Washington (AP) - 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.
Kaine, who will be succeeded at the Virginia statehouse by McDonnell, said he thought voter anxiety about jobs and the economy played heavily in the balloting and said the defeat of incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine in New Jersey and candidate Creigh Deeds in Virginia shouldn't be seen as a referendum on Obama. He said Obama "really retains a strong popularity among the voters."
Exit polls showed many independents who voted for Obama in 2008 voted for Republicans this time around, and Kaine did say in a CNN interview, "We're going to have to scratch our heads a little bit on that one." He said Obama continues to enjoy even stronger support among independent voters than he has in the past.
Obama's campaign chairman, David Plouffe, said the president's approval rating "is at or above his vote totals."
Plouffe called politics "a comparative enterprise" and said "the Republican brand right now, with independents all across the nation, is really hurting."
"I think, generally, these elections tend to be overrated as to what they'll mean later. These are local races," Plouffe said. He also said he believes the GOP has a problem because conservatives "(Sarah) Palin and (Rush) Limbaugh and (Glenn) Beck are out there purging moderates from the party."
Steele and Plouffe appeared on CBS's "The Early Show" and Kaine was interviewed on NBC's "Today" show.
Steele said he wasn't particularly upset about the GOP's loss in a hotly contested race in upstate New York, saying "this process is done at the local level. The drama of 23 (district) was nice and is cute and funny and everybody made fun about how the party is fractured." He said "we'll have a cleaner process there" in the future.
In that race, retired Air Force Capt. Bill Owens, a Democrat, won the special election in which the Republican candidate withdrew over the weekend under pressure from the party's right wing and GOP heavyweights endorsed the Conservative Party nominee.
House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia said, "I do think that the Virginia model shows that when we're united as a party, independents are attracted to our message of vision for the future, where we can empower folks to get their economic security back."
"We're not crowing, we're just smiling," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael teele said in a nationally broadcast interview Wednesday. "I think it's a bellwether for the party ... You look at where we were nine months ago."