I don't usually re-publish emails straight from political parties, but this collection of quotes following the 2001 elections, emailed by the DNC, is pretty telling.
NRCC Talking Point: “The 2001 Off-Year Elections Have No Bearing On Next Year’s Mid-Term Elections. These Races Revolved Around Local Issues And Local Candidates. There Were No Discernable National Trends.” NRCC Talking Points: “The 2001 off-year elections have no bearing on next year's mid-term elections. These races revolved around local issues and local candidates. There were no discernable national trends.” [Hotline, 11/7/01]
RNC Comm. Director: “It’s Laughable To Suggest That This Has Any National Implications.” Hotline noted that, GOPers “downplayed the two defeats.” RNC comm. dir. Trent Duffy: “It's laughable to suggest that this has any national implications.” [Chicago Tribune, 11/7/01]
“A Bush Political Adviser Says The Current Campaigns [For Governor In Virginia And New Jersey] Turn On Local Issues, While National Conditions Will Color Next Year’s Results.” The Wall Street Journal reported that, “Republicans say a Democratic sweep of the off-year races for Virginia and New Jersey governors and New York City mayor wouldn't presage next year's crucial midterm elections to control Congress. A Bush political adviser says the current campaigns turn on local issues, while national conditions will color next year's results.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/2/01]
Republican Pollster: “Giver How Sour The Economy Is And Given How Sour Some Of The Leading Economic Indicators Have Gone…I Think It Speaks To The President’s Strengths That His Approval Ratings Are Still Up There.” Gannett reported that, “‘Given how sour the economy is and given how sour some of the leading economic indicators have gone, and how sour many Americans feel about their own personal well-being and the depletion of their personal portfolios, they haven't shot the messenger yet,’ said Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway. ‘I think it speaks to the president's strengths that his approval ratings are still up there.’” [Gannett, 8/31/01]
Republicans “Downplayed Any Larger Symbolism In The Races, Insisting They Represented ‘Personal Triumphs,”…But Were Not a Repudiation Of Bush Or Republican Policies.” CQ reported that, “Republicans ‘downplayed any larger symbolism in the races, insisting they represented “personal triumphs” for Mark Warner in Virginia and James E. McGreevey in New Jersey, but were not a repudiation of Bush or Republican policies.’” [CQ, 11/7/01]
Cynthia Crowley: “On Both Sides Of The Aisle, They’re Saying Anybody That Tries To Predict What This Means For Next Year Is Nuts.” CNN’s Cynthia Crowley said, “I think what you're going to see tomorrow is what you might expect, which is, Democrats -- who have some good wins here, let's not take it away from them -- in New Jersey and Virginia are going to say, hey, look, this is prelude to next year. But I can tell you, on both sides of the aisle, they're saying anybody that tries to predict what this means for next year is nuts.” [CNN NewsNight, 11/6/01]
Washington Times' Lambro: It’s “Difficult If Not Impossible To Find Any Political Significance In The Off-Year Elections That Involve Only A Couple Of Governorships, Dozens Of Mayoralty Races, And State Legislative Races.” Donald Lambro of the Washington Times wrote that it is, “difficult if not impossible to find any political significance in the off-year elections that involve only a couple of governorships, dozens of mayoralty races and state legislative races.” [Washington Times, 11/7/01]
Of course, the hypocrisy goes both ways -- no doubt Democrats were proclaiming doom for the GOP. It seems pretty clear that new Jersey and Virginia vote for the out-of-power party every four years now. Yes, there's a lot more energy on the right, but no, this election (the outcome of which I don't yet know, except Virginia) isn't evidence of it.
I think basically everybody in politics understands this. I also think the political news media will tend to treat the elections as important, because the media has a bias toward reading importance into every new thing that happens. If you're going to have a discussion on cable news about what the elections mean, the producer isn't going to be veyr pleased if everybody says it doesn't mean anything.