Yesterday’s results in Virginia and New Jersey are a warning to politicians who embrace Obamacare. They’re also a warning to politicians who embrace the Tea Party.
In Virginia, heavily favored Democrat Terry McAuliffe barely eked out a two-point win, while in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sailed to reelection with a 20-point victory. Meanwhile, in a special congressional election in Alabama, Chamber of Commerce-type Republican Bradley Byrne defeated Dean Young, a Tea Party favorite, 53-46.
In the Old Dominion, McAuliffe defeated Ken Cuccinelli with a mere plurality of votes after having trailed throughout the evening. Going into Election Day, McAuliffe had consistently and comfortably led in all polls, and vastly outraised and outspent his opponent. Yet Obamacare’s failed rollout made the election that close—even as Cuccinelli steadfastly refused to come to grips with modernity.
According to exit polls, 53 percent of Virginians opposed Obamacare, and that is what made Cuccinelli a contender. Right now, Obamacare is the Democrats’ albatross, and President Obama’s mangled legacy.
On the other side of the ledger, Cuccinelli lost among women, college graduates, and wealthier voters. His message of traditionalism, nullification, and antipathy toward the industrial Midwest cost him badly in post-government shutdown Northern Virginia. Sixty percent of Virginia’s voters were pro-choice, and single women gave McAuliffe better than a 40-point margin.
McAuliffe also won among voters with incomes over $200,000—who comprised more than a tenth of all voters—by 16 points. Yet just a year earlier, it was Mitt Romney who won high-end Virginia. Indeed, even Virginia’s suburbs have been Yankeefied.
Going forward, that is the fact the GOP must carefully digest. If Republicans can no longer reliably rely on Virginia’s wealthy, then they have even less of a prayer in Pennsylvania’s Main Line or in the tony environs of Ohio’s Hamilton County in presidential years.
To top it off, blacks cast one fifth of the vote in Virginia—the same percentage as they had cast in 2012—and they went for McAuliffe by better than nine-to-one. The Old Dominion is now a national bellwether, and the GOP is looking like anything but a national party.
The Southern Strategy that helped elect Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush—father and son—is on the ropes. It is four years since the Republicans have won a marquee race in Virginia, and now both Virginia senators are Democrats. Without Virginia in the Republican column, the GOP faces an uphill battle in 2016. Since 1920, no Republican has won the White House without winning Virginia.
Yet, for all of his weaknesses, Cuccinelli ran ahead of McAuliffe among independents and outperformed Mitt Romney. And these twin achievements should provide the Republican Party with some solace, and Barack Obama and the Clintons with reason to pause.
Obama and the Clintons actively campaigned for McAuliffe. However, they barely persuaded. Obama and Joe Biden speechified in Virginia, but neither could say a word about Obamacare. Meanwhile, the Clintons poured themselves into the race, but hardly moved the needle in the end.
McAuliffe is a beachhead for Hillary’s presidential ambitions, but how much beyond that is unclear. McAuliffe’s brand of crony capitalism was a turn-off to Virginians, and Clinton & Co. suffer from that same infirmity. The Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton Foundation carry with them the whiff of the bazaar and the circus that by now are Clintonian trademarks.
Further north along I-95, Christie made a great showing, but it was a triumph of person, not party. It was a “thank you” for four years well served, not an embrace of the GOP.
To his credit, Christie was the anti-Cuccinelli, as Christie showed no discomfort with modernity, even as he made clear his positions on abortion and marriage. Christie racked-up impressive margins among women and Latinos, and was the first Republican to garner a majority of New Jersey votes since George H.W. Bush did in 1988.
Christie’s win signified that he is a top-tier contender for the Republican presidential nomination. Even rival Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) lauded Christie.
By having beaten State Senator Barbara Buono by 20 points, Christie will spend the next two and a half years as the establishment’s candidate. He will likely hit the rubber chicken circuit, develop an affinity for NASCAR, and launch an exploratory committee staffed by veteran Romney and Giuliani hands.
As he goes forward, Christie will need to address the questions that clouded his consideration as Romney’s running-mate. Christie will need to assure the party about his own integrity, and his tendency to conflate government with his own self. “Steering government contracts to friends and political allies” is not the best trait for a former federal prosecutor.
Still, the nation having endured Bill Clinton and the Devil in the Blue Dress, Bush 43’s eleventh-hour disclosures about driving under the influence, Obama’s alleged sweetheart deal with corrupt businessman Tony Rezko, and Romney’s offshore and overseas investments, Christie is far from being out of contention.
America has re-defined deviancy down. If a plagiarizing Joe Biden can become vice president, while a plagiarizing Rand Paul can mull the presidency, and a grifting Hillary Rodham Clinton can be the Democrats leading contender, then Christie should be allowed his moment of glory.
Christie has done more than just log frequent flier miles by jetsetting around the world. He has demonstrated that bipartisanship is more than a dream or a speech applause line. Christie showed that he could reach across the aisle during Superstorm Sandy and he did it again on Election Day, winning two thirds of independents and a third of Democrats.
The scrum over the nation’s future did not end yesterday. The results remained too equivalent. Rejection of Obamacare was not enough to carry the day for Cuccinelli. The Tea Party lost, but it was not vanquished. In New York City, Bill de Blasio—an ex-Sandalista—romped to election as Mayor, while across the Hudson River, a moderate conservative had a landslide win of his own. There was something for everyone.