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November 8, 2013

Clues And Portents From The 2013 Off-Year Elections

  5:19 pm

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.


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24 Responses to “Clues And Portents From The 2013 Off-Year Elections”

  1. Chris

    I think Cucinelli was a much better candidate than you suggest, and there is little doubt that a stronger donor base would have put him over the top.

    Colorado, as it happens, is actually a close political sibling to Virginia, and doesn’t really “lean liberal” at all. The defeat of Amendment 66 coupled with other local victories and the recent legislative recalls signal a profound political shift to the right in the state. To chalk that up to common sense is to really misread what is happening, and how historic it is. Colorado Republicans have now had two historic election wins in a row, despite being outspent by massive margins and getting outplayed on the ground.

    Let me put it this way, if the Virginia race were played out in Colorado last Tuesday, we would have a governor named Ken in Denver. I don’t chalk that up to common sense. It signals a major political shift that most people will miss.

    Why does that matter? It matters for two reasons: 2014 and 2016. Next year the GOP will lose races in at least a few key swing states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, maybe Michigan. And we just lost Virginia. A gubernatorial win in Colorado would be a bright spot on the map. And a win over Mark Udall could give Republicans the Senate. And what a renewed sagebrush rebellion in Colorado could mean that the Republican nominee can build a map out of the west and move eastward.

    The loss of Amendment 66 may have been the mist important result of the night, and it was the result of much more than common sense.

  2. Tony Frank

    Obama shut down the government when he threw a temper tantrum and refused to allow anything to be funded unless they funded Obamacare.

    Conservatives can and will win. We will take back our country from the far left radicals that have brought it to the precipice of destruction.

  3. Ryan60657

    Ron Paul campaigned for Cooch too? I know that Rand Paul visited the state and endorsed Cooch, but I didn’t know dad did too.

  4. Aspire

    Is there any point at which democrats will be willing to call Obamacare a failure and let people have their plans back? That would be great for our country, kill the issue for decades, and set us up for a strong race in 2016.

  5. RC4Christie/Huntsman’16


    Never gonna happen. It’s their stepping stone to single payer if Hillary manages to win and they gain control of congress again.

  6. Jerald

    #5 What’s up Craig, I thought you were all for ObamaCare?

    Or have you flip-flopped again?

  7. RC4Christie/Huntsman’16

    I, for one prefer the ROMNEYCARE/OBAMACARE private insurance company involved competitive exchanges over the full government single payer system like Canada or the UK.

    On the other hand, the progressives hate the ACA and prefer the single payer on;y.

  8. RC4Christie/Huntsman’16


  9. Massachusetts Conservative

    Obama’s net RCP approval is now worse than it has ever been. Pew has him at -17 approve-disapprove.


  10. RC4Christie/Huntsman’16

    “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is “by far, far and away” the Republican frontrunner in the 2016 presidential race, veteran Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer says.

    Read Latest Breaking News from Newsmax.com http://www.newsmax.com/NewsmaxTv/krauthammer-christie-gop-frontrunner/2013/11/08/id/535702#ixzz2k96laa2A

  11. RC4Christie/Huntsman’16


    Bam will never get a third term NOW!

  12. Colorado Guy

    It’s not being “too conservative” or “extremist” that is the problem with a lot of the candidates to whom Barry Casselman is referring. It’s being too conservative and extremist on certain issues, namely social issues; Cuccinelli with his sodomy laws, for instance. The GOP does not have to moderate across the board, but rather moderate on social issues.

    #1 Chris – I agree with you that Colorado and Virginia are similar states. Though I wouldn’t say that the state has lurched back to the right, it’s always been a center-right state, despite recent voting trends. The problem with the Colorado GOP the last ~10 years has been that they don’t recognize the relatively strong libertarian bent that the Centennial state, like many western states, has. Think about it – Colorado voters voted FOR legalized marijuana by 10% and then, a year later, REJECTED a huge tax increase by an even larger margin. The powers that be in the state party however, who’s center of power is Colorado Springs (home of the radical Focus on the Family organization), have not yet figured this out. They run the state party as if this is the evangelical south and not the libertarian west.

    I’m 31 years old and have lived my entire life in various locations along the northern Front Range (between Fort Collins and the north Denver suburbs) and I know tons of young professionals who are economically conservative but socially liberal, and many vote for Democrats because of social issues. Because most people are emotionally-reactive, low-information voters, they are inclined to vote Democrat because they’ve come to view the Colorado GOP as the party that wants to shove James Dobson’s and Marilyn Musgrave’s values down their throats.

