Sic transit gloria something … last year in the 2008 election, team Obama was getting heady about the states they could win. Ohio and the North-East, the usual battle grounds, they already counted in their column.

They were pretty sure about the “new west” — Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.

They were quietly confident they could get the top of the South — Virginia and North Carolina.

After that they started to get a little dreamy. Montana, a weird mix of ranchers, survivalists and old hippies, had gone for Clinton. Could it be got again? North Dakota looked possible. And they were even getting jiggy with Arizona, just to get up McCain’s tailpipe.

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Now? Now they’re drawing the line at New Jersey?

New Jersey? Yep, the small number of governor and House races coming up for a vote this November means that everything in play — and that every race is being taken as a test of Obama.

That isn’t good news for The One. In Virginia, the Democrats look gone to Republican challenger “Bob” McDonnell, a one-time hardcore social conservative, who has presented himself as a more moderate figure, focused on local issues.

He’s currently leading by 12-15%, after years of Democrat governors, two Democrat senators and a vote for Obama. The Obama win was unusual, and different groups of people vote in state and Presidential races, so it can be written off.

New Jersey is a tougher call, even though there are local issues here, too — the arrest of swathes of Democrat officials recently on corruption charges, incumbent governor Jon Corazine’s former career as a Goldman Sachs financier. And though the state returns few Republican congresspeople, it often has Republican governors.

But this is Jersey man. It’s effectively one big suburban industrial area, sprawled to from Philly below and New York above. Though its previous Democrat set new scandal standards by leaving his wife for a man, and though Corzine was a Clinton man, it’s the heartland of the Democrat pushback.

Obama has been pumping the New Jersey cause hard, visiting it the same way he might the Middle East — incomprehensible gangs of gangsters at each others throats on a benighted strip of land, but you’ve got to pretend you care.

Currently, the NJ polls are neck-and-neck, with the prospect of a recount if it’s anywhere close, given that the state is run by rival mafias. Observers will be provided by the Karzai government.

The other race that’s captured attention is New York state’s 23rd congressional district. This has been the occasion for a takeover of the party by the ultra-right “teabag/teaparty” movement, depending on your politics.

Since New York state has Democrat and Republican parties, and an overlay of state-specific Liberal and Conservative parties, local politics gets confusing.

The New York 23rd suggests that whatever gains the Republican party may make from the governor’s races, it is still tormented by the split between its moderate and insane wings.

New York state — even upstate rural New York — is no place for a socially conservative Republican, but the party is so weak there that the crazies can take over without much trouble.

That’s particularly bad when the GOP is trying to rebuild itself in New England, an area where it has not one single representative, from Connecticut up to the Maine-Canada border, and taking in Massachusetts along the way.

The only way a state such as New York or Pennsylvania can come into play again for the Republicans — which they needs to be if the party is not to be confined to a desperate struggle in Ohio every four years is if the party’s values are recomposed to a degree, and its public face a moderate one.

Even Bob McDonnell in Virginia — whose earlier positions included the continued criminalisation of homosexuality, and objecting to a supreme court overturning of state bans on contraceptive use among married people — has managed to refocus his image, and separate himself from his earlier hard right politics.

As realclearpolitics notes, these out-of-cycle races are no predictor of anything much. Reagan lost in the ’80s before storming to bestest result ever. And so on.

So it won’t matter. But it will.

Dang, it’s a long way from North Dakota.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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