Florida is not New Jersey and it is not Virginia. In point of fact it is in many ways Florida is both states and there is something to learn from Tuesday night’s races that could factor into the 2014 gubernatorial battle between present Gov. Rick Scott of the GOP and his newly minted Democratic challenger Charlie Crist.
In a night that gave both sides of America’s political gridiron something to cheer about, Democrats seized whatever momentum was there to take and moderate Republicans finally saw a candidate that could help the party shake off the Tea Party influence.
Chris Christie won re-election handily in New Jersey, becoming the first Republican to win more than 50 per cent of the vote in a statewide election since George H.W. Bush did it in 1988.
But the incredible shrinking governor definitely isn’t a tea party stalwart.
The closest facsimile of Sen. Ted Cruz running on a major GOP ballot Tuesday was Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. He lost the governor’s race there to Terry McAuliffe, the former Bill Clinton fundraiser who hung a ‘for rent’ sign on the Lincoln Bedroom door and pulled in $34 million of his own for Tuesday’s squeaker.
Cuccinelli raised just $20 million.
Republicans like Christie who have learned how to win in a heavily Democratic ‘blue’ state like New Jersey, can win anywhere – even in states where Democrats hold an organizing advantage. Because he works well with Democrats in his own state to get things done and when he needed help from President Obama he worked with him.
If it takes the odd embrace of a Democratic president to make it happen, as Christie did after Superstorn Sandy, then so be it.
That’s a song Christie’s camp will be singing from tomorrow through the 2016 GOP nominating convention.
And Republicans like Cuccinelli, who bank on their states staying ‘red’ forever, will always be disappointed when real-world issues intervene.
Virginia’s demographic shifts since 2009 are astounding: White voters were 78 per cent of the state’s voters in 2009, and are down to 72 per cent just four years later. The influx of black and Hispanic voters has given Democrats a reliable base and a hedge against Obamacare-like disasters.
Combined with a sharply growing federal government workforce in Virginia’s northern counties – another group that votes Democrat by a generous majority – Virginia is no longer part of the reliably Republican deep South.
If the GOP takes any so-called ‘purple’ state for granted in 2016, it’s lights out and an Inaugural Ball for Madame President Hillary Clinton.
The ray of sunshine for Republicans comes from Washington, D.C., where President Obama’s approval numbers are under 40 per cent for the first time. The wildly unpopular Affordable Care Act, along with scandals in Obama’s justice, treasury, state and defense departments, have made campaigning with him a risky venture.
While that won’t matter much in 2016, Obama’s lame-duck year, it spells trouble for Democrats in 2014.
So Republicans who can shake their images as social-issue tea party warriors will have a leg up in races that become referenda on Obama and his health insurance overhaul. In 2014, Obamacare will be the only show in town and the GOP needs it to be a disaster.
But if things do start to turn around on healthcare then Democrats will have something going for them.
A large majority of voters in exit polls Tuesday said the economy remains their top concern, occupying their minds far more than health care, abortion, or any other hot-button issue.
It really is, still, ‘the economy, stupid.’
In Colorado, for instance, a proposed $950 million income tax hike for education lost by a massive 66-34 margin despite backing from Gov. John Hickenlooper and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – who put $1 million of his own money into the effort.
Republicans can keep winning, at least in local and district-wide races, by casting themselves in the role of superheroes fighting the evils of tax-and-spend liberalism. Similar messaging helped the GOP retain firm control of the Virginia General Assembly on Tuesday, despite losing the statewide governor’s race.
As long as the GOP remembers that, it will keep control of the House of Representatives after the 2014 election.
But whether the House ends up vastly more Republican or only slightly so, the real game is in the U.S. Senate where Republicans hold 45 seats and are aching to reach 51.
Next year, 33 senators will face re-election, including 13 Republicans and 20 Democrats. Most models show the GOP picking up at least four of those, with three more rated as toss-ups. All 20 of those Democrats voted to pass the Affordable Care Act.
But again that all depends on if the Affordable Health Care starts to gain traction. While things look bleak now remember there is a year to go before the elections. This is politics and much stranger things have happened than the Affordable Health Care Act coming back from the rough start and working the way it was advertised.
Liberals won a key victory Tuesday in New York City, a progressive enclave that curiously had kept Democrats out of Gracie Mansion since 1993. But Hizzoner Bill de Blasio’s new post is less of a sign of Democratic Party power than a course correction that was inevitable in a city that largely treats Republicans as a ghettoized minority.
In order to win anywhere else, Democrats will have to take a page from the Terry McAuliffe playbook: Raise ungodly sums of money, spend heavily on negative ads, isolate your opponent against women and minorities. Lather, rinse, repeat.
This should be a fun 11 plus months and keep your radio tuned to News Talk Florida and we will keep you posted.