Conservatives scored some impressive victories on Election Day. In Virginia, Robert McDonnell won the governor’s race in a landslide that carried other conservative statewide officeholders and legislative candidates to victory. New Jersey’s Chris Christie won his race by a larger margin than any Republican had mustered since 1985 — and as a candidate significantly to the right of previous Republican governors such as Tom Kean and Christie Todd Whitman. Maine repealed a law that accorded official recognition to same-sex unions as though they were marriages.
The disappointment of the evening came in a special election for Congress in upstate New York, where Conservative-party nominee Doug Hoffman narrowly lost to Democrat Bill Owens. Local GOP party officials bollixed the race from the beginning by picking liberal Dede Scozzafava. With her campaign sinking beneath the waves, she pulled out last weekend and then capped her disastrous foray by endorsing Owens. Hoffman was a much better choice, and demonstrated the passion that is animating the conservative grassroots on fiscal issues. But, a first-time candidate, he lacked polish and a ready knowledge of local issues. If there’s a lesson from the race besides the obvious — don’t let out-of-touch GOP officials pick liberal congressional candidates — it is that conservatives need to run campaigns based not only on their philosophical soundness but on the improved conditions that this soundness can be expected to generate. That was the template for McDonnell’s huge victory. If his governance delivers on his promises, explicit and implicit, he will be a model for Republicans nationwide.
Democrats are taking solace in the banal truth that these elections were not solely referenda on President Obama. The Democratic candidate in Virginia ran a pathetic campaign, and the Democratic governor of New Jersey was a failure. The elections nonetheless offered proof (not that any should have been needed) that Obama cannot transfer his popularity to his allies. They showed that the powerful negative reaction to President Bush may have run its course. And they suggested that important aspects of Obama’s agenda are encountering formidable resistance, not only from the core supporters of the Republican party but also from independent voters. We would not blame the president if he took up smoking again.