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.
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.