• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Republicans Win Big in Local Races

The loss of a Republican seat in NY-23 under highly unusual circumstances notwithstanding, yesterday was a good day for Republicans. After crushing defeats in successive elections, they won back the Virginia governor’s office in a blowout and knocked off a billionaire incumbent governor in New Jersey despite having their vote split between two candidates.

election-2009I would, however, resist the temptation to see these contests as a referendum on Barack Obama’s presidency and the Democratic Party, much less a harbinger for 2010 and beyond.

Glenn Reynolds has an op-e in the NY Post titled “The Obama Magic has Faded.”

All politics is local, they say, and Tuesday’s off-off-year elections certainly had their local angles. Jon Corzine has been a terrible governor even by the undemanding standards of terribly governed New Jersey. Creigh Deeds, though he looked good to Democratic Party recruiters not long ago, turned out to be an undistinguished campaigner, more driven by the concerns of Washington Post editorialists than of Virginia voters. And NY-23 Republican nomineee Dede Scozzafava was a bizarre choice, bizarre enough to inspire a seemingly quixotic third-party run by Doug Hoffman.

But these local angles weren’t enough to keep the Obama administration out of the races. President Obama barnstormed Virginia and New Jersey — and pumped money and Joe Biden into NY-23 in support of Democratic candidate Bill Owens. (One suspects Owens would have preferred more money and less Biden.)

And — until it started looking as if they might lose — the Obama people were suggesting that these races would seal their mandate and encourage congressional wafflers to toe the line on health-care reform. Not so much, as it turns out.

Now, this is right, so far as it goes.  Exit poll analyses by both ABC and CBS show Obama remains personally popular but that people are extremely worried about the economy and the direction of the country.  The reality has set in that Obama’s a politician, not a messiah.  While many retain high hopes, most of the irrational exuberance has faded.  And, clearly, he doesn’t have coattails when he’s not on the ballot.  Then again, neither did Ronald Reagan.   Recall that Republicans lost 27 House seats in 1982.

A stronger case is made by Dan Balz in an “analysis” piece at WaPo titled “Contests serve as warning to Democrats: It’s not 2008 anymore.”

Neither gubernatorial election amounted to a referendum on the president, but the changing shape of the electorates in both states and the shifts among key constituencies revealed cracks in the Obama 2008 coalition and demonstrated that, at this point, Republicans have the more energized constituency heading into next year’s midterm elections.

The most significant change came among independent voters, who solidly backed Democrats in 2006 and 2008 but moved decisively to the Republicans on Tuesday, according to exit polls. In Virginia, independents strongly supported Republican Robert F. McDonnell in his victory over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, while in New Jersey, they supported Republican Chris Christie in his win over Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine.

For months, polls have shown that independents were increasingly disaffected with some of Obama’s domestic policies. They have expressed reservations about the president’s health-care efforts and have shown concerns about the growth in government spending and the federal deficit under his leadership.

Tuesday’s elections provided the first tangible evidence that Republicans can win their support with the right kind of candidates and the right messages. That is an ominous development for Democrats if it continues unabated into next year. But Republicans could squander that opportunity if they demand candidates who are too conservative to appeal to the middle.

This is exactly right.  Independents, by their very nature, are fickle.  When thing are going well, they’ll stick with the party in power and when they’re not, they’ll vote for change.

So, if unemployment is still high and we’re still mired in a mess in Afghanistan a year from now, the Republicans will have an opening to make major gains in the House and Senate.  But they’ll need candidates who won’t alienate independents.

I followed the Virginia race with some interest given that I live in the Commonwealth.  It wasn’t a race about Obama or national issues at all.  Deeds was the surprise winner of the Democratic primary, with the well-financed and well-known Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran killing each other off and leaving Deeds standing.   He was a moderate Democrat with appeal to rural Virginians who had narrowly lost to McConnell four years earlier when the latter got 323 more votes for attorney general.  But when the Washington Post went on attack against McDonnell for an old master’s thesis and some rather unprogressive statements about women and homosexuals, Deeds decided to run a nasty campaign hammering at those points.  It backfired, as McConnell turned the other cheek and came across as a decent, reasonable man.  (As an aside, I should note that Republicans easily won the lieutenant governor and attorney general races in landslides, too. )

In New Jersey, Corzine is personally unpopular and his state is in bad shape.  I posited on last night’s OTB Radio that it was all downhill after the motorcade incident, which was the first time I realized what a jackass Corzine was, but I don’t follow Garden State politics closely enough to know for sure.   At any rate, Chris Christie was perceived as a reasonable alternative even in a Democrat-leaning state.  Corzine’s genius advisers decided their best course was to double down on the jerk factor, campaigning on the theme that Christie was too fat to be governor.  Oddly, it didn’t do the trick.

