So, the media will talk a lot about the national significance of these two races, because there is not much else to talk about. This is a repeating event every four years, because there is nothing else to do between the Presidential and midterm elections.
So what can we really learn from these results?
1. Off year elections don’t mean much.
Historically, these elections mean little to nothing. You can take a lot of meaning into Christie and McDonnell winning four years ago, right before the Tea Party swept the 2010 elections, but there were many local issues that drove both candidates to victory that were far more important than national trends at the time.
I am sure many liberal bloggers will put a lot of weight into McAuliffe’s victory, and give credence to the argument that the shutdown helped him win, or the Obamacare debacle didn’t hurt him, or some other wacky theory. But the reality is, McAuliffe ran a better campaign, that was better funded. It was as simple as that.
But, at least it gives the media and bloggers such as myself something to talk about.
2. Chris Christie starts his Presidential run tonight.
This is among the worst kept political secrets in America, along with the fact that Hillary Clinton is running for the big job. Christie sees an opening, as do other moderates. Their view is the GOP has been losing elections because it has moved too far to the right, and that we need a strong moderate leader to take the helm.
Of course, forget the fact that the last two nominees of the GOP are the milquetoast Mitt Romney and the ‘Maverick’ John McCain. I think that claim is dubious. For me, however, there are more important political trends that Christie’s re-election points to.
First of all, Obama, Democrats and Republicans are making the stench of the beltway toxic to the American voter. Christie, as the consummate outsider, can use that. He is fat, gruff, at time boorish but glaringly and painfully honest…everything that Barack Obama is not. 2014 and 2016 are likely to be election cycles where being an outsider is a boon, and Christie plays that role quite well. Just wait and watch Hillary try to run away from her State Department and Obama roots as well.
Second, Obama’s gross incompetence is going to make Americans look for a true manager, and that to me means an obvious solution: Governors. Christie may not be the guy, but my guess right now is that a Republican governor from somewhere is going to win the GOP nomination. Christie believes he is that guy; I am not so sure.
But let us not discount Christie’s achievement. As Sean Trende pointed out in his piece today, Christie is likely the most conservative statewide elected politician in New Jersey in more than half a century. Christie has run a moderately conservative fiscal plan with a few socially conservative leanings in a far blue state…and is going to win running away. That is pretty unique in the GOP in the last generation. I may not be the biggest Christie fan, but the achievement is remarkable nonetheless.
3. The Virginia result is even less important.
Some liberals will say that this is because the GOP lost. Actually, I have been predicting a loss here for six months, and have said since August that this will be a 5 point victory.
The count is not over, but it appears the race will be far closer than that.
Some well-known liberal bloggers were calling for a double-digit victory not two weeks ago. So who is more delusional?
The problem with taking any large arching ramification from the Virginia is simple: there were too many confounding factors. First, Gov. Bob McDonnell got caught in a horrible corruption scandal, one nobody expected. Even though Ken Cuccinelli was no ally of the Governors, and continued to try to distance himself, that stench never went away.
Second came the shutdown. I am not sure how much effect it really had ultimately (I actually think as of election day most people have already forgotten it; exit polls will tell us more), but it certainly halted any effort Cuccinelli made to close the gap in early October.
Now, compound that with a relatively strong third-party candidacy from Robert Sarvis, with many Republicans defecting to the third-party, and I am not sure what to make of the entire mess.
With all that, the GOP candidate likely is going to lose by less than 4 points. Of the few lessons we can learn from the race, one is this: the polls should be ignored by the GOP when races are close. McAuliffe outspent Cuccinelli 3:1, and in the late stages of this election, that could have driven up Democrat votes in D.C. and Richmond, and stifled conservative votes in those regions. This was a winnable race.
Furthermore, the exit polls are very worrisome for Democrats. Blame for the sequester? 46% Obama, 47% Republicans for Congress, according to VA exits. Obamacare was upside down, 46% to 53%. The real terrible story for the GOP was single women, which they lost by…40 points.
4. Cuccinelli is ideally a poor candidate for modern Virginia.
Virginia is a blue state. That is the first reality. Second, it is a major urban population, with the suburbs of Washington, D.C.. Thus, Virginia should be considered more along the lines of Pennsylvania than North Carolina.
As such, Cuccinelli is a poor candidate. Assuredly, he made his name opposing Obamacare in the courts, but he was almost as well-known for his very strong beliefs in criminalizing certain societal acts, such as homosexual sex and his defense of sodomy laws in unique situations, turned off a large swathe of conservatives. I know this as a fact, as many of my Virginia friends, those that would vote for Tea Party candidates like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, absolutely refused to consider Cuccinelli.
The GOP must learn that it can stay a socially conservative party; but pushing legislation to dictate the actions behind closed doors of consenting adults simply is a non-starter, even among many (if not most) social conservatives. Conservatives are largely moving toward become libertarian on these social issues.
Overall, it was a mixed bag. I think Democrats can take heart that they retook the Virginia Governorship, but by a much slimmer margin than the polls and conventional wisdom imagined.
For the GOP, they need to learn a couple of lessons. First, ignore conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom stated this race could not be won, that Cuccinelli was done after the shutdown, and the race was a blowout. All three suppositions were false. Cuccinelli’s clear negatives were on social issues, where the GOP needs to hone their msessage; nothing wrong with social conservatism, but it is not the primary issue voters are concerned with.
The shutdown was not the negative that the mainstream media wanted us to believe, three short weeks ago; that effect has already dissipated. In fact, one can argue (and I admit is is arguable both ways) that Obamacare had more effect on this race ultimately than the shutdown did. I am sure liberal and conservative commentators will be arguing that for months.
However, a big night clearly for Chris Christie, as he is going to be the clear frontrunneer for the GOP nomination, until a true conservative alternative can come and show they deserve it more.