Election Lessons
Democrats and Republicans can learn a lot from the Virginia and New Jersey elections.

Ken Cuccinelli speaks to supporters in Nokesville, Va., on election day.


Michael Barone

In an August Washington Examiner column, I argued that this year’s governor elections in New Jersey and Virginia would have little precedential significance, unlike some other off-year elections in those states.

Boiled down, my argument was that in New Jersey you had a governor who could not lose and in Virginia you had two candidates for governor who could not win.


Now the results are in, and my predictions were not far off. Republican Chris Christie won 60 percent to 38 percent in heavily Democratic New Jersey.

In Virginia, the state closest to the national average in the last two presidential elections, neither Democrat Terry McAuliffe nor Republican Ken Cuccinelli won 50 percent of the vote. McAuliffe, far ahead in the polls for months, eked out a 48 percent to 45 percent victory.

So these contests are of limited precedential value. But they do provide some interesting lessons for both parties.

Lesson One for Democrats: Obamacare hurts. Two days before Halloween, McAuliffe was leading 47 percent to 37 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. In seven days, his margin melted from 10 percentage points to 2.5 points.

The big news during that period was the rocky Obamacare rollout and stories revealing that Barack Obama’s repeated statements that people could keep their insurance or their doctor were either lies or (as many Democrats concede) misleading.

The exit polls showed that 46 percent of Virginia voters favor Obamacare and 52 percent oppose it. In a state Obama carried twice.

Lesson Two for Republicans: Provocativeness hurts. Cuccinelli’s positions on abortion and same-sex marriage are not much different from Christie’s or Virginia Republican incumbent Bob McDonnell’s. But his tone was, and he lost single women by 42 percentage points.

Lesson Two for Democrats: Your youth vote is evaporating. McAuliffe carried 18- to 29-year-old voters by only 45 percent to 40 percent; Christie lost them by only 51 percent to 49 percent. Those were in states where Obama in 2008 carried young voters 60 to 39 percent and 67 to 31 percent. They may be discovering that Obamacare raises their health-insurance premiums enormously.

Lesson Two for Republicans: Obama can still energize some Democratic base groups. Democrats got high turnout in Virginia from blacks and young singles — in contrast to 2009. Republicans can’t count on these voters’ staying home.

Lesson Three for Democrats: You’re not doing so well with immigrants. Hispanic and Asian turnout in Virginia was down from 2012. Christie carried Hispanics 51 to 45 percent in a state where they voted 78 to 21 percent for Obama in 2008. Polls showed Hispanics souring on Obamacare, and Christie kept showing up in their communities for four years.

Lesson Three for Republicans: Raise more money. Cuccinelli backers complain that the Republican National Committee kicked in only $3 million, not $9 million as in 2009.

Fair point. But why didn’t the Cuccinelli campaign raise more from tea partiers across the nation? Why not match the dollars McAuliffe raised from Clinton connections and crony capitalists? Why not raise money rather than whine?

Lesson Four for Democrats: You can’t count on tea partiers to shut the government down again. The victory of establishment-oriented Bradley Byrne over a tea partier in the runoff election in Alabama’s first congressional district Tuesday suggests that, even in a hyper-conservative district, the impulse among Republican voters for confrontation with Democrats is waning.

Lesson Four for Republicans: You can’t count on Obamacare’s continuing to implode. It may well do so, but you’d better have alternatives to offer.

Lesson Five for both parties: Facts on the ground matter — and can change the political equation.

Ted Cruz and other Obamacare defunders argued that implementing the new health-care law would get Americans hooked on subsidies and make the law unrepealable. But the subsidies seem stingy and invisible, while the website remains unusable.

Barack Obama and his administrators believed they could get away with their promise that you can keep your insurance and your doctor. But the avalanche of people who eventually found out they can’t was bound to undermine this claim — and the president’s credibility.

The two parties have been closely competitive in six of the ten congressional elections over the last 20 years. Republicans fell below competitive levels in 2006 and 2008, when they were perceived as incompetent.

Democrats fell below competitive levels in 1994 and 2010, when they seemed guilty of ideological overreach.

During the government shutdown, some Democrats hoped the Republicans would suffer from both incompetence and overreach. Now, as Obamacare founders, there seems more danger that the Democrats will.

Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2013 The Washington Examiner. Distributed by

Election Night 2013
Tuesday night saw the resolution of high-profile election battles in New Jersey, Virginia, and New York City. Here’s a look at some scenes from election night, and one last bout of campaigning earlier in the day. Pictured, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie savors victory.
Governor Chris Christie and wife Mary Pat wave to supporters as they arrive for a victory celebration in Asbury Park. Christie romped to a re-election victory over Democratic opponent Barbara Buono.
Governor Christie addresses supporters — and offers some words of advice for Republicans across the country.
Chris Christie waves to supporters with daughter Sarah at his side.
Bill de Blasio waves to supporters as he arrives to give his victory speech. De Blasio easily defeated Republican challenger Joe Lhota to become the first Democratic governor of New York City in two decades.
Bill de Blasio hugs son Dante and daughter Chiara at his victory rally.
Newly-elected Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters at a rally in Tysons Corner.
McAuliffe savors his victory over Republican challenger Ken Cuccinelli in a race that tightened significantly in the final days.
Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli waves to supporters during his concession speech in Richmond.
ELECTION DAY: Candidates squeezed in one last round of electioneering on the big day — and found time to get out their own vote. Pictured, New Jersey Governor Christie pauses for a photograph after voting at a polling center in Mendham.
Governor Christie takes a "selfie" photo with a New Jersey constituent in Mendham.
New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono arrives at a polling site in Metuchen accompanied by her husband, Martin Grizzi.
Ken Cuccinelli talks with supporters while greeting voters arriving at Atlee High School in Mechanicsville.
Cuccinelli talks in front of a campaign sign at Brentsville District High School in Nokesville.
Terry McAuliffe hands a campaign flier to three-year-old Ozzie Springer at the Vienna/Fairfax GMU Metro Station in Fairfax.
McAuliffe greets campaign supporters after casting his own vote at Spring Hill Elementary School in McLean.
New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio greets voters at a public housing village in Queens.
De Blasio prepares to cast his vote at a public library in Brooklyn.
Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani (left) stands with Republican New York mayoral candidate Joe Lhota as they greet morning commuters.
Lhota studies his ballot at a voting site in Brooklyn.
Updated: Mar. 01, 2014



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