Regardless, these races demonstrate that Republicans can win — even with all the damage to the brand suffered in recent years — given both an opening and a solid candidate.

Related Posts:

About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. kth says:

    Really, the sample size is far too small to make any kind of pronouncement–even as to the prudence of challenging moderate Republicans from the right. Republicans deserve congratulations for a couple of big wins, but I’m not sure there’s any basis for any of the players to change what they are currently doing. Obviously the 2010 elections will be far more significant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. just me says:

    What I mostly see in all the results is that the electorate to some degree is losing its party loyalty. There are still those in the base that would never vote for anything but their party, but the independant-“I will give you my vote, if you show me results”-oriented voter ranks are growing.

    I think both parties would be wise to realize this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Dantheman says:

    I tend to agree with just me — party loyalty means very little these days. It is rare for anyone of either party to advertise himself as a member of their party.

    Also, some historical context. Virginia last elected a governor of the same party as the sitting President in 1977. As a result, Deeds was always swimming uphill.

    New Jersey is different, and definitely a feather in the Republicans cap. Chris Christie (what were his parents thinking when they named him?!?)is not like Tom Kean or Christie Whitman, who were both served two terms as governor in the last 30 years. They are both Rockefeller Republicans, where Christie is more of a movement Republican. Electing such a Republican in a state-wide race in New Jersey is a nice accomplishment, largely showing how unpopular Corzine was.

    On the other hand, Corzine (and Jim Florio before him) becomes another data point in my long-standing position that voters do not want anyone to lead them who advocates cuts in government services or increased taxes to solve budget problems. They want people who promise to make it all better without pain.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    A 20 point win in Virginia and a Republican unseating a sitting Democrat in NEW JERSEY mean nothing? OK! Go tell that to the blue dogs. Pelosi is. Find the science in this. Obama promised the moon and so far all he has delivered is cheese. Cheese with lots of hole and it ain’t Swiss. Looks like it is very expensive cheese. When you have a community organizer who by hook or crook rose to the Presidency running the country, never having accomplished anything of note except winning elections but carries a far left agenda which a majority of people do not want. You will lose elections in you have a D for doomed after your name. Seems “R” is going to stand for redeemed or reelected. Just maybe, more of us know what is in the Constitution than our leaders suspect.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    Got Tea? lolzzzzzzz……….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Herb says:

    So, if unemployment is still high and we’re still mired in a mess in Afghanistan a year from now, the Republicans will have an opening to make major gains in the House and Senate.

    Would it be too cynical of me if I’m not sure it’s a good thing if Republicans see high unemployment and a mess in Afghanistan as their ticket to a 2010 resurgence?

    Probably.

    But with that said, what are the Republicans going to do about unemployment? More tax cuts???

    And Afghanistan? What is their secret plan to fix Afghanistan and why are they not sharing it with us?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Boyd says:

    At the risk of being anal-retentive (which I usually am anyway), Virginia’s next governor’s name is McDonnell, not McConnell, James.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. PD Shaw says:

    It’s not clear to me that Obama had coattails to begin with. I think it’s more likely that in 2008, GWB had negative coattails and Obama had sui generis talents and personality used primarily to convey his own moderation and personal judgment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. The one ray of sunshine for Democrats came courtesy of Sarah Palin and her band of crazies.

    Love that girl. Go Sarah!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Triumph says:

    Regardless, these races demonstrate that Republicans can win — even with all the damage to the brand suffered in recent years — given both an opening and a solid candidate.

    This is clear repudiation of Obama and his anti-American agenda.

    It is clear that Americans are sick of his ineffective governance and his sellout of our interests to foreigners.

    With these results we can finally say that “America is back.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. anjin-san says:

    A 20 point win in Virginia and a Republican unseating a sitting Democrat in NEW JERSEY mean nothing?

    Well, it means something. Its a terrible time to be a governor (witness Palin’s flight to cash), and the Democrats improved their position in the house.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. floyd says:

    “”I would, however, resist the temptation to see these contests as a referendum on Barack Obama’s presidency and the Democratic Party, much less a harbinger for 2010 and beyond.””
    “”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

    Well, at least you were tempted!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Richard Gardner says:

    Based on my experience at the polls yesterday, the “unlikely to vote” didn’t show up. A year ago the line stretched out the door and many seemed unfamiliar with the voting process based on the instructions they needed from the poll workers. Listening to the conversations in the line many had no idea about any of the issues or non-Presidential candidates, but were going to vote on everything.

