good governor as well. But a political system that turns elective office into a bauble for purchase is not a healthy one.