By: Jacob Winkelman
Yesterday the voters of Virginia and New Jersey elected Terry McAuliffe and Chris Christie respectively in the only governor elections of the year. Consistent polling data predicted both of these outcomes for months making neither of their victories a surprise. However even if the results were anticipated, both of these races are possible indicators for what’s to come in the crucial 2014 midterms and even the presidential election of 2016.
First, let’s start with the New Jersey election. Chris Christie the incumbent crushed his Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono, 60.5% to 38%. New Jersey typically votes Democrat and has elected President Obama twice and recently elected Democrat Cory Booker to the U.S. Senate. But Chris Christie continues to defy what conventional wisdom tells us should happen. President Obama won New Jersey in 2008 by 14 points, yet Chris Christie won by nearly 25 points; almost a 40 point differential. So how is Chris Christie able to do so well in what is normally an unfriendly state to Republican politicians? The primary reason seems to be Chris Christie’s appeal to a wide variety of voters. Governor Christie won both the women and Latino vote; something unheard of for a Republican candidate in recent years. Conservatives trust him to make smart, financial decisions and moderates believe in his dedication to New Jersey and recognize he is not as conservative as many in his party. This is not to say that Chris Christie is a moderate, but compared to the Tea Party he has certainly shown to be capable of compromising and doing what he genuinely believes will help his constituents. All of these factors plus his incumbency set up an easy victory for Governor Christie.
Everything that gives Republicans optimism from New Jersey can be rescinded from a quick analysis of the Virginia governor race. Political analysts consider Virginia to be one of the country’s chief swing states and an accurate gauge of how the country will vote in presidential elections. McAuliffe’s victory is the first time in nine governor’s races that the party controlling the White House has also won the governorship. In 2009 McAuliffe attempted to run for governor, but was unable to even make it out of the Democratic primary due to campaign gaffes and a lack of discipline. This time around McAuliffe’s campaign was disciplined, smart, and on the attack. His staff did an effective job of painting his opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, as a staunch social conservative. Large amounts of fundraising allowed McAuliffe to hammer Cuccinelli for his views on abortion, gay rights, climate change, and the government shutdown. Both of these candidates had favorability ratings below 50%, but McAuliffe’s pro-business moderation convinced Virginia voters he is better suited for the job then his extreme, tea party opponent. While this race was significantly closer than New Jersey (McAuliffe won 48% to 45.5%), a McAuliffe victory certainly gives Democrats hope for 2014.
Before we go any further we need to keep in mind that these are only two elections in two out of fifty states. Many things can change in a year and each state has its own demographics and priorities. With that being said, there is one glaring commonality between these two elections: Americans want right wing extremism out of their government. Chris Christie dominated in New Jersey because he is seen as a moderate who is willing to work with whoever he needs to in order to help his state. Conversely, Ken Cuccinelli lost Virginia because he was labeled as a member of the far right. Favorability ratings of both the Republican Party and the Tea Party are at all time lows after an unnecessary and unpopular government shutdown. Americans want officials who will work together and are willing to compromise. Chris Christie’s win and Ken Cuccinelli’s loss show that a moderate Republican has a viable chance at the 2016 presidency but right wing extremism is almost certain to fail. Moderate Republicans need to hold off the Tea Party candidates in the primaries if they want to maintain control of the house in 2014. If they continue to nominate candidates who hold views many Americans regard as extreme, they could jeopardize their control of the house in 2014 and will almost certainly see a repeat of the 2012 presidential election in 2016.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.