Yesterday was election day for many parts of the country. Because it isn’t a Congressional election year, a handful of high-profile races dominated the airwaves and will be over-analyzed into the next big electorate meme. Even with one major — and expected — Republican victory, progressives have a lot to celebrate. Let’s start with a quick look at the results.
- In New York City, Democrat, progressive, and all-around good guy Bill de Blasio crushed conservative Joe Lhota 73 – 24.
- Sadly, across the river in New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie handily won re-election by 23 points.
- Most eyes were on Virginia, one of the few remaining true swing states, where the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General offices were all up for grabs. The news is mostly good for progressives. Terry McAuliffe beat the odious Ken Cuccinelli, 48 – 45 to become the next Governor and the unhinged E.W. Jackson lost his bid for Lt. Governor to Ralph Northam by ten points. The AG race is too close to call, with either candidate leading by less than 1,000 depending on whose results you see.
It’s still early, but the emerging theme is that the GOP must moderate its views and steer clear of their tight ties to the Tea Party to win, with hypothetical moderate Christie being compared to clear conservative Cuccinelli. While common sense and demographic trends might support the basic argument, the comparison is deeply flawed.
Christie is an outlier. He’s a skilled politician who has been elected twice as a Republican Governor in a very Democratic state. Somehow he manages to appeal on an “independent thinker” model that splits the ticket. Two thoughts about the Christie myth. First, he’s no moderate. He vetoed marriage equality and worked hard to limit the power of unions. His moderate actions were either clear compromises with a very Democratic legislature (labor, education) or calculated political theatre (banning conversion therapy for teens). His stands must be viewed through the lens of a crafty politician who has been angling for the 2016 GOP Presidential nod for years. Which brings up the second point: even in NJ Christie would lose a hypothetical presidential matchup to Hillary Clinton by at least six points. The real lesson here? Chris Christie is a talented politician in a unique situation that manages to still sell hate in a pretty package with a bow on top.
Virginia tells us more. The big lesson is for Democrats: Terry McAuliffe is hardly well-loved, but he ran a strong, progressive campaign including support for marriage equality and gun restrictions. He won in a very purple state. Tacking to the center would have made the contest more confusing and might have cost him — Democrats need to remember this. On the other hand, he won by less than 3% when polls had him up by an average of 7%. That indicates that Cuccinelli’s very conservative positions appealed to more people than were willing to admit it to pollsters. That counters the Christie logic pretty strongly. Virginia is also a borderline southern state, closer to the heart of the GOP power and more indicative of what will happen as the stage is set for 2016.
In short, there is happy news and mixed news. Progressives values can win — de Blasio and McAuliffe modelled that nicely. The GOP, however, is still experiencing confusion and internal tension. The Tea Party base is still churning up very conservative candidates in primaries. While the results so far — with Cuccinelli joining the ranks of Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin — are good for Democrats, the times that one of these candidates wins the big race are dire indeed. Democrats can’t count on a GOP implosion, because complacency could easily see President Cruz in 2017. Oy! Perish the thought!