Both Democratic and Republican strategists are dissecting Tuesday's election results for clues to what might happen in next year's congressional elections. State races in off years are not always good predictors of how a party will do nationally during congressional or presidential elections, but there are some important lessons to be learned.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's reelection win was predictable. He is a popular reformer who reached out to minorities and women running in a state that has had its fill of Democratic corruption and tax hikes. He's a conservative -- a pro-life Catholic who personally opposes gay marriage -- but he never tried to make social issues a focus of his campaign. When Christie welcomed President Obama to tour damage along the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy just before last year's presidential election, many conservatives felt betrayed. But his constituents thought he was putting them before partisan politics. The lesson: Style matters.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's gubernatorial loss was just as predictable. The one thing that was not predicted was how very close Cuccinelli came to defeating Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Cuccinelli lost by only 2.5 percent, not the double digits the polls predicted right up to Election Day. What makes the narrow race more remarkable was that McAuliffe, one of the most prodigious fundraisers in American politics, outspent Cuccinelli by nearly two to one. The lesson: Money matters -- a lot.
If Republicans hope to do well next year, they need to follow Christie's example in reaching out to nontraditional GOP voters. Christie won a majority of Hispanic votes, while Cuccinelli garnered fewer Hispanic voters than Mitt Romney did last year -- and Hispanics are becoming a more significant sector of the electorate in Virginia as elsewhere.
Cuccinelli's hard line on immigration hurt him significantly, as did comments he made on a radio station in 2012, which turned into fodder for McAuliffe's Spanish-language ads. Cuccinelli criticized a D.C. pest control law he said protected rodents from extermination: "It is worse than our immigration policy -- you can't break up rat families, or raccoons or all the rest. And you can't even kill them." The remarks infuriated many Hispanic voters, and rightly so. If the GOP keeps alienating this growing segment of the electorate, it can kiss the White House goodbye.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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