Analyzing Last Night’s Vote
Michael is of the opinion that last night’s results tell us fiscal conservatism is back in vogue. I think there’s certainly a hint of that in the VA win. What is certainly true is voters in VA rejected the Democratic message. And more remarkable was the fact that they rejected it down ticket as well – a sweep for the Reps. Not only that, they picked up majorities in heavily Democratic suburbs. The size of the victory was stunning, to say the least.
But was it a rejection of the Democrat’s principles, an embrace of fiscal conservatism, a repudiation of the Obama administration or simply a reflection of the unease people feel with the economy and a belief Republicans handle that better? Or was it a little of all of those things?
What I’m driving at is both sides have a tendency to read too much into electoral wins, take off on a tear and find themselves on the losing side the next time around. The VA win, of all of the votes last night, was the biggest win for the GOP. But they need to temper their assessment so they, like the Democrats have, don’t overreach.
NJ, on the other hand, was a horse of a different color – or should I say donkey. Corzine had abysmal poll numbers well in front of the election. One of the biggest concerns among voters there was the corruption in government – it was rampant. And interestingly, the Republican candidate for governor, Chris Christie, had lead the fight against corruption, quite successfully I might add. So I’m not so sure that NJ, while still a huge win for the R’s, was so much a repudiation of Democrats and their principles as it was a repudiation of a specific incumbent. Again, the GOP should tread carefully to avoid reading too much into the NJ win.
That, of course, brings us to NY-23. The lesson in NY-23 can be summed up in one sentence, uttered last night by Brit Hume: “That’s why you have primaries”. The story here isn’t necessarily that the Democrat won. Given the disarray on the Republican side, I’m surprised it was as close as it was. Instead, it is about how badly the establishment GOP screwed up their selection process. Someone needs to tell them that the days of backroom selections which don’t reflect the desire or mood of the constituency were over a century ago. Had they had their primary and Hoffman won then it is hard to believe that the same level of support from the NRCC with no Scozzafava on the ballot siphoning off 5% of the vote (or campaigning for the Democrat) wouldn’t have yielded a much different outcome. In other words, establishment Republicans blew the election, not the activists. The good news for Republicans is they get to do this again in NY-23 in 2010. Let’s see if they can do a better job this next time.
All in all, a pretty decent night for the party that was in the wilderness not 6 months ago. But caution in interpreting the results should indeed be their watchword. In my opinion, establishment GOP types have not yet quite figured out the conservative insurgency which is now going on among them (and reflected in the Tea Parties, etc). Look for other challenges to Scozzafava-type candidates to continue in the future. They need to understand that much of their base has already rejected the usual approach to identifying candidates for office and that part of the base is willing to buck the establishment picks as they did in NY-23. In fact, NY-23, although a loss, will only encourage them.
The last observation I’ll make has to do with so-called independents. Indies went heavily for the GOP in the two governor’s races last night. That, if anything, should worry Democrats. Independents were the swing vote that decided the last presidential election. In a single year, they’ve found at least some Republicans worth their vote.
Additionally, this time it was the Republican base which was motivated. Democratic turnout was much lower in almost all areas of NJ and VA. And, unlike 2008, the young reverted to form and stayed home. Those are trends for the GOP to build on. However, as noted, they need to avoid over reaching as they do so.