    These voters can be persuaded to vote Republican but only if the GOP adopts the right message. I’ll be following the 2014 races in the state very closely, let’s see if the GOP wakes up.

  13. Aspire

    5 You’re probably right, but as is, Obamacare will require huge infusions of money to not collapse in on itself unless tons of people start signing up. I’m not really sure how long we could sustain Obamacare if people don’t start signing up. Wait, I just had a thought, they’ll just massively raise the penalties for not signing up. That’s what we need to stop. That’s what our guys should be running on – that if you don’t vote republican then the penalties for not signing up for Obamacare will skyrocket. If we can stop that, then Obamacare will probably collapse under its own weight.

  14. RC4Christie

    The penalties are already going way up after the first year. Another nugget buried deep in the 2000 page bill.

  15. Tony Frank

    People who are so poor that they have a “free” Affordable Care Act “Bronze Plan” will have to pay $6,300 in medical bills each and every year before Obamacare pays for anything!

  16. RC4Christie/Huntsman’16

    Not the way insurance works for the poor as well as the others subsidized/tax credited, Tony. Unfortunately for the private insurance companies in the exchanges. Again it’s hidden in the 2000 pages.

  17. The Dude

    Moderating on the social issues is the exact wrong thing to do. The Republican party needs to FIGHT against being pigeonholed as social extremists simply for adhering to traditionalism.

    News flash: Even Chris Christie is going to be painted as out of tough and anti-gay and anti-woman. The long knives didn’t come out in New Jersey because the Democrats threw the game away. That won’t happen with Hillary Clinton.

    Ted Cruz would push back against the mischaracterization. Everything I’ve seen from Chris Christie suggests he’d run away from the party’s stances. That may have saved his large posterior in a low turnout off-year election but it won’t help him in 2016.

    Republicans should embrace their values head on and then put the Democrats on the defensive.

  18. Colorado Guy

    #17 – No, you’re wrong. The younger generation is socially liberal and the longer the GOP wants to be the anti-gay party that thinks it’s the states business what happens in a bedroom between two consenting adults, the more and more young voters they will continue to lose. Abortion (I’m decidedly pro-choice) is a different issue, but on gay rights and marijuana especially GOP needs to moderate or at least avoid the issue.

  19. RC4Christie/Huntsman’16

    Bingo, CG. And most everyone in America believes we need to reduce abortions and not ban them in the rare and extreme cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

  20. The Dude

    18 – Nice strawman argument. I don’t know of a single Republican that is “anti gay” but I know plenty of gay marriage sympathetic liberals who are blatantly anti religious freedom. When the gay lobby pushes too hard (and they eventually will) against the Catholic church and other organizations for not performing gay weddings you’re going to see a pushback and the GOP would be well served to exploit it. The pendulum shifts back and forth and social liberalism won’t be in vogue forever.

  21. The Dude

    And Cuccinelli didn’t lose because of social issues. He lost because the RNC abandoned him and spent only 1/3 what they spent on McDonnell.

    Given another week of campaigning against Obamacare or another $6M and McAuliffe would have lost. And all his “War on Women” and contraception thief bogeyman would have went down with him.

    Why did McAuliffe win? Because the GOP establishment is composed of nothing but a bunch of wusses.

  22. Etimodos

    The pendulum metaphor doesn’t always fit. Sometimes social attitudes change permanently. In 1920 when women got the vote, there were probably opponents thinking that someday the pendulum of public thinking would “swing back” on that issue and the extension of the vote to women could be reversed. In 93 years it still hasn’t happened.

  23. JA Pruce

    Does Gov. Christie support civil unions?

  24. TennJoe

    Yes he does J A. Marriage should be left to the Church and Government restricted to Civil ceremonies.

    Even such decadent societies as an Greece and Rome upheld traditional marriage. Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships grant about every right given to married couples, so there is more than equal rights involved in the Gay Agenda’s insistence on calling their unions marriage. It is just another attempt to undermine the historical foundation of Judeo/Christian society.

    There is now more discrimination against believers in traditional Biblically based culture than there is against Gays and Lesbians in many states. So yes, the “Progressives” are well on their way to fundamentally changing America.

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