    This year there were more poll workers than voters, and I believe the accidental coat-tails of the Presidential election did not occur. Not necessarily a repudiation of Obama, just Obama wasn’t on the ticket to carry them along (not that the Obama excitement of a year ago is still around either).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Tlaloc says:

    The GOP should be happy about NJ. It’s something they’ve wanted a long time and it wasn’t at all clear they were going to get it this year but Christie managed a significant win. The downside is that this was a win against a hugely unpopular dem, and despite that Christie struggled to close the deal. A victory for the GOP but not one that adds significantly to their slate of national candidates unless Christie vastly improves.

    VA isn’t great news, surprising though that seems. Unlike NJ VA is a purple state. It went dem in big dem years (2006, 2008) and may be slowly trending dem but can still easily go GOP. The size of McDonnells win would seem great new, despite this, but for a couple things. First McDonnell pretty much ran away from the republican brand like an olympic sprinter. Deeds tried to tie him to it and to the kind of conservative wingnuttery the base craves like heroin but failed (he couldn’t make the thesis stick for instance). McDonnell, to his credit, ran a pretty mature even campaign that avoided exactly that kind of thing. In other words McDonnell won big by doing the exact thing the republican base insists not be done ever again.

    Meanwhile the conservative golden boy went down to flaming defeat. Sure he only lost by 4 points but this is in an area that the GOP usually caries 2-1 for local races and hasn’t lost in over a century. That’s going to foment a lot of bitterness between moderates and conservatives over who stabbed whom in the back.

    Beyond that the homophobes won one and lost one, but perhaps more importantly the Maine victory against gays didn’t translate into victory on the TABOR. A few social issues may remain hot buttons but they aren’t being as effective in helping the other GOP issues as they once were.

    Not a horrible night by any means for the GOP in the short term but one with some unpleasant long term implications for them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. TangoMan says:

    Meanwhile the conservative golden boy went down to flaming defeat. Sure he only lost by 4 points but this is in an area that the GOP usually caries 2-1 for local races and hasn’t lost in over a century.

    What a load of propaganda! Congressmen who represented the district in recent history:

    Jacob H. Gilbert – Democrat – March 8, 1960 —
    January 3, 1963

    Charles A. Buckley – Democrat – January 3, 1963 —
    January 3, 1965

    Jonathan B. Bingham – Democrat – January 3, 1965 —
    January 3, 1973

    Peter A. Peyser – Republican – January 3, 1973 —
    January 3, 1977

    Bruce F. Caputo – Republican – January 3, 1977 —
    January 3, 1979

    Peter A. Peyser – Democrat – January 3, 1979 —
    January 3, 1983

    Samuel S. Stratton – Democrat – January 3, 1983 —
    January 3, 1989

    Michael R. McNulty – Democrat – January 3, 1989 —
    January 3, 1993

    Sherwood Boehlert – Republican – January 3, 1993 —
    January 3, 2003

    John M. McHugh – Republican – January 3, 2003 —
    September 21, 2009

    It sure looks to me like there were Democrats representing NY-23 in the last 100 years. Perhaps you meant to write that no Democrats have represented the district in this century, all 9 years of it.

    As for Hoffman’s achievement, it was dramatic, in that as an independent he battled both Democratic and Republican political machines and came up only 4% shy of victory. Secondly, as endorsements validated him his voter approval blasted off, so much so that the Republican candidate dropped out of the race because she couldn’t compete against him.

    Owens won just like Clinton won, up the middle, and didn’t get a majority, in that the vote for Hoffman and Scozzafava, when combined, is greater than the vote for Owens.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. just me says:

    This year there were more poll workers than voters, and I believe the accidental coat-tails of the Presidential election did not occur. Not necessarily a repudiation of Obama, just Obama wasn’t on the ticket to carry them along (not that the Obama excitement of a year ago is still around either).

    I agree with this.

    I think this is kind of typical though in off year elections where there isn’t a major candidate for president or other federal office. People come out in their highest numbers for those races. And I do think in 2008 Obama had some coattails to ride. But the voters that came out for Obama probably weren’t all that interested in coming out yesterday.

    I think the jury is still out on whether the democrats can hold on to their seats in 2010-I am still skeptical that the GOP will win enough seats to take over either house, but if things stay the same as right now, I suspect the DNC will lose seats.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Tlaloc says:

    It sure looks to me like there were Democrats representing NY-23 in the last 100 years.

    That’s because you are paying attention to the number rather than the location. Yes, plenty of dems have been elected to “NY23” but what constitutes NY23 changes every time they redistrict. Democrats have not been elected to the area currently called “NY-23.”

    Not rocket science.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. An Interested Party says:

    Not rocket science.

    Oh come now, there’s no need to throw cold water on the brilliant analysis of Sarah Palin’s number one fan boy in these parts…I mean, he certainly did try to spin away her chosen candidate’s loss…obviously her endorsement wasn’t worth very much…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. anjin-san says:

    obviously her endorsement wasn’t worth very much.

