The results are now in for most of the races in the 2013 off-year elections, including contests for two governorships, one senate seat, a congressional seat, numerous mayors, and assorted other offices and referenda.
What clues, if any, do these results portend the 2014 national mid-term elections and beyond to 2016 when a new president will be elected?
One result was unmistakeable, that is, the re-election of Chris Christie as the governor of New Jersey. Christie, already a charismatic and significant figure in the national Republican Party, won so overwhelmingly in a traditional Democratic state, and with such a broad base of voters, that his role as one of the frontrunners for the GOP nomination for president in 2016 is assured until further notice. He is, of course, far from having that nomination secured, but only two or three other GOP figures now can try to match him in appeal. He clearly now controls the center of his party, and the center-right of the American electorate. (But three years lie ahead of any quest for residence on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, and many issues, challenges, and circumstances stand in his way.)
In Virginia, a much-flawed and controversial Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, narrowly won the governorship, a race he was predicted to win by a much larger margin. His opponent, a much-flawed and controversial Republican, was outspent eleven to one, and could not match the “star” power of President Obama, Vice President Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton, all appearing for his opponent. It was a pyhrric victory for the Democrats. McAuliffe’s prospects, based on his past record, indicate a likely controversial term of office ahead. The consequence of that might likely help Virginia Republicans in 2014 and 2016. To be fair, defeated gubernatorial candidate Cuccinelli would have likely been as controversial and unpopular a governor as McAuliffe might now well be, but the bottom line is that the Democrat will occupy the office.
(There was a third party candidate in the Virginia race who ran as a libertarian. He was expected, according to polls, to win 10-12% of the vote. Libertarian guru Ron Paul, however, came into Virginia the last weekend to campaign for Cuccinelli, and demanded that “true” libertarians should vote for the GOP candidate. The third party candidate thus won only 6.5% on election day, and exit polls indicate that a majority of those would have voted for McAuliffe, suggesting that if there had been no third party candidate, the Democrat would have won by an even larger margin.)
The question is: How did Cuccinelli, so controversial and flawed get so close in a race where he was outspent eleven to one, had little support from his own national party, and had the biggest names in the Democratic Party appearing against him. The answer is quite simple, and was verified by exit polls. Cuccinelli finally figured out the one issue that might salvage his campaign, and that issue was the huge unpopularity of the Democratic Obamacare legislation now beginning to be implemented. That is the indelible clue from the 2013 off-year elections for 2014, i.e., voters are powerfully angry about Obamacare, and will, as they did in 2010, be motivated to go to the polls to say so.
Although few Democrats will admit it publicly just now, any shrewd candidate, incumbent or challenger, of that party in 2014 is extremely nervous about this issue, especially so since its perhaps worst news (higher healthcare rates for most Americans, cancellations of current policies, etc.) is ahead, and will unfold during the first ten months of 2014, the worst possible time.
The third clue, and strike two against the Republican Party, is the consequence of nominating extremist, far right or unqualified candidates for office. Mr. Cuccinelli was chosen by the Virginia GOP state convention, and not in a primary. Most observers contend that, had there been a statewide GOP primary, a much more electable candidate would have won. An even more weird GOP nominee for lt. governor had been chosen in that convention, and he was crushed on election day by his Democratic opponent. The GOP nominee for attorney general, a mainstream conservative, holds a small lead before a recount, in his race. (As they say, case closed.)
Strike three for the Republican Party nationally would occur if it allows candidates like Mr. Cuccinelli and his lt. governor running mate either to defeat Republican senatorial and congressional incumbents, or otherwise become GOP nominees in the 2014 midterm election competitive races, particularly in the U.S. senate races where the conservative party could regain control in advance of the 2016 election. Most recently, in 2010 and 2012, Republicans indulged themselves with extremist, obviously unprepared, and otherwise inappropriate senate nominees who subsequently lost races the Republicans should have easily won. A political party, like a baseball batter, I suggest, is out after three strikes.
As I wrote in an earlier article, one can make too much about the very few 2013 contests, and that all sides will be “spinning” their interpretations. The most notable of the latter so far are the desperate attempts by some in the DC Beltway to argue that voter attitudes about Obamacare played no role in the Virginia gubernatorial election.
There were other results in 2013 that might be noted, including a referendum in Colorado in which the voters of that state clearly refused to raise their taxes to pay for government programs. Democrats joined Republicans in that state which leans to the liberal side. Common sense, I am glad to report, can be bipartisan.
With the ill-fated government shutdown imposed by Republican U.S. house legislators behind them, and continual bad news likely ahead about the implementation of Obamacare, the most negative news ahead for the conservative party would be if it indulged itself in more “can’t win” unpopular acts of self-important ideological symbolism (like defeating their own party incumbents in primaries) to gratify the “feel good” emotions of a party base that cannot deliver victory at the polls.
Mark my words.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.