Leading article: Bruised and bloodied

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The Independent Online

The most significant news is that a Democrat will continue to occupy the governor's mansion in Richmond, Virginia, despite Mr Bush's last-minute decision to campaign for the Republican candidate in a solidly Republican state. In the event, however, Tim Kaine, the Democrat, enjoyed a convincing come-from-behind victory. Mr Bush's visit was intended to fire up the conservative Republican base. The fear among Republicans will be that Mr Bush may have had the opposite effect, reminding voters of the close association of the Republican candidate, Jerry Kilgore, with a deeply unpopular presidency.

Democrat Jon Corzine's handsome victory in New Jersey, after an especially nasty campaign by his opponent, underscores how that state, once a toss-up in presidential elections, is now probably a lost cause for Republicans.

Yes, in New York Michael Bloomberg was overwhelmingly re-elected as mayor. But that success merely shows that there is no limit to what can be achieved in politics by a combination of competent management, moderate policies and limitless money. On the opposite coast, the rejection by California's voters of ballot initiatives sponsored by Mr Schwarzenegger proved that the bubble of the "Governator" has truly burst - not least because the Governor has moved to the right, alienating the independents and moderate Democrats who elected him in the first place. The White House would be foolish not to heed the lesson.

It would be unwise to treat the results as an overly reliable signpost for next year's midterm elections. A year is an eternity in politics: consider the difference between the swaggering Bush of November 2004 - fresh from his election victory over John Kerry, boasting of the "political capital" he had to spend - and the abject condition of his presidency now.

The capital has all been squandered, on an increasingly futile war in Iraq, a misconceived plan to privatise the state pension system, and the disgraceful initial response of the White House to Hurricane Katrina. Scandals of various hues lap at the administration and senior Republicans on Capitol Hill.

If the midterm elections had been held on Tuesday, the Republicans would have suffered a drubbing. But Mr Bush still has 12 months to revive his presidency. In political terms, he is bruised and bloodied, but not yet dead and buried.

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