The White House and Illinois Democrats said Tuesday that their bid to hold on to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat won't be easy and their difficulties aren't just because of the scandal that engulfed ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Next year is the first major election for Democrats since Blagojevich was arrested last year on federal corruption charges and removed from office. He has pleaded not guilty to charges that he tried to sell or trade Obama's Senate seat.
"No one ever said it was going to be easy. There's a dark cloud over everyone's head," said Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois' treasurer who's running for Obama's senate seat.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who many Republicans have been pushing to run for governor in 2010, is instead leaning more toward a run for U.S. Senate, according to two party advisers.
"From staff, we have been hearing that he has been indicating quietly and privately recently that governor might not be the best fit for him now," one adviser said Thursday. "But the U.S. Senate could be a perfect fit for him."
The adviser noted that nobody is saying Giuliani has decided, but it "certainly sounds" like he is less interested in running for governor. Another adviser echoed that.
The advisers spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak for the state Republican Party or Giuliani.
Republican Senator John McCain on Wednesday strongly defended the top advisers from his 2008 presidential campaign in the face of sharp criticism from his vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin.
McCain, in a telephone interview with Reuters, singled out campaign manager Steve Schmidt and senior adviser Nicolle Wallace for praise after Palin blasted the pair in her memoir, "Going Rogue: An American Life."
"There's been a lot of dust flying around in the last few days and I just wanted to mention that I have the highest regard for Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace and the rest of the team ... and I appreciated all the hard work and everything they did to help the campaign," he said.
"I think it's just time to move on," he said.
Independent voters who put Barack Obama into office in 2008 may cost him the Presidency in 2012 and take other Democrats down with him.
Recent polls show independents are jumping off the Good Ship Democrat. Gallup says only 14 percent of independent approve of the job the Democratic-controlled Congress is doing, a new low for the year.
Other polls show Democratic incumbents trailing Republicans among independents. Some of the margins are double digit.
For Obama, the numbers are equally bad. CBS polling shows the President's approval rating among independents falling to 45 percent -- a 10-point drop since April.
"We withdrew from the accounts of voters and now we need to pay them back," Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, tells Politico. “We are having these conversations right now about what independents need to see and hear."
House Democrats missed opportunities to improve the House-passed health care bill when they rejected Republican ideas to limit lawsuits and give states more flexibility to enact innovative changes, a GOP lawmaker said Saturday.
Delivering the Republicans' weekly radio and Internet address, Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois said health care costs could be lowered by "reining in lawsuits" and allowing consumers to buy coverage from across state lines. Kirk promoted several provisions in the House GOP health care bill, which was rejected a week ago when the House passed the Democratic plan.
Oh, how the tables have turned.
Nervous Democrats are on defense and emboldened Republicans sense opportunity heading into 2010 and the midterm elections. It was just three years ago that the GOP lost the House and Senate as well as governors' races in a cross-country Democratic wave.
Now, with most states under their control and comfortable majorities in Congress, Democrats must protect far more seats than Republicans: 19 governors' mansions, 17 Senate seats and as many as 60 House districts in moderate-to-conservative regions and swing-voting areas.
At this point, Democrats must do it in a more difficult political environment than in 2006 and 2008.
A Republican who promised to create jobs won the Virginia governor's office just a year after state voters helped a Democrat who promised change — and jobs — win the White House.
Bob McDonnell, a former state attorney general, won with nearly 59 percent of the vote Tuesday, claiming a mandate for his conservative agenda with help from independent voters.
They preferred him by nearly a 2-1 ratio over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, exit polls showed, a shift from 2008, when independents in the state split between the parties.
An ebullient Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele asserted Wednesday that GOP victories in governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia demonstrate "a transcendent party" on the move again. Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine said that nothing about the election returns amounted to a repudiation of President Barack Obama.
"We're not crowing, we're just smiling," Steele said in a nationally broadcast interview. "I think it's a bellwether for the party ... You look at where we were nine months ago."
Steele said he believes Chris Christie's victory in New Jersey and Robert McDonnell's win in Virginia show that the GOP has "really found its voice again" after sustaining damaging losses last year.
Independents who swept Barack Obama to a historic 2008 victory broke big for Republicans on Tuesday as the GOP wrested political control from Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey, a troubling sign for the president and his party heading into an important midterm election year.
Conservative Republican Bob McDonnell's victory in the Virginia governor's race over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds and moderate Republican Chris Christie's ouster of unpopular New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine was a double-barreled triumph for a party looking to rebuild after being booted from power in national elections in 2006 and 2008.
For Republicans, an election win of any size Tuesday would be a blessing. But victories in Virginia, New Jersey or elsewhere won't erase enormous obstacles the party faces heading into a 2010 midterm election year when control of Congress and statehouses from coast to coast will be up for grabs.
It's been a tough few years for the GOP. The party lost control of Congress in 2006 and then lost the White House in 2008 with three traditional Republican states — Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia — abandoning the party.