Now that most of the national races have been settled, what are the takeaways? There are four:
- The political fault lines that have set the “ground rules” for partisan candidates across the country have remained intact,
- Candidate quality is crucial,
- The existing fault lines can be breached (even in Democratic areas) if issues important to the voters (economic issues in the Northeast, guns in rural/Western areas) are raised, and
- Overt displays of bipartisanship still have some potency among “swing voters” or leaners.
Let’s discuss how those principles can be applied to each of the three races that we were watching.
New Jersey Governor (Republican Chris Christie wins 60-38%) – Governor Chris Christie was re-elected with numbers not seen by the GOP since the mid 1980s (when Ronald Reagan and former governor Tom Kean were re-elected in landslides). What is interesting about this race is that while Governor Christie pushed a conservative agenda on taxes, spending, and pension reform (culminating with infamous clashes between the governor and the teachers’ unions), he also had to work with a Democratic legislature to get his program passed. And it didn’t hurt when in the final week of the Presidential race, he appeared several times with President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
An important takeaway: Governor Christie was careful to keep the support of the voters as he pushed his agenda. And he therefore avoided being viewed as a partisan figure. Of course, this strategy also has a downside: his re-election was not accompanied by a GOP takeover of the legislature; Republicans only made minor legislative gains.
Virginia Governor (Democrat Terry McAuliffe wins 48-45%) – Virginia showed its moderating political complexion again when it elected a Democrat in an open seat race where neither candidate was much liked by the voters. National events played an important role: the federal government has a substantial economic presence in the state. While the government shutdown in early October hurt the Republican candidate, he was able to pull to a near photo finish in the final days by highlighting his opposition to Obamacare at a time when the implementation of that legislation has been fairly disruptive for those with individual policies.
For most of the campaign, the Democrat stayed on the offensive, and he had the financial resources to communicate his message. Part of his offensive was straight out of the Democratic playbook: he highlighted parts of the record of his Republican opponent (who was the Attorney General) that fit into the Democratic mantra of the GOP’s “war on women.” But McAuliffe was also shrewd to seek bipartisan cover by continually rolling out a string of endorsements from GOP elected officials. And he kept his campaign focus on job creation and how he could bring business to the state.
This campaign strategy worked in the DC suburbs, where McAuliffe’s 59-36% margin was nearly as one sided as Barack Obama’s crucial 60-39% win over Mitt Romney in these same counties last year. In the rest of the state, the Republican could only muster a 48-45% win in an area that Mitt Romney carried 51-48%.
(11/6 AM UPDATE) While this was a victory that was aided and abetted by the presence of a Libertarian candidate who received 7% of the vote, the Democrats also swept the Lt Governor’s race 55-44% over a controversial Republican whose incendiary rhetoric was not attractive to independent voters. And it appears that the candidate quality in those (Governor and Lt Governor) races affected the Attorney General’s race as well, which as of this time is essentially tied, with 286 votes separating the candidate. Finally, the Democrats made small gains in the legislature.
Given that Virginia has become a swing state Presidentially and in statewide races, this is “Ground Zero” for the GOP’s need to recalibrate its message to attract suburban and Asian/Hispanic voters who have increasingly been voting Democratic.
New York City Mayor (99% in, Democrat Bill deBlasio wins 73-24%) – While New York City has been a Democratic dominated city for decades, it has actually elected several Republican mayors. In fact, the last time a Democrat was elected here was in 1989. That streak ended last night, as a leftist Democrat was elected in a landslide.
It’s worth noting, however, that this was not a Democratic sweep of New York state, as Republicans kept power in several crucial county executive races last night.