President Barack Obama on Wednesday brushed aside a sharp rebuke at the polls on the first anniversary of his historic election, saying his administration had saved the nation from economic ruin.
Just hours after rival Republicans gleefully ousted Democratic candidates in two key gubernatorial races, the White House dismissed suggestions that the results were a referendum on Obama and his policies.
Republicans trumpeted Tuesday’s victories in New Jersey and Virginia as a conservative comeback one year to the day after Obama vowed before a tumultuous crowd in Chicago that change had come to America.
But Obama reminded a school audience in northern Wisconsin — one of the states that swept him to victory over Republican John McCain — of the political landscape and economic outlook on November 4 2008.
“One year ago, Americans all across this country went to the polls and cast ballots for the future they wanted to see,” he told the cheering crowd in the Madison school.
“Election day was a day of hope, it was a day of possibility, but it was also a sobering one because we knew even then that we faced an array of challenges that would test us as a country.”
But Republicans hope that Tuesday’s victories will help turn the tide as they look ahead to key mid-term elections in 2010.
The “overwhelming” victory in Virginia “sends a clear signal that voters have had enough of the president’s liberal agenda”, Republican National Committee chairperson Michael Steele said.
Obama was swept to power promising change as the United States confronted its worst economic crisis in decades, and with US troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He made it clear that he would not be diverted from his programme. “The work continues, but we are moving in the right direction,” he said.
“And we are going to keep on fulfilling our obligation to do every single thing we possibly can to pull this economy out of the ditch and to make sure that people can find jobs that pay good wages. That’s our top priority.”
White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs said Republicans should not presume Tuesday’s triumphs will translate into victory next year, when the full House of Representatives and a third of the Senate is up for election.
“If you look at the exit polling, which is pretty clear on this, people went to the polls and voted on local issues, not to even register support for or opposition to the president,” Gibbs said.
But Democratic candidates Obama campaigned for lost to Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia.
Christie pulled off an upset victory over Jon Corzine, while McDonnell defeated Creigh Deeds in Virginia.
Voters in both states “were very concerned about the direction on the economy, and rejected out of hand the economic policies” supported by the Democrats, said Republican Representative Eric Cantor on Fox News.
The current governor of Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine — who heads the Democratic National Committee — told CNN that Obama remains popular among political independents, polling at 55% nationwide.
According to exit polls, Kaine said, the races “turned on local and state issues and circumstances and on the candidates in each race”.
“Despite what some will certainly claim … the results are not predictive of the future or reflective of the national mood or political environment.”
Senior White House adviser David Axelrod also told Fox that there was “a tremendous drop off” of young voters in New Jersey and Virginia — voters that overwhelmingly cast ballots for Obama in 2008. — AFP