WASHINGTON, Nov 4, 2009 (AFP) - President Barack Obama is brushing aside a sharp rebuke at the polls on the first anniversary of his historic election, saying his administration had saved the nation from economic ruin.
Just hours after rival Republicans gleefully ousted Democratic candidates in two key gubernatorial races, the White House dismissed suggestions on Wednesday that the results were a referendum on Obama and his policies.
|US President Barack Obama walks with First Lady Michelle Obama to host an event celebrating classical music in the East Room of the White House on November 4, 2009 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO|
Republicans trumpeted Tuesday's victories in New Jersey and Virginia as a conservative comeback one year after Obama vowed before a tumultuous crowd in Chicago that change had come to America.
But Obama reminded a school audience in northern Wisconsin -- one of the states that swept him to victory over Republican John McCain -- of the political landscape and economic outlook on November 4, 2008.
"One year ago, Americans all across this country went to the polls and cast ballots for the future they wanted to see," he told the cheering crowd at the Madison school.
"Election day was a day of hope, it was a day of possibility, but it was also a sobering one because we knew even then that we faced an array of challenges that would test us as a country."
Republicans hope that Tuesday's victories will help turn the tide as they look ahead to key mid-term elections in 2010.
The "overwhelming" victory in Virginia "sends a clear signal that voters have had enough of the president's liberal agenda," Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said.
Obama was swept to power promising change as the United States confronted its worst economic crisis in decades, and with US troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He made it clear that he would not be diverted from his program. "The work continues, but we are moving in the right direction," said Obama.
"And we are going to keep on fulfilling our obligation to do every single thing we possibly can to pull this economy out of the ditch and to make sure that people can find jobs that pay good wages. That's our top priority."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Republicans should not presume Tuesday's triumphs will translate into victory next year, when the full House of Representatives and a third of the Senate is up for election.
"If you look at the exit polling, which is pretty clear on this, people went to the polls and voted on local issues, not to even register support for or opposition to the president," he said.
But Democratic candidates Obama campaigned for lost to Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia.
Christie pulled off an upset victory over Jon Corzine, while McDonnell defeated Creigh Deeds in Virginia.
Voters in both states "were very concerned about the direction on the economy, and rejected out of hand the economic policies" supported by the Democrats, Eric Cantor -- the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives -- told Fox News.
The current governor of Virginia and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tim Kaine, said Obama remains popular among political independents, polling at 55 percent nationwide.
The races "turned on local and state issues and circumstances and on the candidates in each race," Kaine told CNN.
"Despite what some will certainly claim... the results are not predictive of the future or reflective of the national mood or political environment."
Senior White House adviser David Axelrod told Fox that there was "a tremendous drop off" of young voters in New Jersey and Virginia -- a constituency that overwhelmingly cast ballots for Obama in 2008.
But on Tuesday, for the first time in more than a century, a Democrat, Bill Owens, narrowly won a congressional seat in a Republican bastion of upstate New York.
Obama, who took office in January, said his administration had "two fundamental obligations."
"The first was to rescue the economy from imminent collapse. And while we still have a long way to go, we have made meaningful progress toward achieving that goal," he said.
Moves like implementing a 787-billion-dollar stimulus plan and introducing tax cuts "contributed to the first quarter of economic growth that we've had as a nation in over a year," he added.
The second obligation, the president said, was "to tackle problems that had been festering, that had been kicked down the road year after year, decade after decade."
In other elections, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was re-elected to a third term in a surprisingly close contest after he poured millions of his own dollars into the campaign and changed the rules so he could stand again.
And in Maine, voters soundly rejected a law to allow same-sex marriage, in a blow to gay rights advocates hoping the northeastern US state would become the first where voters directly approve gay unions.