Of all the headlines that a Democratic strategist didn’t want to read this morning, this headline would top the charts:

Independents fuel GOP victories in Va., N.J.

Whether this was a referendum on President Obama is essentially irrelevant to political strategists of all political persuasions. What’s relevant is that independents registered their disapproval with the Democrats agenda. They did so in resounding numbers:

The independent voters who powered President Obama and Democrats to victory in 2008 fled to Republicans in Tuesday’s elections, helping the GOP romp to a ticketwide sweep in Virginia and a stunning victory over an incumbent Democratic governor in New Jersey.

But the night wasn’t a total loss for Democrats, as their candidate won a special election to fill an open congressional seat in upstate New York after a bitter civil war left Republicans divided between their party’s nominee and a Conservative Party candidate. The seat had been in Republican hands for more than a century.

Nevertheless, in a sign that there’s more trouble ahead for Democrats, voters in New Jersey and Virginia said they were driven by the economy and spending, and Republicans said their showing on Tuesday gives them momentum heading into the 2010 congressional elections.

This proves Scott Rasmussen’s polling is accurate. Recently, Mr. Rasmussen’s polling has shown Republicans with an advantage on each of the 10 most important issues, especially on the chief pocketbook issues of the economy, jobs, taxes and health care. The unmistakeable message that independents and conservatives sent last night is that the Democrats’ agenda isn’t a mainstream or main street agenda.

Because independents and conservatives sent that message, GOP strategists were quoted saying things like this:

“For those out there who say conservatives can’t win, this rejects that notion. This is a very conservative ticket,” said Chris LaCivita, a Republican strategist who helped Virginia candidates this year and will be aiding congressional candidates in the state next year. “It’s proof-positive that solid, committed conservatives can win, and can discuss and talk about issues in a campaign that people care about. The labeling aspect just isn’t going to work.”

Mr. LaCivita is exactly right. Conservatives that talk about kitchen table or pocketbook issues like the economy, job creation and health care will win. They’ll win because independents don’t appreciate the Democrats’ overreach. The AP’s Liz Sidoti nailed it in this article:

His signature issue of health care reform was dealt a blow hours before polls closed when Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid signaled that Congress may not complete health care legislation this year, missing Obama’s deadline and pushing debate into a congressional election year. Democrats in swing-voting states and moderate-to-conservative districts may be less willing to back Obama on issues like health care after Virginia and New Jersey showed there are limits to how much he can protect his rank and file from fallout back home.

That observation, coupled with the Washington Times’ headline, will give thoughtful Democrats pause the next time Jim Clyburn, Steny Hoyer or Speaker Pelosi try strongarming them in their attempt to pass Speaker Pelosi’s health care legislation. The question that congresscritters like Heath Shuler, Tim Walz, Jim Matheson and Walt Minnick will have to ask themselves is whether they’ll vote for wildly unpopular health care legislation or whether they’ll vote in a way that helps them keep their seat in Congress.

Considering the fact that most politicians’ strongest ‘instinct’ is their re-election instinct, I’m betting that swing-district Democrats will be voting to limit the reach of Speaker Pelosi’s legislation.

There’s a final observation that must be made about last night. Though Doug Hoffman was defeated in NY-23, TEA Party issues attracted independents to vote Republican. The economy, taxes and job creation are issues that Democrats haven’t focused on but they are themes that TEA Party activists frequently talked about. Independents and conservatives bonded on those themes yesterday and in recent months to send an unmistakeable message to Washington, DC.

The only question that’s still left unanswered is whether Democrats will heed that resounding message. Only time and official votes will answer that question.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

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