    Well, not sure about that. Palin has a great deal of pull with the ignoramus crowd…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Eric says:

    As for Hoffman’s achievement, it was dramatic, in that as an independent he battled both Democratic and Republican political machines and came up only 4% shy of victory.

    TangoMan, there’s a couple of old sayings that apply here:

    “Nobody remembers second place.”

    and:

    “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. TangoMan:

    Ah, it’s Brimelow. Welcome back!

    “NY 23” is not a fixed place. At times NY 23 has included portions of Manhattan and the Bronx. Because as you of course know the number of districts changes over time as population distribution changes, districts are redrawn, etc…

    So people use the shorthand contemporary reference rather than what they should more accurately say, which is that the area that is now defined as NY23 has been Republican since forever.

    I’m shocked, shocked to discover that a “scientific racist” would resort to such transparent manipulation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. TangoMan says:

    That’s because you are paying attention to the number rather than the location. Yes, plenty of dems have been elected to “NY23” but what constitutes NY23 changes every time they redistrict. Democrats have not been elected to the area currently called “NY-23.”

    Only a liberal could write something so illogical and think that they’ve made a brilliant point. Let me walk you through your faux pas.

    Point #1: Congressmen are elected in defined districts.

    Point #2: NY-23 is a defined district.

    Point #3: It is impossible for a Congressman to be elected by running in a hash of different districts or within the boundaries of districts from a century ago.

    Therefore, if the boundaries of NY-23 change through redistricting, your argument falls apart, in that the district of NY-23 in the years immediately after the Civil War are not the boundaries of the district today and so your point about the district being a Republican stronghold for over a century are irrelevant, since a.) no one was running for election within the boundaries of long-ago delineated districts, and b.) past election results in NY-23 show that a Democrat last represented the district ending in early 1993.

    Sure, it’s not rocket science to me, but clearly it is to you. If you still want to advance your Pravda-flavored point then back it up with evidence.

    Eric,

    “Nobody remembers second place.”

    and:

    “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

    That’s funny, I still recall Ross Perot’s third place finish.

    I get your point though, there is no constitutional political power bestowed upon the loser of a political contest, that however doesn’t mean that the effort was all for naught.

    Today the NRSC announced that they’re reforming their practice of endorsing preferred Republicans against their challengers in primary contests.

    When a local Republican is more liberal than the Democrat who is running against her and is installed by a party machine and the party members rise up against such practices, then the effect, as we see with the NRSC announcement, is a positive outcome. Whether the lesson learned is worth losing a “Republican” vote for a one year session of Congress is a question with a subjective answer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. An Interested Party says:

    Here’s a rather tasty recipe…

    First you take a congressional district that has had Republican representation in the U.S. House of Representatives since before the Civil War, then add a teabag, pour on some hot steamin’ Sarah Palin, add a squeeze of Rush Limbaugh, then carefully strain the mixture until there is no trace of the moderate Republican. Then just wait and watch. Pretty soon you’ll have….Surprise! A Democrat!

    There you go folks. Dems across the land can now send thank you notes to Our Lady of Perpetual Meddling. Can’t wait to find out whose fault THIS one is going to be.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Tlaloc:

    And now you know how Peter Brimelow, (TangoMan) manages to convince himself of the inferiority of black people. A hollow little mind, an empty shell filled with hate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Tlaloc says:

    Only a liberal could write something so illogical and think that they’ve made a brilliant point. Let me walk you through your faux pas.

    My faux pas was apparently thinking you could get something as simple as “districts (and district names) change.” I stand corrected. In your mind each congressional district stays immutable from the beginning of time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Crust says:

    James, Corzine is a wealthy man but he is not remotely close to being a billionaire.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. TangoMan says:

    My faux pas was apparently thinking you could get something as simple as “districts (and district names) change.”

    No, your faux pas was more egregious and secondly this charge your making is based on supposition rather than facts. I pointed to the historical record to demonstrate the falsity of your claim that this district has been a Republican lock for over a century. You responded with gibberish about designation versus location. NY-23 has existed in fairly stable form since the 1940s, with adjustments on it borders. The Representatives I listed above represented this region, and not as you imply a district labeled NY-23 that happened to be in some other part of the state.

    This whole convoluted and distorted talking point you’ve accepted whole cloth originates from some political research which looked at county and precinct voting history and discovered that there are some geographical regions (not weighted by population) within NY23 that haven’t voted for Democrats in over a century. Big deal. I wouldn’t be surprised if parts of Harlem or Deep Blue San Francisco last voted Republican somewhere in the deep mists of time. These small enclaves don’t mean that the entire district is monolithic in their political viewpoints, only that small enclaves are.

    The record shows that Democrats and Republicans are both competitive in the district, with the Democrats winning office, from my list above, for 27 years compared to the Republican terms amounting to 22 years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0