Breaking Down The Results of Tuesday's Elections: The Good, The Bad and Lessons Learned

Posted: Nov 08, 2013 12:01 AM

The national news media's liberal spin on Tuesday's off-year elections focused on the Republican loss in Virginia, insisting it demonstrated the GOP was still on a steep, downward slide.

But the political reality behind what happened this week tells a far different story that suggests it's the Democrats who are in trouble, from the state house to the Obama White House.

Yes, Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli lost the Virginia governor's race, but far more narrowly than anyone expected, or that the polls had shown. Despite the fact that he was vastly outspent by Bill and Hillary Clinton's shadowy, big money man, Terry McAuliffe, and was unable to get his message out on television.

To be sure, Cuccinelli had his own political weaknesses. He lost the women's vote badly as a result of a barrage of TV ads that focused entirely on abortion, birth control and other women's issues. He lost the state's Hispanic vote big time, because they saw him as virulently anti-immigration reform.

For much if not most of the election cycle, his message on jobs and tax cuts to spur the economy was drowned out by McAuliffe's nonstop TV ads portraying Cuccinelli as anti-women and "too extreme for Virginia."

Throw in the politically-damaging gift-giving scandal that destroyed Republican Bob McDonnell's governorship, and that slightly tarnished Cuccinelli and the GOP, too, and the Democrats were salivating over their hopes for a landslide victory.

In the end, however, McAuliffe narrowly won by less than a 2.5 percentage point margin. A CNN computer-drawn color map of the voter breakdown showed the state in a sea of GOP red, with the exception of just a few deep blue urban centers, including heavily-populated Fairfax County, that lies just outside of Washington, D.C.

McAuliffe had squeaked out a win with the support of largely nonwhite and unmarried voters, but, notably, he had badly lost white and married voters to Cuccinelli.

Indeed, Democrats have lost white voters by 20 or more percentage points in the last four gubernatorial or presidential elections, according to election day exit polls.

What had happened to tighten a race that polls showed to be lopsided in McAuliffe's favor, though tightening in the final days of the campaign?

The big factor was certainly Obamacare that exploded in the final weeks of the race into a political disaster that dominated the news and clearly hurt McAuliffe who was one of its biggest boosters.

Insurance companies from New York to Florida were sending out notices canceling health care policies that did not meet benefit standards set by Obama's rigidly-drawn health care law. Insurance policy premiums were shooting up to unaffordable levels. The administration's online sign-up system turned into a bungled, unworkable mess that became the laughing stock of the country.

Cuccinelli and his campaign strategists were desperately looking for a way to counter McAuliffe's vaunted lead and close the gap. Then, in the last few weeks, he switched his core election message into a referendum on Obamacare and the tide began to turn.

Voters needed some way to show their angry opposition to Obamacare and send a message to Washington. For a lot of voters, Cuccinelli's candidacy was the best vehicle to do that. Why, even the state's Senate Democratic Leader Richard Saslaw conceded that Obama's trouble-plagued health care law has "upset a lot of people."

Meantime, Republican state senator Mark Obenshain won the attorney general's race by just a handful of votes, a contest that is headed to a recount. And the House of Delegates remains firmly in GOP hands, with the Senate politically divided 50-50, as it was before.

But in overwhelmingly liberal New Jersey, it has turned out to be a far different story where the Republicans have driven deep into Democratic territory -- shaking Obama's party to the rafters.

Gov. Chris Christie cruised to a second term, beating his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono, by more than 20 percentage points.

The national news media chooses to describe the New Jersey governor, a former U.S. prosecutor who put dozens of public officials -- Republicans and Democrats -- behind bars, as a pragmatic politician open to compromise.

But he is also very conservative on key economic, law enforcement and public spending issues. He has cut taxes and the budget, battled with state employee unions over their excessive benefits, and brought his state back from the brink of the Great Recession.

Christie's re-election showed that these bedrock issues do not appeal to just to the GOP's right wing, but to many swing Democrats, too. He won the support of 32 percent of Democrats on Tuesday, up from 24 percent in 2009.

But his political appeal is much wider than even that. Exit polls on Tuesday showed him winning 57 percent of women voters, up from 12 percent last time. He also won 21 percent of black voters, up from 12 percent, and an astonishing 51 percent of Hispanic voters, up from 19 points.

Despite what the Washington news media want you to think, Christie is not at war with his national party, nor with its social conservative base. He made it clear throughout his campaign that he was right to life on abortion and was opposed to same-sex marriage. He ran flat out on cutting taxes further to boost economic growth and create jobs, and cutting government spending, to boot.

No wonder Democratic leaders fear him and even now are plotting a major political assault on his governorship in anticipation of a bid for the White House in 2016.

These off-year elections tend to be over-analyzed, and sometimes their significance can be exaggerated. In this case, the parties split the difference in the governor races, but New Jersey far outweighs what happened in Virginia.

Christie, a shrewd and cunning operator, showed that government can work when you roll up your sleeves and are willing to step into the arena and fight for what you want.

Unfortunately, Cuccinelli learned a little too late that if he had made Obamacare a referendum in his campaign, he probably would have won.

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